You can’t go wrong with a Honda, though if you’re looking for something with a classic look and enough character to stand the test of time, then which vintage Honda motorcycles stand head and shoulders above the rest? Ever since the legendary Japanese firm started producing motorcycles back in 1949, Honda has been at the forefront of two-wheeled innovation and styling, laying down the foundations for the modern motorcycles that we know and love today, but if modern plastic and ridiculously over-powered engines aren’t your thing, which vintage Honda motorcycles should you be searching for?
What’s The Difference Between Antique, Vintage, And Retro?
Before we take you on an odyssey through our favorite vintage Honda motorcycles, let’s take a look at what “vintage” actually means, because it’s a word that gets bandied around a little too liberally. Sure, it’s down to interpretation, to a degree, but in other industries there are some fairly strict ground-rules concerning what labels are used and when, so we’re going to apply those rules to motorcycles. This isn’t a matter of pedantry, it’s just quite interesting – and there’s nothing more satisfying than interrupting someone who’s mistakenly referred to their retro motorcycle as a “vintage” motorcycle…or maybe that’s just us? (It’s just us, isn’t it?)
Something that’s labelled as an antique, by dictionary definition, should be at least 100 years old. According to Merriam Webster and the customs laws for most national authorities, a true antique has to be 100 years old or older…which rules out quite a lot of motorcycles and those that can genuinely be called “antique” probably aren’t the best choice for a day-to-day run around. As of today, there are no antique Honda motorcycles in existence…yet.
“Retro,” on the other hand is a little harder to define. Mirriam Webster have this to say concerning the word: “relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned.” With that in mind, something like Honda’s new CB1100RS is what we’d call “retro” – it’s something modern that is designed to look as if it was from the past. In short: something modern that just appears to be old fashioned.
We’re here to look at vintage Honda motorcycles though – but vintage isn’t exactly easy to define either. The word comes from the French vendage which described “grapes picked during a season.” The modern English word can mean many things, from describing an era, denoting a length of time, or the age of a thing. In terms of describing vintage motorcycles, it should refer to a model that is at least twenty years old, that are recognizably attached to an era…like a 70s Honda, or an 80s Suzuki. It’s not really a clear term, but something described as vintage should be of a certain age and not a modern representation. A 1971 Ducati Scrambler is vintage, while a 2015 Ducati Scrambler is retro. So what makes old Honda motorcycles so special?
What Makes A Vintage Honda Special?
Vintage Hondas are great motorcycles to buy for a number of reasons – they come in sensual, curvy shapes, produce a sound that’s noticeably classic, and most importantly, they’re pretty damn reliable – and even if you do encounter problems, there’s no shortage of spare parts, aftermarket solutions, and instructional literature to overcome any issue. Of course, there’s also the fact that Honda have literally built millions of motorcycles, meaning that even their most sought-after models are readily available and for reasonable prices too.
If you like your motorcycles to feel more analog than digital, armed with plenty of soulful character, dressed in the charismatic finery of yesteryear, but with more than enough performance and power to wrestle with modern traffic and put a smile on your face in the twisties, then a good old Honda might be exactly what you need. Here are 10 legendary old Honda motorcycles for you to investigate – so fire up eBay, ignore your bank balance, and find yourself one of these old school Honda motorcycles for sale.
10 Vintage Honda Motorcycles That You Should Own!
#10. The Honda NT650 Hawk GT
The Honda Hawk is a cult bike that should require no introduction. It was first launched in 1988 and only managed to survive for three years until it was axed in 1991. On the surface, it doesn’t have the same romance of a late 60s or 70s Honda, but it has a different brand of quality that has given it cult status: it was affordable, it was utilitarian, and above all, it was an absolute blast to ride. It might not look like it, but the Honda NT650 Hawk GT is an absolute blinder of a motorcycle, and it’s no surprise that it makes for a popular track day motorcycle these days.
Equipped with a rock-steady 647cc four-stroke, V-twin engine, the Hawk could produce a claimed 58 horsepower, and produce a tidy 31 lb-ft of peak torque at the rear wheel. Honda gave the Hawk a few awesome features, including a cool aluminum box frame, a separate bolt-on rear sub-frame, and a single-sided swingarm, which all told made it one of the first modern naked streetbikes to go on sale. It’s not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of vintage Honda motorcycles, but if you see one come up for sale in good condition, don’t hesitate. You can forgive high-mileage on these, and if you grab one at the right price, you will not regret the purchase. They are by no means exotic, but there’s a good reason why riders hold them in such high-esteem: they’re just brilliant at whatever task you set them to.
