Thursday, December 11, 2014

How Honda Got on Top. Maudes Trophy Cubs and an ascent of Snowdon

The early sixties and Japanese bikes had a lot to prove to the British motorcycling public. Soichiro Honda unleashed his masterpiece, the Super Cub, in 1959. The model entered the UK market in 1962. A new, untried and untested brand from a country that had a reputation for making 'knock off' products. In response Honda cleverly revived good old school techniques to market their machines.

The Maudes trophy had been neglected by manufacturers since 1952 when BSA riders motored three 500cc A7 Star Twins to Austria to compete in the International Six Days Trial where they won Gold Medals. The bikes were then ridden home the long way through Germany, Denmark and Oslo where they did a speed trial to prove that they could still top 80mph and were then ridden back to the UK. The Maudes Trophy was originally conceived of as an annual award for motorcycle endurance tests to be awarded to manufacturers for outstanding achievement. The Trophy was donated by George Pettyt the owner of Maudes Motor Mart of Great Portland Street in London. In practice manufacturers only made sporadic attempts on the cup and it was rarely awarded annually.

To mark their entry to the UK market Honda took three 50cc Super Cubs to the Goodwood Circuit where they were ridden continuously for a week. Over the week the little Cubs covered 15,800 miles between them without problem (an average speed of just over 31mph). For this achievement Honda was awarded the Maudes Trophy which they held on to until 1973 when it was claimed by BMW.

Not content with the Maudes Trophy Honda then in 1963 undertook more endurance stunts. Like the Maudes Trophy attempt each ride had considerable historic precedent in the sale of motorcycles to the British public.

The first feat was a winter's ride up Snowdon (see the Francis Barnett ascent of Snowdon in 1926 for precedent). This was followed by an economy run two up from London to Blackpool where an mpg of 128 was achieved. To add to the publicity the pillion was hard riding racer girl Beryl Swain. It no doubt helped that Beryl was glamourous and a 'celebrity' of the time being the first woman to complete an IoM TT; that she was a petite lass who normally raced the 50cc class was probably taken into consideration in the pursuit of economy. The final feat in the Honda endurance grand slam was a three week around Britain coastal ride on two Cubs averaging 30mph and achieving 142mpg over the course of the trip.

How Honda Got on Top brochure page 1.

How Honda Got on Top brochure page 2.

How Honda Got on Top brochure page 3.

How Honda Got on Top brochure page 4.

footnote: comment from Bob in Australia
The first Honda arrived in Australia in 1956 and we started to see a few of them by 1958. Like everyone we were wary at first. Very different looks, a specification beyond belief. Starter motor! Indicators! Mirrors that didn't vibrate. Reliability. Nothing fell off! (although we were waiting for the motor to die after six months) They took Australia by storm. By the time they got to the UK the Japanese makers had foreign marketing sewn up. They'd had a lot of practice in Australia, the States, South Africa, etc, etc. You didn't have a chance and honestly, how did you think you could compete selling things like the Fanny Bee Plover, the Ariel Leader and the LE Velo?
Personally I fell for Suzuki and had my first Suzuki before they ever appeared in the UK. I had quite a few over the years.
Nowadays I play with vintage Villiers thingies but I will always deeply admire the early export Japanese bikes.

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