Community Commentary 1984: George Orwell Got It Wrong, Honda Got It Right

1984: George Orwell Got It Wrong, Honda Got It Right

Honda V4 500cc V30 Magna and 1100cc V65 Sabre Are Still a Reckoning Force

After 35 years, these two Honda V4—powered bikes run and ride like new…

In George Orwell’s dystopic 1949 novel 1984—now in its 70th year since its first edition—the world in 1984 was under control of Big Brother and the Thought Police enforced the rules against individuality and original thinking.

Orwell got it wrong. In 1984, the world—at least a good portion of the motorcycling world—was under the control of Big Red and its original thinking, forward-leaning motorcycles with potent DOHC, sixteen valve, over-achieving liquid-cooled V4 powerhouses.

Representing the top and bottom of the displacement range of Honda’s 1984 V4 bikes, the V30 (L) and V65 each offer amazing performance and reliability—even after 35 years.
Representing the top and bottom of the displacement range of Honda’s 1984 V4 bikes, the V30 (L) and V65 each offer amazing performance and reliability—even after 35 years.

While much of that world was still thinking of in-line DOHC air-cooled four-cylinder bikes, Honda was letting it all hang out with a radical new line that began in 1982 with the V4 750cc V45 Magna and Sabre and had the competition still trying to catch up by 1984.

Now, 35 years later, two of those early Honda V4-powered bikes still live in my shed. They light up with a touch of the starter button, accelerate with exceptional vigor and send their speedometer needles swinging around the face of the instrument with breathtaking ease.

Honda’s fearsome V4 bikes had the potential to mop the street or track with about any stock air-cooled in-line DOHC UJM of the same or even higher displacement. And stock big-bore V-twins or parallel twins? That’s what the slow lane was for.

One is the 1984 V30 Magna (30 cubic inches displacement), officially designated as the VF500C. The other is a 1984 V65 Sabre (roughly 65 cubic inches displacement), designated the VF1100S.

In this age of targeted and global tariff wars that affect certain imported raw materials like steel and aluminum and finished goods, it is ironic that the Hondas of 1984 that displaced more than 700cc were subject to a targeted tariff enacted by Congress at the behest of Harley-Davidson.

In April 1983, President Reagan signed into law an act that raised the then-current import tariff of 4.4 percent to 49.4 percent and would keep it there for a year; lower the rate to 39.4 percent in the second year, to 24.4 percent in the third year, to 19.4 percent in the fourth year, and to 14.4 percent in the fifth year with the tariff returning to 4.4 percent after the fifth year.   The tariff plan brought its focus almost entirely on Japanese manufacturers.

The optional frame-mount fairing gives the V65 real sport-touring cred—the 102 hp V4 mill gives it sportbike juice.
The optional frame-mount fairing gives the V65 real sport-touring cred—the 102 hp V4 mill gives it sportbike juice.

I don’t know when my V65 Sabre was purchased by its first owner, but if it was in the spring of 1984, whoever bought it had to be very determined to have one of the top superbikes of its day. Based on the MSRP of the V65 in 1984, which was $4,548, with the 49.4 percent tariff added, the price for the base bike without the optional bullet fairing my bike has and the other incidentals, taxes, licenses and fees, the price tag would have ballooned to $6,794!

To put it in perspective, while that’s a whopping price increase to pay for politics, in 1984 a Harley FXRS Low Glide, for example still cost more than the tariff-taxed Honda at $7,560. Even with the then-new Evolution 82 ci pushrod V-twin and five-speed transmission, bikes like the Low Glide were no match for the Sabre in terms of raw performance. Still, the two bikes were targeted to different segments of the market and by the 1990s, Harley-Davidson was not only no longer in need of tariff protection from imported motorcycles; they had waiting lists for their bikes.

So, first, a little background on the 1984 V65 Sabre. Just how much oomph did that big 1,098cc V4 have? According to a period road test in Cycle magazine its dyno numbers were 101.98 corrected rear wheel bhp @ 9,500 RPM and 64.43 ft/lb of torque at 7,000 RPM.