#09. The Honda VF1000R
First introduce in 1985, a full year after it made a splash in Europe, the Honda VF1000R might not have been as fast as the Kawasaki GPz900R, or come with the maneuverability of the Yamaha FJ1100, but it came with head-turning good looks, bucket loads of torque, and the Honda seal of approval. This classic V4 is often overlooked by those in search of iconic vintage Honda motorcycles, and yeah, it’s not as good as its more touring savvy VF1000F Interceptor stable mate, but what it lacks in out and out power or rider comfort it makes up for in comfort. Not all riders will feel comfortable on the VF1000R – it’s a real pain to steer, turning is a work out, and if you can lean it into a fast corner without fearing for your then you’re obviously superhuman. Cornering is one thing, but for straight line stability at speed, no other bikes in the VF1000R’s class could come close.
Driven by a beefy 998cc DOHC, liquid-cooled, 90-degree V4 engine that could produce an admirable 117 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and a 63.7 lb-ft of torque at 8,000 rpm, the VF1000R was capable of reaching top speeds of around 149 mph…which is quite impressive considering that it boasted an overall wet weight of 610 lbs! Yep, that makes it a full 50 lbs lighter than the likes of the Kawasaki GPz900R. Still, it puts that extra heft to good use at high speed…but if you’re looking for an old Honda to cruise around town on, this isn’t it. The VF1000R needs to go fast, and go straight – which makes it great for highway riding. If you can find one for sale with good mileage and in decent condition though…
#08. The Honda CX500
Honda’s CX-series lasted from 1978 to 1983, and while it might not have enjoyed the longest lifespan, the CX500 is still very much alive and kicking in the modern custom scene. It has emerged as an unusual and sought after donor machine for all kinds of customization, and for very good reason. On the surface, the CX500 doesn’t look like much: it’s a water-cooled, shaft-driven, V-twin motorcycle wrapped in an unusual and unattractive frame…but that’s what’s on the surface. In truth, the CX500 is incredibly reliable, laughably low-maintenance, and an absolute blast to drive – and it doesn’t come with the collector’s value like old-school CBs, which makes the CX500 a very attractive prospect for those in search of affordable but old Honda motorcycles.
Powered by a 497cc water-cooled, longitudinal OHV 80-degree, V-twin engine (similar to the configuration used by Moto Guzzi) the CX500 was good for 48 horsepower…unless we’re talking about the beastly Turbo variant that reportedly increased the power output to a gigantic 82 horsepower. Either way, the CX500 boasts a number of interesting features that make it worthy of this list. It boasted dual-CV carburetors that reduced emissions, it came with modular rims which meant that the CX500 was the first production motorcycle to wear tubeless tires, and it had a unique electric start system too. Of course, it also boasts Honda’s world famous reliability and durability, as well as an affordable price tag too. As far as vintage Honda motorcycle go, it’s an oddball, but one that will serve you well in any of its six existing 500cc variants.
#07. The Honda XL250
Some of the best vintage Honda motorcycles are their off-road offerings. They don’t come with the same romance-levels that their older road bikes do, but Honda’s off-road machinery from the golden age of good old enduro racing has enormous collector appeal – and they’re great fun to ride too. The XL250 is one of the most easily recognizable Honda dirt bikes: a four-stroke 250cc machine manufactured between 1972 all the way up to 1987. In fact, it was the first ever mass-produced four-valve motorcycle, and the first modern four-stroke enduro motorcycle which helped pave the way for the enduro wave that swept across the globe shortly after the model’s introduction. Thanks to its dual-sport nature, this street legal dirt bike became an incredibly popular choice for riders wanting to experience the thrill of riding on the roads but without sacrificing the exploratory nature of a full on dirt bike.
The Honda XL250 came with a powerful 250cc four-stroke engine that could produce 24 horses at the wheel, and around 16.85 lb-ft of torque too, making quite a potent package for the time. The engine was tucked away into an insanely narrow chassis that was only 12 inches wide at its widest point, save for the handlebars, of course. In total, this street legal dirt bike weighed in at a svelte 288 lbs all in, and thanks to its potent engine, streamlined chassis, and light weight, it made it a very attractive ride for budding enduro riders. Unfortunately, the XL series was dropped and replaced with the less-inspiring NX models. Honda saw the error of their ways and eventually introduce the XR-series, which was heavily inspired by the XLs…but came without the charm.
