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

Honda history, a personal perspective

By Tosh Konya

Tosh Konya

In 1959, I was still in high school and my daily travels to school-and-back took me past the tiny shop where American Honda began.   For those not familiar with Los Angeles, the building on West Pico Boulevard was in what was then called the Wilshire District, but has now morphed into Koreatown, which is a great improvement after several decades of decay.

In those days, it was fairly common to see Japanese businessmen coming and going from that facility.  The showroom portion of the building on Pico was about the size of a two or three-chair barbershop and my guess is that in the back were offices and perhaps some parts storage.  Amazingly, I know of only one photo of that facility – the exterior shot of the front façade - that exists today.  There are no photos of the interior or the back sections of the building.   At the time, I wondered how long Honda motorcycles would last here since I perceived real riders rode British Iron or Harleys.  I was a hot rod nut and read all those magazines which sometimes carried tests of big-bore motorcycles.  The test riders always wore Levis, engineer boots, and a black leather jacket; some things never change!

Friends who worked as sales reps for American Honda in the early ‘60s said their company cars were Chevy station wagons with a Honda C100 (Cub 50) in back.  They would drive from store to store, hoping to leave it on consignment.  At the time, few people had ever heard of Honda motorbikes, so I’m sure a lot of cajoling was necessary. Most of their stops were at drugstores, sporting goods stores, hardware stores, and even a few motorcycle shops, although they said those were the toughest sell.  But it wasn’t long before Honda did gain entry into a few motorcycle dealerships, then gradually more and more signed on as they soon realized these were high-quality units at a bargain price.  Besides, they attracted a new clientele that were completely different than their regular customers.  The ad given much of the credit for this breakthrough -- “You meet the nicest people…”—appeared about that time.

Honda was the last thing on my mind as I went to college, then started working.  A group of us bought dirt bikes out of boredom.  Then the motorcycle bug bite hard and I soon became a desert racer in AMA District 37.  During the week, I worked on military projects for various government contractors.  As a favor to a friend who owned a welding shop, I wrote an article about some of his bike mods for Cycle News, then soon I started writing tech articles for other motorcycle magazines.  It made me wonder if I could convert what had started as a hobby into a full-time job at one of the motorcycle companies. 

I applied at Pabatco (a.k.a Hodaka) and Kawasaki, but both were near misses that left me somewhat disillusioned.  Then, purely on a lark, I sent a cover letter, resume, and a copy of one of my articles to American Honda.  I was upbeat about it and told myself the effort was only costing me postage, creating an emotional cushion for the fall I was sure would come.  A few weeks later, I was shocked to receive a letter from American Honda asking me to come in for an interview.   Apparently, I did okay at that initial interview because they called me back two more times to talk to other people.  By sheer happenstance, they had run an ad in local papers for a tech writer, but I never saw it so my timing, for once, was in my favor.

When I told my dad about my possible change of jobs, he told me I was nuts to leave a great position at Hughes Aircraft to work for a Japanese motorbike company that just recently started selling small cars in America.  He was really unsure how long they’d last here since many Japanese endeavors in the U.S. at that time had failed.  My acceptance letter finally arrived, so I gave notice at Hughes Aircraft and left two weeks later.

I started at Honda in September, 1978 and after two years of working on car stuff, I was given some tasks on the motorcycle side.  Then five years later I moved full time into motorcycles, working in a variety of jobs.  Twenty-eight and a half years later, I retired from American Honda.  It was a great ride.  During that time my business travels not only took me to at least half of the 50 states, but also to Japan, Europe, and South America.  

By the way, the Honda Auto Division that had Dad so worried is still alive and kicking, and the original building on Pico Boulevard now sells Korean herbs.

About the author:

Tosh Konya started at American Honda in September, 1978 and retired in January, 2006, having served in both automobile and motorcycle divisions.  For the last 16 years he ran the Honda Rider Education Center in Troy, Ohio.  He also traveled abroad to train ATV riding instructors in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil.  For the past ten years, he has been working with fellow Honda associate Gunnar Lindstrom on a book about Husqvarna motorcycles. 

To contact Tosh Konya, click ttk@woh.rr.com.