Honda was not the first motorcycle manufacturer to build bikes with V4 powerplants. Ducati experimented with a V4, AJS had a supercharged racing V4 and Matchless had the V4 Silver Hawk in the 1930s.The difference between Honda and the rest was that the Honda V4 powered bikes were both technological and commercial successes.
Honda got the party started with the introduction of the V45 Sabre and Magna models in 1982. In a marketplace that had settled into the sameness of in-line, air-cooled, double-overhead cam engines with two-valves per cylinder and five-speed transmissions from each of the Japanese manufacturers, the V45s were something of a gut-punch.Their 750 cc displacement was no departure from the field, but nearly everything else was.The engine packages were compact, liquid-cooled, DOHC with four-valves per cylinder, coupled to six-speed transmissions (five speed with overdrive) and shaft drive. The 90-degree angle of the cylinder banks took advantage of primary balancing that achieved low vibration levels without the added weight of a counterbalancer.The V4 was both narrower than comparable inline 750 four-cylinder engines, and it sat lower in the chassis, which allowed more cornering clearance for radical lean angles. Other features that pushed the competition were the self-adjusting hydraulic clutch, automatic cam chain tensioner, low-maintenance helical gear-shaft final drive and solid-state CD ignition.The rest of the package included double piston, double disc brakes up front, air-adjustable Pro-link rear suspension, air-adjustable 37 mm front forks, Honda’s Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control (TRAC) system, and cast alloy wheels. Presented in all-new styling packages for the conventional concept Sabre and the power-cruiser Magna models, the first round of V4 Hondas were a load for the competition to cope with.In 1983, Honda rolled out the sportbike member of the V4 family with the introduction of the VF750F V45 Interceptor. The Interceptor was a departure from the Magna and Sabre models with its five speed transmission instead of six, O-ring chain final drive instead of shaft drive, rectangular section perimeter frame, and competition-influenced bodywork.Determined to prove the Interceptor was not all show and no-go, Honda fielded a team for the Superbike race at Daytona and swept all three podium positions. Point made. The Interceptor grew into the VFR800F, a platform that catered to the sportbike rider seeking comfort.Also in 1983, Honda upped the displacement ante with the introduction of the V65 Magna. The nearly 1,100cc version of the power cruiser would be the largest displacement iteration of the VF series of bikes and larger displacement versions would be added to the Sabre and the Interceptor lines, as well.The 1984 model year saw the line expand down the displacement scale with the addition of the V30 Magna (VF500C) and VF500F Interceptor; the 500 cc V4 engine never went into a Sabre model. The 700cc+ displacement tariff imposed on imports for four years led to the creation of 700cc versions to duck the cost impact on the bikes. That led to the VF700C Magna in 1985.Unlike the air-cooled inline-four cylinder revolution spawned by Honda’s CB750 and its variants, not every other manufacturer jumped on the “me-too” bandwagon and developed V4s of their own. Those that did – such as Suzuki with its Madura and Yamaha with its Venture – did not achieve the same impact as Honda’s VF series bikes.That said, there is little doubt that Honda’s V4 powered bikes heralded the beginning of a new chapter in motorcycle design.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.