#06. The Honda GL1000 Gold Wing
The Honda Goldwing is one of the most easily recognizable motorcycles ever made: it’s big, brash, and swollen in every sense of the word – but it wasn’t always such an overweight monster. When the original GL1000 Gold Wing first rolled onto the scene in 1974 it was in a much more user-friendly configuration. Unveiled at the Cologne Motorcycle Show, the Gold Wing became the blue print for road touring models, eventually evolving into the hulking behemoths that command legions of loyal fans all over the world. If you prefer your motorcycles with less heft, then the original first generation GL1000 should be your classic Honda of choice.
The heart of the legendary GL1000 is an iconic liquid-cooled flat-four SOHC 998cc engine, a special engine that boasts a gear-driven generator that contra-rotates to off-set the engine’s powerful torque reaction, mated to a shaft driven transmission. Despite being a 1974 machine, the original Gold Wing came with an electric starter as well as a reserve kick-start option, courtesy of a removable kick start lever that could be stored in the bike’s dummy gas tank. The real gas tank was located under the seat to help improve the bike’s center of gravity – it was a heavy lump weighing in at 584 lbs dry! Despite the weight, the 80 hp and 63 lb-ft beast was a success and sold over 13,000 units in the USA in its debut year, making it one of the most successful vintage Honda motorcycles ever made.
#05. The Honda Sport 90
This old Honda goes by a number of names: the Super 90, S90, or simply Sport 90. It’s an instantly recognizable classic that first appeared in 1964 and was produced until 1969 – though larger engine models and a number of variants continued being manufactured until long after. The S90 was the fastest model in Honda’s 90cc line-up, making it a far superior sporty alternative to the likes of the CT90, CL90, CD90, and the classic C90 – despite the fact that they all shared the same engine. While the engine might be the same, the riding style and overall shape was remarkably different. Unlike the rest of the 90cc range, the S90 was built for speed.
The engine itself is a 90cc air-cooled single OHC unit with a manual four-speed transmission that could be operated with a clutch, unlike the more semi-automatic C90 derivatives. According to Honda, the S90 also has a claimed top speed of 64 mph…but I don’t think anyone has ever achieved that with a stock 8 horsepower S90. Even so, the S90 was faster than the rest and it managed this thanks to its lightweight frame design that featured a pressed steel one-piece frame as opposed to a conventional tubular steel arrangement. Couple the lightweight frame with narrow handlebars and a slim profile, along with the small but potent engine, and you’ve got a recipe for success. The S90 is one of many similar sport variants that Honda produced but it’s arguably one of the most famous, with it not having a cult following in many parts of the world.
#04. The Honda CMX250 Rebel
The Honda Rebel might have enjoyed a much needed update recently but for the vast majority of its life, the humble Rebel has remained largely unchanged. The original CMX250 arrived on the scene back in 1985 and it was an obvious game changer from day one. Using big cruiser styling but powered by a laid-back and non-aggressive 250cc engine, Honda used the Rebel to attract an entirely new generation of riders onto two wheels. America’s youth saw the appeal of a powerful-looking but economically viable and cost-effective entry level motorcycle that didn’t come with intimidating performance specs or any alienating jargon and subculture to go with it. In essence, the modern beginner friendly motorcycle was born. And nothing has ever really replaced it since.
So what made it so special? Apart from its obvious cruiser-inspired aesthetic, the Rebel CMX250 packed a bulletproof 234cc air-cooled, parallel twin engine that could produce a respectable 16.1 horsepower and about 12.1 lb-ft of torque, which roughly translates as “it’s a basic, no-nonsense motorcycle that can hit a top speed of 70 mph if you really push it – it’s got enough to get you there, and you’re probably not going to die in the process.” The engine was mated to a user friendly five-speed transmission which was simple and easy to operate, making it ideal for learners – and that’s why it’s still an MSF learner bike of choice up and down the country and abroad too. Small, durable, reliable, and fun enough. It’s not a style icon, but it’s always been an integral part of Honda’s line-up, so it’s a classic whether you class it as one or not.
#03. The Honda CR125M Elsinore
The early 70s brought a whole new discipline to the world of motorcycling: motocross. Trail riding, enduro racing, off-roading, you name it, it was happening. Motorcycles had evolved into more than a simple mode of transport and were fast becoming recreational vehicles only – and thanks to movies like On Any Sunday, everyone wanted in on the action. Honda wanted to take part, but unfortunately the best motocross bikes of the day were small displacement two-stroke machines…and Honda had no experience in engineering two-stroke motors. However, they got their heads down and worked on a two-stroke of their own…and it resulted in a 250, that was eventually scaled down, refined, and unleashed on the American public: the 1974 CR125M Elsinore had arrived.
