We take a walk through Honda's history
Having Honda’s 2015 FourTrax model intro at the company’s private museum just around the corner from its main American headquarters in Torrance, Calif., presented us with the opportunity to view a couple of the company’s seminal models, including the machine that really started the ATV craze and also the first true sport-utility ATV.
Of course, both of these were three-wheeled machines, with three-wheelers remaining the category standard until Suzuki’s Quad Racer came along in the mid-1980s, followed almost immediately by a wholesale switch away from three wheels after the US Government’s total ban on three-wheeled ATVs in 1987. Three-wheeled ATVs effectively went the way of the dinosaur.
These days, clean Honda ATC (All Terrain Cycle) models are a rare sight indeed, but Honda has two excellent examples on display in its museum. The original-original is the balloon-tired ATC 90 (originally called the US 90). Introduced in 1969 and originally designed as a fun runner for beach goers, it’s air-cooled, two-valve four-stroke and centrifugal-clutched three-speed transmission seem primitive now, but it was just one more example of Honda’s stone-reliable engineering. Today, restored ATC 90s can command big dollars with motorcycle collectors, especially if they still have the original tires, which are only slightly easier to find than a 10-pound gold nugget in your backyard. Even Honda’s museum example wears crusty NOS tires.
Following the debut of the ATC 90, sport models evolved fairly quickly, with Honda setting the bar of ultimate off-road performance to a new level when it introduced the ATC 250R in 1981. It wasn’t until a year later that the company showed just how effective ATVs could be in the work and sportsman recreational environments when it introduced the 1982 ATC 200E Big Red, the first true multi-purpose ATV. The Big Red offered minimal front and rear suspension, but it was also equipped with standard steel racks that could be used to carry cargo, such as tool boxes and hay bales. The model became an immediate hit with ranchers, farmers and hunters, spawning an entire sub-genre that continues to this day in the multi-purpose FourTrax models.
Beyond ATVs, the Honda Museum displays a host of motorcycles and cars from Honda’s long and impressive history. We’d like to encourage you to drop by for a visit, but John Q. Public can’t get in without an invitation. Since you can go the museum, we’ll bring the museum to you. Check out the photos below showcasing some vintage Honda products.