1969 was a pretty special year, Nixon became President of the United States, the Apollo 11 mission put man on the moon for the first time, the Beatles recorded their final album ‘Abbey Road’ and played their final live performance on the roof of the Apple Studios, Concorde conducted its first test flight, Sesame Street aired for the first time on public television and arguably the world’s first superbike, the Honda CB750 was released.
The Honda CB750 represented not only Honda’s first real push into the larger capacity motorcycle market, but was a pioneering motorcycle in its own right.
It brought new technology to everyday mass-production bikes that had only previously existed in racing such as disc brakes and of course, that four-cylinder engine. It was also the first to use an electric starter, replacing the traditional kick-start mechanism. Combining this all into one package, Honda had reset the standard and the ‘superbike’ was born.
History of the Honda CB750
Honda’s previous effort to create a larger capacity machine in 1965 had been the two-cylinder CB450, which at the time was praised as an excellent motorcycle. However, it did not do well in the American market, the place that Honda was trying hard to break into.
In the summer of 1967, Yoshiro Harada, who had been in charge of the CB450 project, visited American Honda to gauge the impact of the bike on the American market.
The staff voiced their opinions that despite the bike’s superior quality and performance compared to its larger capacity rivals of Norton, Triumph, and America’s own Harley Davidson, they believed that “bigger was better”.
Once returning to Japan, Harada decided to develop a larger capacity model. In order to rival the sales of the current bikes dominating the American Market, Harada had to make some important decisions on the specifications of the new bike. After discovering that Triumph was developing the Trident, a new three-cylinder 750cc bike, the bar had been set.
With Honda also bowing out of GP racing that summer because of regulation changes, despite winning five constructors titles, they had all the technology and experience gained after years spent racing to now apply to their production machines. With all this R&D available, Harada went on to spec the new Honda model to exceed that of its rivals.
Unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1966, the prototype CB750 was an immediate hit with the public and press alike, showing off its large four-cylinder engine, disc brakes, electric starter and higher handlebars.
The commercial launch was due to take part the following Spring, however problems with the newly developed disc brake system still needed resolving. There were also further changes later to the bike that Soichiro Honda himself had requested that needed implementing before the launch.
It was in January 1969 that the Honda CB750 was officially released in America, with the first bike rolling off the production line in March. The orders immediately came flooding in and Honda’s conservative production forecast of 1,500 a year didn’t even come close as the target had to be increased to 18,000 and then again to 36,000.
The CB750 went on to sell an estimated half-a-million units of their original ‘K’ model from 1969 to 1978. The superbike had well and truly landed.
With Honda successfully bringing modern, reliable engineering to the large motorcycle market for the very first time. They forced all other manufacturers to evolve and improve or implode, which many of the British brands inevitably did.
This also paved the way for the other Japanese motorcycle companies such as Kawasaki and Suzuki as they rushed to produce their own ‘UJM’ or ‘Universal Japanese Motorcycle’. The storm of four-cylinder bikes from Asia had started a new era of dominance from the Japanese Motorcycle companies that is still holding strong to this day.
The original Honda press release for the CB750 can be read HERE on Japan Honda’s website archive.
After the initial demonstration of the prototype CB750 at the 1966 Tokyo Motorcycle Show, the media went into a frenzy over it; they had seen nothing like it before on a production machine and dubbed it the world’s first ‘superbike’. When the release came in 1969, Cycle magazine labelled the CB750, “the most sophisticated production bike ever”.
Later on that year Honda’s in-house racing team entered two of their brand new CB750 bikes to compete in the Suzuka 10-Hour Endurance Race in August. Morio Sumiya and Tetsuya Hishiki took first place, with Yoichi Oguma and Minoru Sato in a close second giving the CB750 their first 1-2 in GP racing.
Following this dominant performance and that of American rider Dick Mann after he took his higher geared CB750 to victory at the Daytona 200-mile race in March 1970. The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) changed the rules across the Grand National Championship by standardising a full 750cc displacement for all engines regardless of valve location or number of cylinders.