The same test reported a standing-start quarter mile ET of 11.20 sec @ 121.69 mph, 0-60 mph in 3.04 sec. Calculated top speed in sixth gear at the 10,000 RPM redline: 177 mph. More than I’ll ever need or use, but still fun to think about.

With those numbers, one might think of the Sabre as a stomp the comp sport bike, but its actual configuration is as a conventional sport-touring bike with comfy upright riding position, long, cushy seat, midships footpegs, adjustable rise handlebars, shaft final drive and could be had with a frame mounted fairing, lowers and matching hard saddlebags that double as stylish removable luggage. My Sabre came with that fairing but didn’t come with those bags, so I’ve been trying to find a set in my silver/black/red original colors for an at least somewhat reasonable price without success.

Of course, Honda didn’t zone out on the idea that these V4 motors would make great sportbike powerplants and that’s where the Interceptor models came in, starting in 1983. Available in the 750cc and 500cc displacement categories, the 1100 never got the full-on Interceptor sportbike treatment; at least not from Honda.

Other amenities included an LCD digital dash that included a fuel gauge, gear position indictor that had “OD” displayed for sixth gear. I’ve always wondered if that stood for “overdose” as in “of speed.”

The Honda Sabre’s cockpit is all business and everything works, even the LCD dash—the fairing-mounted mirrors vibrate like crazy even though the rest of the bike doesn’t.
The Sabre’s cockpit is all business and everything works, even the LCD dash—the fairing-mounted mirrors vibrate like crazy even though the rest of the bike doesn’t.

It also had a digital clock and coolant temperature gauge, together with all the usual warning lights, tail light/stoplight burn-out warning light and instrumentation. The speedometer face went up to 160 mph and the tachometer showed a red zone starting at 10,000 rpm. After all these years, including subzero winter after winter sitting in my unheated garage, all the instrumentation still works.

Double disc brakes up front and a big disc brake to the rear are up to the task of halting the big Sabre, which weighs in at a claimed 591 lb. with a full fuel tank and ready for the road.

With a seat height of 32.3 inches (unladen), the Sabre the tallest in that dimension of all the V-4 Hondas of its day. Being of the shorter persuasion, that is one of the few things that is not quite spot-on for me. It makes the bike a little unwieldy for me at stop lights and maneuvering into parking spots and such, but in the eight years I’ve owned the Sabre, that has never presented any real problems.

The bike’s wheelbase is 62.6 inches, making it very stable and precise in long sweepers and on the Interstate, but feeling a little less nimble in tight corners. Like anything else, it’s no big deal once you get accustomed to its handling, but the difference is really noticeable when going right from the Sabre to the much lighter—claimed 428 lb. curb weight, quick-handling little V-30 Magna, with its 59.1 inch wheelbase.

 

The Sabre is built to take on the Interstates but is a gas on county trunks, too.
The Sabre is built to take on the Interstates but is a gas on county trunks, too.

Suspension is an air-adjustable monoshock on the rear two-sided swingarm, while the front forks are conventional hydraulic/air adjustable dual sliders equipped with Honda’s TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control) system.

 

So after 35 years and 29,870 miles, how has the Honda V65 Sabre held up? So far, so good. All the electronics and gauges work, suspension is intact and only new pads have been required for the brakes.

The Honda V30 is configured as a cruiser and it can loaf along the back roads all day—or give a white-knuckle thrill ride, if you’re up for it.
The V30 is configured as a cruiser and it can loaf along the back roads all day—or give a white-knuckle thrill ride, if you’re up for it.

The smallest displacement version of those early V4s that was built for export to North America was the Honda VF500C V30 Magna. Built for only the 1984 and ’85 model years, the V30s are getting harder to find.

