Much as Soichiro Honda is revered by car guys, the most successful vehicle (in terms of sales) that bears his name is the Super Cub motorbike, originally sold in the US as the Honda 50. This beautiful, restored Honda 50 was at the 2012 Eyes On Design show. Though engine displacement has changed over the years, the most common today being 90cc, the basic design dating to the late 1950s has remained the same: a single cylinder OHC engine mounted under a step though sheet metal frame, with a leading arm front suspension. Interestingly the idea to make the Super Cub wasn’t Soichiro Honda’s. The Super Cub was the idea of Takeo Fujisawa, Soichiro’s partner. Honda was the technical wizard but the company exists today because of Fujisawa’s sage business acumen. In 1956, the two went to Europe. Soichiro, who was a racer more than a businessman, was mostly interested in winning the time trial at the Isle of Man. Fujisawa dragged him along to visit motorcycle and scooter factories. There was a market for transportation in Europe and Japan as they were rebuilt after WWII. Fujisawa told Honda, “If you can design a small motorcycle, say 50 cc with a cover to hide the engine and hoses and wires inside, I can sell it. I don’t know how many soba noodle shops there are in Japan, but I bet you that every shop will want one for deliveries.” So Honda designed it and it’s gone on to outselling the VW Beetle, Austin Mini and Ford Model T combined, with 60 million sold and still counting. They may not sell them where you live, but they’re proab
In the US and UK Honda marketers had to overcome the Wild Bunch biker outlaw biker image attached to motorcycles and the Super Cub was designed to appeal to women as well as men, young people looking for a fun ride and older folks looking for transportation. Fujisawa thought that the small wheeled scooters, like Lambrettas, were a dead end, so he wanted a real, large wheel, motorcycle, but the scooters did and continue to have appealing features, features that Honda incorporated in the Super Cub. The step through design means that you don’t have to wear pants, and the plastic fairing/splashguard and enclosed drivechain mean that you can arrive at your destination not covered by oil and road dirt. A good deal of the early “You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda” ad campaign featured women riders.