About HondaSince it's introduction in 1946, Honda has grown from a small motorcycle manufacturer to one of the world's largest and most respected automotive brands. Honda is known globally for its commitment to producing quality products that focus on reliability, innovation, and value. Honda is more than just a motorcycle and car maker though. Honda has led the way in mobility assistance research, producing the first ever multi-functional mobile assistant - ASIMO. Honda is also a manufacturer of Power Equipment, and leads the industry with its line of portable generators, and lawn equipment. Honda hasn't stopped there and even has developed and manufactured its own jet aircraft!
We at Honda Parts Unlimited are truly proud to able to support Honda by offering replacement parts and accessories to not only keep your Honda on the road, but keep it looking good for many years to come. Our site is dedicated to helping you find the right part for your Honda, at the right price. We share Honda's core principles, and are also "dedicated to supplying products of the highest quality, yet at a reasonable price for worldwide customer satisfaction"
Below we take a look into how Honda started, how it became what it is, and where its headed.
The Birth of an Icon
Honda's beginning is one that involves a man, an old discarded military surplus engine, and a simple idea. Born in Komyo Village in Japan in 1906, Soichiro Honda was the son of a blacksmith. Growing up, Soichiro was not a fan of traditional education. He often tried to cheat, and was often in trouble at school for trying to aid others in cheating. His innovative thinking started here as he tried to forge report cards, so his parents wouldn't discover his poor grades.
Growing up also gave Soichiro his introduction into the world of machines. Working at his father's bicycle shop, he helped fix second-hand bicycles to resell, and became fascinated by their inner workings. Bicycles had become extremely popular in Japan, and his father's shop helped lower income families afford to have one of the luxuries. Soon after he started working with his father, the first car made its way to his village. He later said the smell of that car is what started his love or machines.
This love would grow and after borrowing a bicycle to ride to an airplane demonstration, his passion for machinery and invention was cemented. There was no going back now. Soichiro knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Laying the Foundation
At just 15 Soichiro discovered an ad for the Art Shokai, an automobile repair company. He was so impressed, he decided to bypass his next level of education, and write a letter to ask to be an apprentice. He was accepted became a star pupil, garnering the attention of the owner of the Art Shokai, Mr. Yuzo Sakakibara. Mr. Sakakibara not only encouraged Soichiro's learning about both motorcycles and automobiles, but also his interest in motorsports. In 1923, with the oversight of Mr. Sakakibara, and the help of Soichiro, and his fellow classmates, the Art Shokai built their first race car. In 1924, with Mr. Honda as the teams engineer, the "Curtis" as it was named shocked everyone to win the Fifth Japan Automobile Competition - its very first race.
After completing the apprenticeship, he returned to his village to start up a new branch of the Art Shokai In 1928. While owning the shop young Soichiro had began reaping a fleet of taxis, and developed a strong friendship with the owner of the taxi company, Kenzaburo Inukai. They remained friend for many years, and this friendship will prove to be the most substantial of Soichiro's life. Life in motorsports meanwhile, didn't end with the time at the Art Shokai. He continued to race all the way up until an accident almost killed his brother in 1936. The timing was good though, as Japan began its war with China in 1936, and racing around the country would come to a standstill. This was also a time of transition for Mr. Honda, as his desire for automotive repair declined. He wanted to turn his shop into a manufacturer for piston rings, but his investors couldn't see why he wanted to convert a successful business into a small manufacturer, and wouldn't let him covert the shop.
This didn't stop Soichiro though. In 1937, with the help from a friend, Mr. Honda founded the Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry, or Tokai Seiki for short. With this new company he started Art Piston Ring Research Center out of his repair shop, and worked on the development of these piston rings after the shop closed every night.
Now the success Mr. Honda enjoyed with repairing cars didn't transfer to his new endeavor. He decided he needed to improve his knowledge of metallurgy, so he enrolled part-time at the Hamamatsu Industrial Institute (now the Faculty of Engineering at Shizuoka University), while continued his development at the "research center". It took 2 years, however he finally produced a product he was happy with, and in 1939, gave control of Art Shokai Hamamatsu branch over to his employees. He was no longer in the auto repair business.
