Honda Milestone Models - V65 Magna & V65 Sabre
Honda's 1983 V65 Magna hit the street like a 600-pound chrome sledgehammer. Americans had built a long-term relationship with horsepower and high style on four wheels, but a motorcycle with acres of both was news. This was more than a new model. The V65 made big muscle look cool. Thus the power cruiser was born. "The best part of the V65", according to Cycle magazine's March 1983 road test, "is a mid-range punch that would do justice to Larry Holmes".
The liquid-cooled, 1098cc, 90-degree V4 engine delivered a staggering flow of power from 1500 rpm to its 10.000 rpm redline. But how quick was it? On October 3, 1982, Honda brought drag-strip maestro Jay "Pee-Wee" Gleason and a standard V65 to Southern California's Orange County International Raceway to find out. Gleason's 10.92 second 1/4-mile sprint made the V65 America's fastest production street machine, inspiring ads with one powerfully simple headline: Bad News Travels Fast.
For street riders, the good news was Honda engineers made sure the bike was easy to live with as well as fast. The four cam, 16-valve V4 cruised through a daily commute as happily as it devoured drag strips. Around town, the V65 was surpassingly agile for its size. A durable, diaphragm-type hydraulic clutch modulated power to the shaft drive, and one-way sprag clutch kept downshifts from chirping the rear tire. Anti-dive valving in the 41mm front fork helped stabilize the chassis under braking. An overdrive top gear in the six-speed transmission kept the V4 serene at freeway speeds. Tired of cruising your hometown? Strap on some saddlebags and the Magna was comfortable enough to cruise to some town three or four states away.
Riders expected such well-mannered versatility from Honda. The V65's magnetism came from its totally radical fusion of bad boy good looks and world-class quickness. According to Cycle's March, 1983 test, "Its horsepower translates directly into an immediate gut-wrenching rush, unmatched by any other production street machine". To anyone who ever felt it, that V65 rush boils down to one word. Unforgettable.
Americans love performance, so Honda gained lots of fans with the V65 Sabre™. The bike stood out from the crowd not only because of its record-shattering quarter-mile performance, but also because it was powered by a V4 in a sea of inline fours. The 65? That referred to the motor's displacement in cubic inches; metrically, it packed a whopping 1098cc.
The Sabre was a high-tech performance machine that broke the mold. Not a cruiser, a standard, or a sportbike, the Sabre had a style all its own, and boasted the kind of stump-pulling engine performance that the inline fours of the day couldn't match. The powerplant featured liquid-cooling, twin-cam heads, a six-speed gearbox and a low-maintenance shaft final drive.
The chassis components were equally impressive; cast six-spoke wheels front and back, single-shock rear suspension and a beefy 41mm leading axle fork with Honda's TRAC® anti-dive system. On top of that, the Sabre was smooth, versatile and comfortable enough for touring.
Though the V65 engine debuted a year earlier in the Magna® a machine that featured a cross between cruiser and drag bike styling the 1984 Sabre galvanized public opinion of Honda's newly minted V4 engine configuration.
Until then, Japanese high-performance was defined by inline fours. Honda did offer V4 400's for the Japanese market in 1982, but the V65's raised the performance bar with a broad torque range combined with a serious top end rush. Four valves per cylinder, relatively mild cams, an efficient induction system with straight-shot intake tracts, clean-burning combustion chambers and a quartet of 36mm constant velocity carbs gave the V65 Sabre its most powerful production motorcycle engine available. Pumping out a walloping 121 horsepower, the mighty Sabre could launch from a standstill to 50 miles per hour in just 2.31 seconds!
In addition, the 90-degree V4 package was physically narrower than the transverse four cylinder engines. Though the V4 powerplant may have been slightly longer than an inline four engine, the Sabre's forward bank of cylinders helped ensure sufficient front-end weight bias for excellent steering.
With its well-balanced chassis and muscular engine, the V65 Sabre earned a reputation as a versatile motorcycle that was fun to ride in more than just short, straight bursts down the drag strip. Californian Jim Newberry rode his Sabre to a fifth place finish at the 1984 Iron Butt Rally and improved one position the following year, demonstrating that the bike was comfortable and reliable for the long haul.
Indeed, the Sabre proved the versatility of Honda's family of V4's, which included machines as diverse as the custom V65 Magna and the Interceptor® sportbike line. The Sabre's unique balance of performance and versatility became a hallmark of Honda's V4 machines in the years to come. These virtues still define Honda's current V4 models, the Magna, the ST1100™ and VF800 Interceptor machines that carved a niche in the marketplace as great streetbikes for riders who demanded high-performance without trading comfort and versatility.