The Honda VF700S Sabre Touring Bike

The 1984-1985 Honda VF700S Sabre was a tariff-buster that makes a great touring bike today, if you can find one.

| July/August 2006

The Honda VF700S Sabre
Years produced (U.S.):
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 76hp @ 10,500rpm
Top speed: 121mphEngine type: 699cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke V-four
Weight (dry): 224kg (494lb)MPG: 28-48
Price then: $3,398 (1985)
Price now: $750-$2,000

Available for just two short years from 1984 to 1985, the Honda VF700S Sabre was a touring bike that followed the V45 Sabre. It represents an interesting chapter in motorcycle history as one of a group of Japanese motorcycles referred to as the Tariff Busters.

In the early 1980s, Japanese motorcycles were a thorn in ailing Harley-Davidson's side, and in 1983 H-D successfully lobbied for an International Trade Commission tariff to quell the overseas invasion of 750cc and larger motorcycles. Known as Section 202, the tariff was aimed squarely at Japan and levied a heavy penalty on bikes of 700cc capacity and over. It was expected to slow the Japanese onslaught and give H-D a leg up in the market.

When protestations against the tariff failed, Japanese manufacturers responded by introducing new bikes with engines that fell just under 700cc. Honda responded by sleeving down its moderately successful 750cc V45 Sabre to 698.9cc. It was, by any measure a taunting, in-your-face rebuff to the new tariff.

A technological tour de force when introduced in 1982, Honda launched the V45 Sabre with great fanfare. With its compact, 750cc liquid-cooled V4 engine bubbling over with features such as double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and shaft drive, the V45 Sabre was supposed to be the spiritual heir to Honda's CB750 of 1969: it was not. While there was no questioning the V45's technical prowess, it failed to illicit the same excitement as the original CB750, and in fact was greeted only warmly by the buying public.

In its tariff-busting transition, the Honda VF700S Sabre lost a few horses (down to a claimed 76hp versus the V45's claimed 82hp), but internal changes boosted midrange power while a high final drive ratio kept top speed up. (Period tests showed the new Sabre only .15 seconds and .08mph slower in the quarter-mile dash compared to the V45 Sabre.)

3/14/2011 11:57:50 AM

I'd like to post a correction. The 750cc V4 bikes from Honda were not sleeved down to 700cc. Instead the engines were given a shorter stroke. The 750cc engines have a stroke of 48.6mm, while the 700cc engines have a stroke of 45.7mm. The bore remained the same on both engines.

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