Now even though Mr. Honda had a better understanding of metallurgy, his manufacturing venture still endured difficulties. Tokai Seiki won a contract from Toyota to manufacturer piston rings that same year, however out of 50 examples sent to Toyota, only 3 met the quality control standards for Toyota. Soichiro was determined to make this company successful and set out to visit steel making companies in Japan to learn about Toyota's quality control processes, as well an enroll in school again. The second time was the charm, and Tokai Seiki was selected to produce piston rings for Toyota. This should have been the start of a great new business, but in 1941 Japan entered World War II, and Tokai Seiki was placed under the control of the Ministry of Munitions, and in 1942 40% of the company was purchased b Toyota. This purchase would prove to be the beginning of the end for Tokai Seiki as Mr. Honda was downgraded to Senior Managing Director. The real fall of the company came in 1944, when the facility was bombed by the allies, and during the rebuilding destroyed again in the Mikawa earthquake of 1945. Soichrio sold the rest of his stake and salvageable assets to Toyota, and found himself searching for the next stage of his career. Knowing he still wanted to pursue manufacturing, and even more importantly, inventing, Soichiro founded the Honda Technical Research Institute on September 1st, 1946.
The Visit that Changed Everything
During the early fall of 1946 Soichiro decided to pay his longtime friend, and former customer Kenzaburo Inuka a visit. While in Kenzaburo's shop Honda stumbled upon a used Mikuni Shoko military surplus engine (similar to the one pictured left) used for the generator on a wireless radio. It was at this moment that Soichiro had an idea. One that would change his life forever. The idea was simple, but to understand it, we need to look at post war Japan.
Times after the war were extremely difficult for the working class people of Japan, as the constant bombing by the allies took an enormous toll on Japan's infrastructure. The primary method of transportation was the bicycle, and because the roads were in such a terrible state, bicycles became the primary method of freight transportation as well. As you can imagine transporting goods via bicycle was a difficult endeavor, and the demand for cheap, motorized transportation that could navigate the treacherous terrain was high. The only problem was this wasn't cheap, and was reserved for the wealthy as more of a toy rather than a made of transportation. Soichiro saw an opportunity to not only help the lower and middle middle class people of Japan, but make a business of it, and set to work immediately on a prototype.
Now the idea of a motorized bicycle was not new by nay means. It was a popular form of transport in France, and Honda's first prototype closely copied this version. The problem though was this design was not the most efficient, and caused numerous components to fail prematurely. Honda started to work on a more efficient type of motorized bike which featured the engine tucked into the frame that utilized a chain to the rear wheels. This version helped to keep parts, especially the tires from wearing out too fast, making it much more reliable.
Going For It
Shortly after Honda began work on his prototype, he recognized the need for a place to build these vehicles if he was going to be successful. According to the Honda Motor Company history published for the seventh anniversary of its founding:
"In the late summer of 1946, a small, barrack-like building was erected amid the bending clumps of plumed pampas grass in the burned-out open plot at No. 30, Yamashita-cho, Hamamatsu City. Inside was an old belt-driven lathe, and outside were about ten machine tools in a row. At the entrance, a signboard proclaiming the Honda Technical Research Institute was hung. The president and twelve or thirteen employees were hard at work."
He also needed more engines to produce these modified bicycles, so he purchased the remaining 500 generator engines from Mikuni Shoko, using most of what was left from the sale of his manufacturing company to Toyota only a few short years before.
These 13 employees, including Mr. Honda took these engines, tore them down, and rebuilt each one before fitting to bicycles and then test riding them before selling them. This was actually one of the first examples of a pre-delivery inspection you see before purchasing a car or truck today. As word of mouth spread, more and more people had became interested in these low-cost modified bicycles, and soon the Honda Technical Research Institute were running out of engines to use. They needed to develop their own engine to keep up with demand, and Honda knew he needed to bring in engineers to help him with the task of developing and manufacturing their own small engines.
