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AN OVAL CYLINDER


Honda's first attempt with a V4 motorcycle engine was a resounding failure, perhaps even almost worse than the F1 failure from 2015-2017. Honda retired from motor GP in 1967, having won everything worth winning. Thanks to some of the most amazing 4-stroke racing engines the world had ever seen.


AN OVAL CYLINDER

Perhaps it was realized that in future it would not be possible to compete with the faster 2-stroke engines that everyone else except MV-Agusta ran with. Perhaps it was because Honda wanted to use all its resources to become a car manufacturer on a large scale. In any case, it took until 1977 before Honda announced that it would once again compete in the king class, which was then 500 cc. The founder of Honda, Soichiro Honda, hated 2-strokes, so it had to be 4-strokes, and Honda himself believed that they could build an engine that could compete with the wild and violent 2-stroke machines from Yamaha and Suzuki. They couldn't! Despite great efforts, Honda finally had to bite the bullet. They had the wild idea that if they made a compact V4 engine with oval cylinders and lots of valves (8 valves and 2 spark plugs per cylinder), they thought it was possible to get up to the 120-130 hp that was the minimum measure. It is claimed that these engines actually achieved the desired power in the test bench. But they didn't work as intended in the real world. The 1979-81 season was a failure despite the huge investment. However, the NR500 model with the special engine won a single race under fortunate circumstances at Laguna Seca. The machine also won the Suzuka 200 kilometer race in 1981, after which they abandoned this engine and built a new racer NS500 with a 2-stroke engine and won the World Championship in 1983. But it must have been a stomach-churner for Honda. Fortunately, they didn't abandon the V4 engine, and it was a good thing they didn't. That engine configuration became the power source in a whole new series of fine street motorcycles, the VF 400, VF 500, VF 750 and VF 1000, and the idea of the oval cylinders would appear many years later on the Honda RVF750 RC45. Honda rarely gives up on something they set out to do.


But here too, Honda did not have the best start to the new era, as these engines were not quite as reliable as could be desired, far from it in fact, and Honda was met with massive complaints due to worn camshafts. These machines were modern and ran very well, but the rear pairs of cylinders wore out camshafts in no time. There were many opinions as to what was the cause - too much heat, bad lubrication and/or too bad materials. I've messed with these engines quite a bit myself and have no doubt that it was a combination of several things that did it. The cylinder heads were not line drilled, and the camshafts were not mounted well enough, so the camshafts could move too much in the bearings, both vertically and laterally. Since these engines were very revving and the oil passages quite long, some were perhaps damaged on cold starts. No one could say for sure what caused the camshaft problem. Another problem was the camshaft chain tensioners, which also broke. A real shame for those who bought one of these machines from new. Many had high expectations because these machines were praised to the skies by the first people who tested them. But the first owners were left with machines that ran well but could not last. Perhaps these years were the most embarrassing period in the entire history of Honda. Could Honda really be so wrong? Yes, apparently they could. And then they also realized that something had to be done. The solution was the VFR, which contained a totally re-designed V4 engine with drive to the camshafts. An excellent engine which for many years set the standard for what was technically possible in terms of durability on a standard machine. These machines have proven to be almost indestructible. All this happened during a period when I didn't have a motorcycle, but I still followed a little of what was happening on that front.


A NEW FACE

When I again came to a face in life where it became possible to ride a motorcycle, these VF machines were so far down in price that I thought it might be fun to own one. One of my mates lent me his VF 500, and I thought it ran really well, so when I came across a well-maintained VF 750 F in Germany that had only driven 30,000 km, I jumped at the chance. I used it a bit on test plates and became more and more happy to drive it. So I paid the registration fee and put Danish plates on it, and thus happily drove off into the summer country on what was once Honda's technical flagship with lots of brand new technology. There was air-supported suspension and an anti-dive front fork with plenty of adjustment options. And last but not least, a water-cooled V4 engine with 4 overhead camshafts and 16 valves, which gave off a wonderful sound that I enjoyed every time I started it up. It sounded as crisp and willing as it was.


Up until then it was the best motorcycle I had ridden, it could brake and accelerate and with its 90 hp was far enough fast for me. Comfortable driving position, good and lively driving characteristics with the small 16 inch front wheel, which was also a novelty for this model. Yes, I became so comfortable with this machine that I got the desire and courage to take some really long trips on it. I felt I had gotten a superbike for a pittance, and I set out on it, among other things, on a trip to the sunny coast of Spain. It was in 2006, that was the last trip I took on it, I sold it the week before and handed it to the new owner when I got back from my trip to Spain. I had no problems with it either on this trip or during the time I had it. It then also had the small sticker which showed that Honda had replaced the camshafts under warranty in its time. I installed a modified oil system kit with external oil hoses that bypass the oil to the cylinder heads, so that the lube oil could reach the cylinder heads in a flash on a cold start. I used the best quality mineral lubricating oil as recommended. All this just in case!


I drove almost 15,000 km on it without any problems. It was a really good bike except for the finicky camshafts. And that bike made me want even more Honda V4s. I have since had 3 VFRs and still have a newer VFR in the garage. I think VFR deserves its own story, that will come later. The trip to Spain will also be here on this site.

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