Shortly after American Honda Motor Co. (AHM) first opened for business in 1959, the company purchased a small fleet of Chevy pickups to deliver motorcycles to its fledgling dealers across Southern California. One of these trucks is depicted in an iconic photo circa 1961 in front of AHM’s original office at 4077 Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.
Underscoring their importance during those early days, American Honda restored a truck to authentically match the one in the old photo, helping celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary.
Tapping its U.S. archives and memories of retired Honda associates for details, a 1961 Chevy half-ton pickup was found and carefully renovated, replicating the original paint scheme as used by company salesmen delivering motorcycles to dealers to sell on a consignment basis. These trucks helped American Honda quickly establish a U.S. market foothold, starting in Southern California. By 1965, Honda was the best-selling motorcycle brand in America, with a market share of almost 72%.
To ready the special truck for its debut at AHM’s 60th-anniversary celebration on June 11, it was given a mild mechanical freshening plus new factory-correct white paint and hand-painted graphics like the originals. Two vintage motorcycles – a Honda 50 and CB160, like those originally carried in the trucks – are placed in the truck bed. The completed package is now on display in the lobby of American Honda’s Torrance, California, headquarters.
Plans for public display include the 2019 SEMA Show and other events around the country, as well as classic vehicle gatherings around Southern California. Ultimately, the truck will make its way to the American Honda Collection Hall in Torrance, where it will be staged in front of a replica of the company’s original Los Angeles office.
Powered by a 283-cubic-inch, 160-horsepower V-8, the truck is built on a half-ton chassis with an 8-foot bed and features a three-speed manual transmission.
The truck’s cargo – in this case two important motorcycles from those early days – also was procured, helping recreate what the package looked like as salesmen traveled around the state to support their dealers.
A red 1965 Honda 50, known in other parts of the world as the Super Cub, occupies the left side of the truck bed. The first big success among the Honda motorcycles sold in the United States, the “Nifty Thrifty Honda 50” as it was advertised, put Honda on the map in America in the early 1960s – and around the world for that matter.
Easy to ride for almost anyone, the Honda 50 became a surprise hit – immortalized in the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” marketing campaign. This 1965 model runs and rides perfectly and is ready for another 60 years of enjoyment.
Also sharing the Chevy truck bed is an original 1965 Honda CB160, one of Honda’s early small-displacement sport bikes. The little CB was a big hit for American Honda, following in the footsteps of the larger CB77 “Super Hawk” in moving away from a stamped steel monocoque in favor of a tubular steel frame.
Cycle World magazine dubbed the new bike a “baby Super Hawk” at the time. It was popular with young riders moving up from the Honda 50 or 90 who wanted something that looked like a true motorcycle. This 1965 model was completely restored last year and is in perfect running order.
60th Anniversary of Honda in America
In June, Honda marks its 60th anniversary in the United States, and in September, the company celebrates 40 years of production in America. Honda established its first U.S. business operation in Los Angeles in 1959. Today, Honda employs more than 31,000 associates in the development, manufacturing, sales and servicing of Honda and Acura automobiles, Honda power equipment and powersports products, the HondaJet advanced light jet and GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines.
Based on its longstanding commitment to “build products close to the customer,” Honda operates 12 major manufacturing facilities in America, working with more than 600 suppliers in the region to produce roughly 4 million products annually for customers locally and globally. In 2018, almost two-thirds of the Honda and Acura automobiles sold in the United States were produced in America, using domestic and globally sourced parts, according to the automaker.
Honda also operates 14 major U.S. R&D centers with the capacity to fully design, develop and engineer many of the products Honda produces in America, including Honda and Acura automobiles, Honda side-by-side vehicles and power equipment, as well as the HondaJet.