I found mine by sheer luck—a conversation overheard led me to an example that had sat in its owner’s garage under a tarp for more than a dozen years—with the gas and battery left in it. It looked pristine, but with the fluid for the hydraulic brake and clutch gelled to a grainy-looking goop, and a lot of other problems unseen, whether that Magna would ever see pavement again was a question.

Eventually, all the problems were solved and in its years since, it has been ridden in land speed racing competition at the Bonneville Salt Flats at two meets. In 2009, the little black bike carried me through the thin, nearly mile-high air of the Flats to 104.536 mph; no mean feat considering at that altitude it was gasping for breath and hauling my lardly weight.

The V65 could overpower nearly anything in its class and the little V30, with less than half the displacement but the same engine design technology could pretty much do the same, but with the added advantage of nimble handling and light weight.

The instruments and indicator lights on the V30 dash all still work and mirrors vibrate nearly not at all.
The instruments and indicator lights on the V30 dash all still work and mirrors vibrate nearly not at all.

With an 11,500 RPM redline, the V30 churned out 53.1 bhp at 11,000 RPM and 25.91 ft./lb. of torque at 10,500 RPM on the dyno in a period road test in Cycle magazine. That same test reported a calculated top speed in sixth gear at the redline of 140 mph and 0-60 mph acceleration in 3.9 sec. It reportedly did the standing start quarter mile in 12.79 sec. with a terminal speed of 103.03 mph. All that from a bike with an engine displacing only 30 cubic inches.

As you might expect the amenities are sprinkled a little less extravagantly on the V30 than on the Honda V65. For example, the cockpit has analog tach, speedo, coolant temp gauge and tail light burnout warning light like the V65, but has a low fuel light instead of a fuel gauge and the usual warning lights—but no LCD dash with clock and gear position indicator.

The V30 came with an O-ring chain final drive instead of shaft but it did have a six-speed tranny, adjustable twin shocks at the back vs monoshock, single disc brake up front and drum on the back vs double discs up front and disc to the rear.

Despite the comparative basic nature of the V30, the deeply padded stepped saddle and buckhorn-style bars that give a cruiser-comfy ride position coupled with that powerplant that makes the thing accelerate like a 750 or better, the lack of a few details is easily forgotten.

Living in rural Wisconsin offers great back country roads for cruising with the Honda V30 Magna.
Living in rural Wisconsin offers great back country roads for cruising with the V30 Magna.

Twist that throttle, hit every shift at about 10,000 RPM and you are gone! It feels nothing like one of those laid-back V-twin cruisers. It feels like a lightweight cruiser with a race bike motor and the bike is totally stock, right down to the original equipment mufflers. Going down the road, the 90° V-4 is silky smooth without the added weight and complexity of a counterbalancer—at virtually all engine speeds. That smoothness is a feature with both bikes.

As I write this, the V30 has 19,163 miles on it and everything still works. Of course, a lot of clean-up, fix-up had to be done to resuscitate the thing after its long sleep in the back of a garage when I acquired it in 2005. Ever since it has been trouble free—even after being run wide-open down the miles of the Mountain Course at Bonneville.

Both the Honda V65 and V30 continue to start reliably and run smoothly with little more than the recommended routine maintenance (and sometimes a little less than what is recommended, much to my shame). With 35 years behind them and less than ideal operating conditions and storage at times, it is a tribute to Honda’s remarkable achievement in the design of these high-performance bikes.

Honda’s V65 Sabre (L) and V30 Magna set new performance benchmarks in their classes—and 35 years later, still perform to high standards.
Honda’s V65 Sabre (L) and V30 Magna set new performance benchmarks in their classes—and 35 years later, still perform to high standards.

Ok, Orwell’s 1984 was a novel; a work of fiction and imagination, not intended as a prediction to be judged on whether he got it right or wrong. Some might even argue that there’s a lot in there that isn’t far from the truth. But, to Honda’s credit, when it came to designing and building some motorcycles that were superbikes in performance and durability for the long haul, in 1984, you’d have to admit, they got it right.

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