Honda have always been proud of their engineering prowess – their machines have often exemplified cutting edge technologies. And the late-1970s/early-1980s six-cylinder Honda CBX was right up there – one of the most amazing machines ever to come out of Japan. The incredible CBX was inspired by Honda's six-cylinder RC166 250cc Grand Prix road racing motorcycle, on which Mike Hailwood won the World 250cc GP racing championships in 1966 and 1967.
Both the RC and the CBX were conceptualized by the widely respected Shoichiro Irimajiri, Vice-President at Honda R&D at one time. At the bike's launch in 1979, Irimajiri said ‘When we [Honda] were racing, we were up against four-cylinder two-strokes built by Yamaha and Suzuki. Cylinder multiplication was the only way we could be competitive. That's why we built the five-cylinder 125 and the two six-cylinder machines. The CBX is a direct descendant of these race engines. That's one reason why it took only a year and a half to develop. We already had the engine technology from our GP racing experience.’ All right, Irimajiri San! Now how cool’s that!
The six-cylinder, 1000cc CBX engine, with four valves per cylinder, featured sophisticated constant velocity carburetors and made around 85 horsepower at 9,000rpm (the company claimed 105bhp…). The engine looks very wide in pictures, but the bike is actually only two inches wider than the four-cylinder Honda CB750. According to a road test done by American magazine Cycle (now merged with Cycle World magazine), the CBX did the quarter mile in 11.55 seconds and was capable of 220km/h top speeds. In 1980, in the US, the bike cost US$4,200 or about Rs 200,000 at today’s exchange rate.
The styling – which looks so, so cool even today – was done under the direction of one Norimoto Otsuka. However, for the bike’s weight and power, the chassis was a bit spindly, with weedy forks and narrow wheels and tyres (which were the norm in those days), which meant the CBX didn't handle very well.
Given its weight, high list price and relatively poor handling, the CBX did not sell very well, and Honda ceased production of this bike by 1982-83. Today, there are some six-cylinder cruisers still in existence, but none have the magical charm and the charisma of the CBX. (That just might change if Suzuki let loose with a ZZR1400-beating six-cylinder Hayabusa in 2007!)
Personally, I have ridden the 1980s six-cylinder Kawasaki Z1300, which Kawasaki built to compete with the Honda CBX. I quite loved the sheer audacity and the visual drama of the Z1300. But I still hope to ride a CBX someday…Read Cycle magazine’s first road test of the mighty Honda CBX here