Dean Adams Paul Dean Dave Despain
Tosh Konya Dick Lepley Steve McMinn
Mark Mederski Bill Silver Randall Washington

Recollections of 40 years with Honda

By Paul Dean

Paul Dean

In one way or another, American Honda has been a part of my business life for more than 40 years. With rare exception, the relationship has been very cordial, with only the occasional “difference of opinion,” but it always has been maintained on a professional level, thanks mostly to the high quality of the people I’ve had the good fortune to deal with there.

My first involvement with American Honda was in Pittsburgh in December of 1965 when I went to work for Civic Center Honda, one of Western Pennsylvania’s largest motorcycle dealerships. Up until that time, I was just a typical street rider with not the faintest knowledge about the size and scope of the motorcycle industry. So my time spent at Civic Center—first as a mechanic, then Service Manager and finally General Manager—was a real eye-opener. The middle 1960s was a period of unprecedented growth in the motorcycle business, and I recall one Saturday in which we moved 40 new motorcycles out the door, along with more than a half-dozen used ones. So as the dealership’s GM, I spent much time on the phone with Honda’s sales people, begging for more inventory, and I always found them to be pros who seemed as eager to provide me with additional product as I was to receive it.

From August of 1968 until early in 1973, I was employed by companies that sold other brands, so I had no contact with American Honda. But when I went to work at Cycle Guide magazine in February of 1973, my connection with Honda was reestablished, this time as a motorcycle journalist, and it has continued uninterrupted to this day.

Actually, that reconnection occurred a few weeks before I officially became a staff member at Cycle Guide. The editor of that magazine had approached me about coming on board as Engineering Editor, but he first wanted assurance that I had sufficient riding skills to be a capable test rider. So, my “job interview,” if you will, was to spend two solid days thrashing around a motocross track on the brand-new, just-released CR250 Elsinore, Honda’s first venture into the world of competitive motocross.

Evidently, I rode well enough to get the job. But more importantly, that test gave me the chance to meet many of the engineers and designers responsible for that landmark machine, and I came away impressed with all of them—most notably George Etheridge, the American Honda off-road specialist whose hands-on guidance had helped to make the Elsinore fully competitive from the moment it first hit the racetrack.

That was my first peek into the inner workings of the world’s largest motorcycle company, thanks to the efforts of its U.S. subsidiary, American Honda. But there would be more to follow—the introduction of the six-cylinder CBX, learning the technical intricacies of the complex CX500 Turbo, getting the inside story of the groundbreaking CBR900RR, watching the constant evolution of the inimitable Gold Wing, probing into the racy RC30 and RC45, to name just a few. These introductions also afforded me opportunities to spend valuable time with many of the company’s top executives and model-development project leaders. These included Shoichiro Irimajiri, the brilliant engineer who, among his many other remarkable accomplishments, was the brainchild behind the company’s revolutionary world-championship-winning racebikes of the 1960s.

In September of 1981, Cycle Guide moved its editorial and sales offices from Compton, California, to nearby Torrance. Shortly thereafter, American Honda began building its new U.S. corporate headquarters on a city-block-sized chunk of land just a few hundred feet from our offices. Cycle Guide’s one-story building had a neat little “front porch” of sorts, so most days, we would sit out there and eat lunch while watching construction progress on Honda’s enormous campus.

But my most memorable involvement with the company came in the Fall of 1978 when American Honda took four U.S. magazine editors on a tour of several Honda facilities in Japan. During that visit, I was able to do some exciting things, including ride a factory endurance roadracer and a couple of works motocrossers at the Honda-owned Suzuka Circuit. We four also were the first Western journalists ever allowed inside Honda R&D, and what a revelation that was! After just a few hours in that astounding facility, we all started believing that if Honda chose to do so, it could produce machines that would put most other motorcycle manufacturers out of business. That has never been the company’s mission, however, a fact for which the rest of the industry should be thankful.

But as impressive as that part of the trip might have been, the most unforgettable event came on our last evening when we had an intimate dinner with Soichiro Honda at his guest house in Tokyo. Mr. Honda had always been described as a great lover of life, a man with a quick wit, a warm disposition and a huge grin permanently carved into his face, and everything we witnessed that night confirmed that reputation. He joked, he laughed, he engaged in personal conversations and he displayed considerable performance skills with one of his favorite hobbies: magic tricks. Anyone who walked into that dining room that evening unaware of who Mr. Honda was never would have guessed that they were in the presence of one of the greatest industrialists of the 20th century, a man widely thought of as the Henry Ford of Japan.

When your founder and namesake is a man like that, it’s no wonder that Honda has become one of the most powerful, successful and innovative companies of its kind on the planet—and that American Honda has grown to be a major force in the U.S. motorcycle and automobile markets.

About the Author:

For the past 25 years, Paul Dean has been a fixture at Cycle World magazine in Newport Beach, California, first as Editor-In-Chief, then VP & Editorial Director, now VP & Senior Editor. He held similar positions at Cycle Guide magazine over an 11-year period prior to moving to Cycle World.  Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1941, Dean worked in and managed two area motorcycle shops before signing on as National Service Manager for Yankee Motor Company in 1970. In his youth, he competed in auto racing for almost 10 years, then developed a love for motorcycle racing, competing in virtually every aspect of the sport for more than 25 years.  In 1989, Dean was appointed to the AMA Board of Trustees and elected Chairman in 1991, a position he held until 1997. He also served on the AMA Pro Racing Board of Directors from 1998 to that organization’s closing in 2006. 

To contact Paul Dean, click cw1dean@aol.com.  To access the Cycle World magazine web site, click here.