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

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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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!

  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh Batteries work differently when not in a lab ... news at 11!
  • TheMrFreeze This new 500e is selling really well in Europe, but here in the US the demographic that would be interested in a car like this is definitely in the minority. At $33K for this upscale model is a tough sell but hopefully incentives will come into play to make this a much more appealing option for those looking for a funky daily driver or a practical second car for the family
  • ToolGuy "EVs tend to be less efficient at higher speeds on highways than commuting around town. It’s also important to note that where you live and how you drive can have an outsized impact on range, as people with lead feet or those living in colder climates may find a significant drop in range."• Let's not forget elevation changes!Signed, Captain Obvious 🙂
  • Ajla "People shouldn't rely on the EPA figures but there is also no value to independent EV range testing.😏"The incredulous attitude from some of you guys is stupid. Many, many people that don't spend their free time on car websites buy vehicles. Knowing your real world efficiency is useful information for those consumers.
  • Probert The EPA estimate is just that. Of course weather and driving habits affect the range. This is not news. The EPA tests on a combined cycle, so just running at 70 is not what the EPA numbers reflect. That said, my EV - a humble KIA Niro, freequently exceeds estimates, even on long highway runs. If most of your driving is local and stop and go, you can expect a range around 20% above estimates. The important thing is that the range estimation that the car gives you, is accurate, as it reflects your actual driver habits. Also, even with winter drops, or high speed runs, an EV is about 400% more efficient than an ICE.