With the help of the new staff, Honda began to design his own version of the same 2-stoke engine, but didn't want to copy anything done previously. He felt that to be successful this new engine needed to be different than any others before it, and to truly set themselves apart, it needed to eliminate any disadvantages the 2-stoke engine had, and improve the advantages. What was developed is what you see here (right), dubbed the "chimney" engine. This engine would have been the perfect way to enter the market, however just like most of the ventures up until this point, difficulty befell Honda and he needed to come up with another plan. What was the issue? The chimney engine was so advanced for its time, there wasn't a manufacturing method available to produce it and until one was developed his chimney engine would be nothing more than a drawing.
Even though Honda's idea was so ahead of its time, it couldn't come to be, engines were running out, and he needed to start selling these motorized bicycles. Honda simply used a conventional 2-stroke engine design to get these new machines on the road, and even though the engine itself wasn't anything special, the approach he took to make them unique to his brand, was.
Instead of using a traditional intake assembly which utilized piston vales attached to the top of the cylinder, this engine had a rotary disc vale attached to the crankcase. This allowed the carburetor to be mounted to the side of the engine instead of the top, allowing for them to be mounted and worked on easier. Furthermore, a manually-operated belt transmission mechanism that also was used for the clutch was patented. This made a simple bicycle with an engine mounted to it much more like a scooter or motorcycle than previous versions, and people took notice.
Now this wasn't the only innovative aspect to the Type-A, or Honda's company. To manufacture these engines cost effectively, the use of sand-casting would have been ideal. It would have allowed for these engines to be built cheaply, and would have allowed more to be sold. This wasn't how Honda did things though and instead, Soichiro insisted on die-casting all of the components.
This process involves creating the dies out of metal instead of sand, and while much more expensive (especially for such a small outfit), the products produced by it were not only more attractive, but the manufacturing itself allowed for the same product to be made with less material and far less processes than sand-casting, making it a better long term choice. Honda wasn't expecting this company to go under anytime soon after all.
In November 1947, the Type-A began production and immediately went on sale. These featured a new cast aluminum fuel tank, in the shape of a teardrop. In February 1948, a new engine assembly plant was created in Noguchi-cho. This plant saw the first assembly line for the company, and it was far different than any before it. This line was created with the idea of making work easier, by allowing parts to not travel so far from station to station, and used far less space than standard assembly lines at the time.
This idea was again, good on paper, but failed to work as anticipated. The parts created fit poorly, and extra time was needed to file and hammer parts to get them to fit. This angered Honda, as he himself said:
"It’s no good if we need to have special skills or techniques to assemble our products. The plant workers and the repairmen at the dealers aren’t all like me. Don’t make something that requires a master’s touch."
Further improving on the Type-A throughout 1948, Honda's new product was huge success. people from all over Japan would travel to the small <---factory location---> factory to buy up these affordable, easy to work on motorized bicycles.
Honda is officially born
Riding the wave of success from the Type-A engine, Honda knew now was the time to start selling more models, including entire motorcycles themselves. So on September 24, 1948, the Honda Motor Co Ltd. was born. Based in Itaya-cho, the small one room office added several new employees, including for the first time, engineers with college degrees. There was no celebration though. There was no speech by Soichiro. The sign in front of the building didn't even change. Many employees recalled only hearing about the incorporation during the middle of their shift, because Mr. Honda knew there was no time for celebration. The only thing that mattered at that moment was the next idea and began work on new prototypes. The first of which was the Type-B; which was attached to a small 3 wheeler. It ended up being scrapped due to its poor riding characteristics.
The Type-B gave way to the Type-C, which this time would be sold as a complete motorcycle. It featured a 96cc engine, which was a redesigned Type-A that made 3hp instead of the previous 1hp. It featured a larger gas tank, change in engine mounting location, as well as a larger motorcycle seat, and more cargo area. It was built on a purpose built chassis - a first for Honda, although it was costly due to the fact that Honda did not have the facility or resources yet to construct their own frame.
The Type-C performed much better than the Type-A, and in fact won the class championship at a Japanese-American competition held at Maruko Tamagawa in July 1949 in its first first try. It didn't sell as well as Honda hoped though. The desire to manufacturer a frame for the engines was growing, as Honda wanted to be a true motorcycle manufacturer.