This change allowed teams, racers and fans a greater variation of motorcycle racing and opened the door for Honda to step back into GP racing.
Buying an original CB750
As most CB750s were sold to the American market where the climate is drier than that of Europe or Japan, many of the original bikes are still running. There are some exceptional examples currently available on the market to buy in the States and also many that have been imported over the years.
This unrestored, yet good working condition model from 1970 with 15,000 – 20,000 miles on the clock comes in around £28k.
If that’s looking to be too far out of your budget, there are some superb examples of the 1978 model, the last of the original single cam variation. With the mileage around 11-15,000 and a price tag of £5k the one below is a much more affordable option to get your hands on this classic in its original design.
If these are not enough and you’re looking for something more special, you’re in luck. There are still a handful of the original 1969 sand-cast models floating around the internet, including this holy grail find.
An immaculate condition, sand-cast model with the VIN number 750 and engine number 802. This machine would have been within the first batch to roll out of the Saitama Factory.
A rarity, as the original single cam CB750 produced there and at the Hamamatsu Factory for 2 years before they moved production to Honda’s Suzuka Factory in July 1971.
However, all this prestige comes with the hefty price tag of £45k.
Restoring a Honda CB750
If you’re looking to make a project of any model of the CB750, acquiring parts are surprisingly easy. You have the standard route of finding second hand parts on the various auction sites like eBay.
However, a quick internet search came up with loads of specialist sellers of all the CB750 models with complete parts diagrams right down to the bolts and washers.
They are also graceful enough to highlight when they can only supply non-original parts in case you were looking to be extremely specific about the restoration.
Pricewise, parts are quite reasonable. A complete headlight assembly along with all bolts, washers and other connectors is between £200 to £300 depending on which version you require.
Compare that to a modern bike such as the Honda CB650F and the headlight assembly here is £450 for a new one which makes the CB750 look like a bargain if you were trying to restore one.
However, before you jump online and search for that elusive barn find, part pricing is not consistent. The 4 pipe exhaust system for a 1969 model could set you back over £4k if you want it brand new.
There are cheaper second-hand alternatives available around the £250 bracket, so time spent doing research on a full breakdown of part costs would be recommended before you dive in.
Honda CB750 Part Suppliers
Below are a few places that stock and supply Honda CB750 parts to help get you started.
Is an original CB750 a Good Investment?
The CB750 is still not fully recognised as that rare collector’s item as many other machines from that era are. Why? Simply because so many excellent condition, working models are still available to buy.
This leaves it in limbo regarding its value which is fluctuating year on year. However, this won’t last forever and now is a good time to get your hands on a good 1969 – 1978 original single cam ‘K’ Model.
Restoring this with affection and expert attention to detail will eventually yield reward in a couple of decades when they become more difficult to source, a long-term investment indeed.
The original 1969 sand-cast models are the most sought after; with their current value at a minimum of 1.5 times more than that of any other model. With these becoming more difficult to get as collectors snap up the higher quality versions the price will continue to rise as they have entered the realm of becoming museum pieces. If you have the budget for a sandcast CB750, now is the time to crank up your search.
The CB750 was Honda doing what they do so well. Pioneering and pushing the boundaries of technology. This is something they do often but to impact the motorcycling world the way the CB750 did? A rare event that Honda had only really done before when their original Super Cub launched in 1958.
If I were in the glorious position to retire young and have a dedicated Motorcycle workshop, then I would certainly scour the internet for the perfect 1969 CB750 to add to my collection.
I have a huge soft spot for bikes that have tried to push the boundaries and find new creative ways to evolve the design and technology in the motorcycle world. I would have it proudly sitting in the workshop in between an original Super Cub and the Ultra-rare NR750.
A pipe dream for me maybe, however dreaming big is what moves the world and inspires those around us. Or, more simply, it is as Honda says “the power of dreams”.