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

The C100 Super Cub

By Steve McMinn

Steve McMinn with umbrella girls

The world has often been enriched by the collaboration of two great elements. Laurel and Hardy gave us great comedy, peanut butter and jelly give us a great sandwich, and the Honda Motor Company owes its success to the team of Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa. The same can be said of the famous C100 Super Cub. It was Soichiro’s engineering genus that created the Cub, but it was Takeo’s sales and marketing ideas that helped make it a success.

The discussions that resulted in the C100 started in 1956 when the two men were on a trip to Europe to observe motorcycle marketing and technology. Honda had discontinued sale of the very successful Cub engine because the market was beginning to want more than just an engine to attach to a bicycle.  Furthermore, the Cub was also a two-stroke, which Soichiro only tolerated because of its ease of production. Takeo didn’t know exactly what needed to be built, but he knew what it should be to the customer. He wanted a two-wheeled vehicle that anyone could afford to buy and that was easy for both men and women to ride. It had to be able to cover the rough roads of post-war Japan, and it had to be economical to own. The world already had plenty of cheap but unreliable transportation. There were mopeds and scooters, but mopeds were smoky two-strokes and scooters were heavy and their small wheels lacked stability. Whatever Honda built, it needed to be much better, with reliable electrics and quiet smoke-free operation. Making such a vehicle would require clever engineering, and Soichiro was eager to get to work.

The engine of the C100, which was rubber mounted up to 1961, is a perfect example. It is lubricated without the use of a traditional oil pump. The oil in the engine sump is picked up by the cam-driven gear, like a reverse water wheel, and fed through a hole in the right crankcase into the middle of the engine cases. This fills a small trough under the crankshaft which feeds the crankshaft and top end. A small finger coming off of the big end of the connecting rod scoops oil into the big end rod bearing and also flings it toward the transmission and underside of the piston. Oil in this trough also feeds the cam bearings on which there is a spiral groove. This groove feeds oil up to the top end of the horizontal cylinder and head.  It is hard to imagine how many man hours were put into the creation of such a simple system. 

Beginning riders wouldn’t know how to operate a clutch, so it had to be automatic. The clutch that is so common today on Honda’s XR50s and XR70s was first created for the Super Cub. The one-piece unit uses a combination of mechanical and centrifugal operation. A lever operating off the shift shaft through a ball ramp easily disengages the clutch plates for shifting as there is little spring pressure holding the plates together. To apply pressure for kick starting there is a worm gear on the clutch drive gear which increases pressure as it turns. For smooth starting, eight rollers on ramps are forced out as the clutch spins faster, applying pressure.

To meet the conflicting goals of high quality and low cost, color was added to plastic parts to eliminate painting.  Die cast engine parts were used to save machining time, and a stamped steel frame was used for ease of production.  The finished product was only 121 pounds, had large 17-inch wheels for stability, a step through frame with leg shields for convenience, and the powerful 4.5 horsepower four-stroke engine.  It had muffler volume that was 23 times its cylinder volume to provide quiet operation.

Production started in June of 1958, and after an extensive advertising campaign the successor to the Cub, the Super Cub, was released to the public on August 1, 1958. Initially, many executives at Honda were skeptical of how the Super Cub would be received, but when the entire production was sold out on the first day and customers continued to put down money for future orders, they became convinced.  First day sales totaled $140,000. The sales people had so much cash at the end of the day, they grew tired of counting it. Takeo Fujisawa’s vision and Soichiro Honda’s technical genius had hit the mark.

The 50cc pushrod engine was later used in the C110 Sports Cub and enlarged to 55cc for the C105T trail model. A 90cc version powered the C200 for the street and the CT200 for trail use. In 1964, the first OHC version the C65 was released. This was followed by 50cc, 70cc, and 90cc versions. Today, the Super Cub is still in production and as of April 2008 cumulative production of Super Cubs was 60 million units, making it the most successful vehicle ever produced.

About the author:

Realizing at an early age that work should be as much fun as you can make it, Steve McMinn embarked on a career in the motorcycle industry. He got a summer job at Riff’s Cycle Center just out of college, where he started as a gopher and stayed on to become a flat-rate mechanic and finally shop foreman. Today, he works for American Honda, helping dealers provide good service to their customers. (He claims he hasn’t been late for work in 20 years because no one knows exactly where he is supposed to be.) His collection of 20+ motorcycles includes many early 60s Honda pushrod 50s that are awaiting restoration. Steve says he makes it a point to always have friends who own more motorcycles than he does so his wife will think it is normal. His immediate goals in life are to ride Route 66 from beginning to end on his 1966 CB450, and complete a 1,000 mile day on his NS50. 

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Editor's note:  Within weeks of submitting his story, McMinn undertook his Route 66 dream trip aboard his CB450.  He wrote us on May 31, "Well, I just got back from completing the ride last night; 4,400 miles and 7states in 10 days. There were low points like riding in hail in Flagstaff, but riding the original 1926 sections of the road made it all worthwhile."  Congratulations, Steve. Now when are you going to do that 1,000/24 aboard your NS50?