The new 125 version boasted a bore and stroke of 56mm x 50mm, and came with a cool two-ring aluminum piston that was etched ever so slightly to retain oil. The engine cases were made from magnesium alloy which helped keep overall weight down. The Elsinore’s frame was also made from chrome-moly tubing for further weight savings, and the body work was made from plastic. When all was said and done, the Elsinore could produce a peak power output of just under 17 horsepower, and hit speeds of up to 60 mph. It was fast and powerful, and incredibly maneuverable too thanks to the Showa suspension system which offered exceptional travel too. And guess what? Small scramblers are back in fashion, making the Elsinore one of the most sought after vintage Honda motorcycles today.
#02. The Honda CB750
Well, the world’s first superbike had to make the list, didn’t it? For many, this isn’t just one of the most important vintage Honda motorcycles, it’s one of the most important motorcycles EVER. The CB750 arrived in 1969, after Honda understood that a large capacity motorcycle modeled on their already successful CB450 unit. There were plenty of reasons for the world to be excited about the CB750: it would become the world’s first commercially available, modern four-cylinder motorcycle from a major manufacturer, it came with more modern features than the public were used to (including an electric start, flashing turn signals, advanced brakes, and more), and it performed far better than anyone could have ever dreamed…trouncing any competition from Europe.
The engine was a fearsome 736cc air-cooled inline-four engine that could produce 68 horses at 8,500 rpm, 44 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm, and hit top speeds of up to 125 mph. The specs were mind-blowing but the secret to the CB750’s success was down to its user-friendliness: it wasn’t hard to ride, everything worked on it as it was supposed to (and at all times), and it was comfortable. Of course, it also looked exceptionally good and came at an economical price, and it’s for those reasons that many consider the CB750 to be one of the greatest motorcycles ever made, and a fine example of what a vintage Honda should be. Normally, that would be enough to catapult it into the number one slot…but there’s another Honda out there that has never gone out of fashion, and never failed to impress us…
#01. The Honda Super Cub
The Honda Super Cub is easily the greatest motorcycle platform ever made. Manufactured with displacements ranging from the original 49cc to the more advanced 125cc, the Honda Super Cub is responsible for more riders getting on two-wheels than any other motorcycle in the world. It’s the best-selling motorcycle of all time, and many chroniclers of history liken the little Cub to the Ford Model T, Volkswagen Beetle, or the Jeep, explaining that it’s an icon of the 20th century, and a design landmark. And they would be correct. The little Honda Super Cub is nothing short of exceptional. As far as vintage Honda motorcycle go, this is the one you want in your garage – it looks cool, it’s always fashionable, and in a nuclear/zombie apocalypse, this is the most reliable and indestructible mode of transport at your disposal.
The original Super Cub that rolled on the scene in 1958 came equipped with an air-cooled, four-stroke, single cylinder 49cc engine that produced 4.5 horsepower at 9,500 rpm, enough torque to carry a water-buffalo, and reach speeds of up to 43 mph (if you’re going downhill with the wind behind you). You can kickstart it without putting in any effort at all, and changing gear was a clutchless affair, with a semi-automatic three-speed gearbox, making so simple to ride that it literally took the “terror out of motorcycling” – allowing almost anyone to ride without being put off. The Super Cub spawned more than six variants, and all told, more that 100 million have been produced. Whether or not you still “meet the nicest people on a Honda” is a matter of opinion, but anyone that one of these vintage Honda motorcycles in their collection is someone worth knowing.
There are plenty of other models that could have made this list. What about the plucky Honda Dream? Or the celebrated Africa Twin? Or even the lesser celebrated cafe racer inspired GB500? There are loads that could be counted as the best vintage or classic models. These 10 are our favorites but they won’t be the same as someone elses choices. For many, the lowly Cub isn’t motorcycle enough to get the top honors but in our opinion, it was the little bike that got more people turned on to two wheels than any other. It might not have the status of something made by the Harley Davidson Motor Company, or the feisty continental nature of an old Ducati, but there’s no doubt that the Honda Cub is one of the most important Honda motorcycle ever made, and possibly the most important motorcycle ever made in general.