In the grand scheme of massive, industrial business, it's shocking how quickly the small Japanese automotive brands grew from complete unknowns to prime-time players in the automotive marketplace. In about 20 years, brands like Toyota and Honda went from nothing to the top of the industry. For those entrenched in the motorcycle life, Honda's story is extra special, because it built its brand with bikes, then branched into cars, and found phenominal success in both.
Last week, American Honda officially turned 60 years old. The roots of the American wing of the, ahem, winged brand, are shockingly humble. Here in the U.S., Honda started as a motorcycle-only company in 1959, and began importing cars in 1969.
It all traces back to a small building in Los Angeles, which you can read about here via Autoweek.
Honda is celebrating the 60th celebration by restoring an old Chevy pickup like the one used to curry bikes in the early days, and then threw in two beautiful old bikes in the bed. Here's the word from Honda's press release:
Tapping its U.S. archives and memories of retired Honda associates for details, a 1961 Chevy half-ton pickup was found and carefully renovated, replicating the original paint scheme as used by company salesmen delivering motorcycles to dealers to sell on a consignment basis. These trucks helped American Honda quickly establish a U.S. market foothold, starting in Southern California. By 1965, Honda was the best-selling motorcycle brand in America with a market share of almost 72 percent.
The truck's cargo—in this case two important motorcycles from those early days—were also procured, helping recreate what the package looked like as salesmen traveled around the state to support their dealers.
A red 1965 Honda 50, known in other parts of the world as the Super Cub, occupies the left side of the truck bed. The first big success among the Honda motorcycles sold in the U.S., the “Nifty Thrifty Honda 50” as it was advertised, put Honda on the map in America in the early 1960s—and around the world for that matter.
Easy to ride for almost anyone, the Honda 50 became a surprise hit – immortalized in the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” marketing campaign. This 1965 model runs and rides perfectly and is ready for another 60 years of enjoyment.
Also sharing the Chevy truck bed is an original 1965 Honda CB160, one of Honda's early small displacement sport bikes. The little CB was a big hit for American Honda, following in the footsteps of the larger CB77 “Super Hawk” in moving away from a stamped steel monocoque in favor of a tubular steel frame.
Cycle World magazine dubbed the new bike a "baby Super Hawk" at the time. It was popular with young riders moving up from the Honda 50 or 90 who wanted something that looked like a true motorcycle. This 1965 model was completely restored last year and is in perfect running order.
Main image: Autoweek