How Honda Survived the Vigor, the Del Sol, and the Lawsuits: Super Cub!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
how honda survived the vigor the del sol and the lawsuits super cub

For about 15 years, the Civic and the Accord were untouchable in the American marketplace; Honda sold all they could build here plus as many as they could import under the limitations of the Voluntary Export Restraint agreement of 1981. Then… well, Soichiro Honda died and Honda sort of lost its way. Sure, their cars were still good, but the competition had caught up and the Honda magic had worn off for American car buyers. Honda car sales in Japan had never been so great, so what kept Honda going through the lean times? Two-wheelers! I spent two weeks in Vietnam last month and came away with a new appreciation for Honda’s utter dominance of the Asian motorbike market.

Scooters and motorcycles are central to the culture of Vietnam; farmers ride them to their fields, parents use them to drop the kids off at school, furniture stores use them to deliver bedroom sets, and so on. Saigon and Hanoi are boiling maelstroms of bikes everywhere. Want to ride on the wrong side of the street? Go for it! On the sidewalk? Sure! Traffic signals? What traffic signals? Most of the bikes are sub-200cc machines, most are clutchless, and most are Hondas. The Honda Wave is one of the most popular, with the newer Air Blade a big seller as well. Those shiny new bikes were kind of interesting, but nothing approaches the majesty of the most-produced motor vehicle in history: the Honda Super Cub.

If you see a motorcycle piled high with an outlandish quantity of weird stuff in Vietnam, there’s about a 90% chance that it will one of the 60+ million Super Cubs built since 1958.

Hauling 150 kilos of soybeans to your restaurant in Danang? You know what to do!

As James May says in the Top Gear Vietnam Special, after selecting a Super Cub for his Saigon-to-Hanoi steed, this is the machine that put Asia on wheels.

You see a lot of completely beat early Super Cubs in Vietnam, no doubt pieced together from bits of several junked bikes. The Vietnamese I spoke to about the Super Cub were a little puzzled by my interest; to them, the old Super Cub seems to be your entry-level bike, something you sell as soon as you can afford to move up to a Wave or Vespa.

Which isn’t to say that you don’t see early Super Cubs in cherry condition. The owner of this one, parked in front of the Saigon tailor shop where I had some custom shirts made, protects the seat from sun and grime with a plastic stool while parked.

The Super Cub is the real business workhorse of the country. While Toyota Innova minivans are getting more popular for deliveries, the venerable Honda motorbike still rules the narrow streets of Vietnam. Here’s a trailer-equipped Super Cub serving as a beer truck in Hoi An.

It’s good to know that my frosty Biere Larue was brought to this excellent restaurant on a Super Cub. Vietnam is still a regional-beer place, with Danang-brewed Larue the top beer in the central part of the country.

Adding a trailer to your Super Cub makes it tougher to negotiate traffic, but saves time tying stuff down and makes it easier to balance while riding.

It’s easy to find parts for your ailing Super Cub in Saigon and Hanoi; little hole-in-the-wall shops sell every component imaginable. I asked several semi-English-speaking street-corner mechanics (more on them later) about motorbike junkyards, but nobody seemed to understand my question.

You can still buy new Super Cubs, and many do. The Little Cub seems especially popular among young women with office jobs.

The Super Cub was sold in the United States, but the Piper Super Cub airplane meant that Honda had to use a different name on these shores. So, Americans bought Honda Passports.

I’ve never owned a motorcycle in my life, but I’m now shopping for an old Passport. If I find a good one, I’ll head over to eBay and buy some Super Cub badges for it.

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  • Carr1on Carr1on on Aug 06, 2013

    My wife has a 2010 Honda SH150i scooter. It is a blast around town. Easy to ride. Quick on\off for errands, versus my much bigger moto. And rated at 91 MPG. The thing is super reliable.

  • Guildenstern Guildenstern on Apr 20, 2015

    I love my little 1973 CT90. It's the "off-ish road" version. Everyone should have one of these. One cylinder, 4 stroke, it can teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about maintenance owning one of these lill' buggers!

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.