’57 Honda E-Type Dream
Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard
Spotlight | We all know the story. Mighty Honda, Japanese maker of cheapo motorbikes after WWll grown into the 800-pound gorilla of the modern motorcycle world. Hell, Honda killed the English motorcycle industry with a 50cc tiddler that didn’t leak oil. Never referred to as a motorcycle. Always called a Honda: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” was one of the world's greatest advertising slogans for one of the most ambitious companies on earth.
The Honda we in the West know begins in 1959 when Honda turned its sights outward from Japan and took square aim at the export market. Before 1959, there were 14 years of desperate, hard work climbing out of the bombed-out rubble of post-war Japan.
Japanese industry as a whole, with help from the Marshall Plan, was determined to show the world that it should be taken seriously, and if it would not be as a military empire then it would be through its engineering and the quality of its products.
Soichiro Honda’s famous statement, “If we aren’t number one in the world we won’t be number one in Japan,” speaks volumes.
1949 saw two watershed moments for the fledgling company. Takeo Fujisawa joined the firm and the company brought out the D-Type two-stroke. Fujisawa was the business genius and salesman that Honda had been waiting for to push him over the top, and the D was Honda’s first full-on motorcycle. The bike bore more than a passing resemblance to pre-war German machines like Zundapp; however, Honda gave it its own twist.
The D-Type featured a novel semiautomatic clutch and a two-speed box. It was designed to make it easier for beginning riders to use. But as the novelty wore off, sales of the D-Type lagged and it became clear that a new model was needed. Honda was never all that impressed with two-strokes and was just waiting for the right moment to make the switch.
By 1951, Honda had fought its way up to making larger motorcycles. The company was just about to purchase millions of Yen worth of the best, most modern machine tools available. But it was struggling with quality issues and economic downturn in Japan. The old man would be out on the factory floor, his uniform dirty, sleeping in his office to be closer to the action, closer to his men who adored him, grinding away in the drafting office. Fujisawa worked just as hard getting concessions from the suppliers and raising capital to keep the struggling company going.
1951 was to see the launch of the company’s first four-stroke bike, the 146cc E-Type Dream. That is where our featured bike comes in. This was the bike that set Honda up for its takeover of the world. Its styling is decidedly pre-war and a holdover from the D-Type. It is a deco masterpiece of style and line. The engine, designed by Kiyoshi Kawashima, was a pushrod single with a cast-iron top end that punched above its weight. It started out as a two-speed but was soon given an extra cog. Within three years, production of the E-Type had risen to 32,000 units a year.
The basic E-Type stayed in production for eight years, evolving through several types to our featured bike, the 1957 189cc Dream 6E. This motorcycle represents the last of the old Honda. A company on the cusp of bursting on the world scene with the most advanced four-stroke production bikes on the market. Parked next to a CB72, the E-Type looks decidedly old fashioned. But in many ways this is the product that launched the 800-pound gorilla.