by James G. Pynn

The mere notion that the automotive world would come to be dominated by a Japanese company was incomprehensible at the middle of the 20th century. Up to that point in history, the Japanese were know for manufacturing cheap tin toys and disposable trinkets. Indeed, most fans and industry insiders ridiculed their first forays into motorcycle manufacturing. It would not be an easy road for this fledgling company.

It wasn’t Soichiro Honda’s stated goal to dominate the Japanese market. His goals were far more global. “I knew that if I could succeed in the world market,” Soichiro Honda once said, “then automatically it would follow that we [would lead] in the Japanese market.” As early as 946, Soichiro Honda foresaw the need for affordable, fuel-efficient transportation. As a result, the first vehicle to roll off his assembly line was a 98 cc two-stroke motorcycle. Fittingly, this first two-wheeled vehicle was named “The Dream.”

Responding to demand rather than finances, Honda quickly overextended himself. He purchased an entire factory’s worth of new manufacturing equipment without a viable commodity to pay for the cost. When the utilitarian, but bland Juno Scooter flopped in worldwide markets, Honda was virtually weeks away from filing for bankruptcy. What saved the company was not an outside financier or foreign interventionist. It was a race.

The odds of placing, much less winning at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race, were not favorable. Honda being something of an incorrigible gambler, defied the odds by focusing on a notion that was still in its infancy: branding. Honda was less interested in actually winning than in introducing the Honda motorcycle to a new generation of riders. Impressed by the ruggedness of the motorcycles and the determination of the riders, including the renowned Japanese rider, Naomi Taniguchi, fans began to take notice.

It was a slow, tidal pay off for Honda. Rather than winning the race, Honda managed to win the hearts and minds of some of motorcycling’s top riders. In light of increased international interest and orders, the looming bankruptcy faded into history as sales picked up. This reputation would come to be invaluable as Honda began to steer itself towards the manufacturing and perfection of the automobile.

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