Honda’s VFR750F was launched as a sports-tourer way back in 1986, but it also formed the basis of a pretty handy racer in the 1980s – not that many people know that.
As standard, the bike was over-engineered and a real masterpiece of mass-produced motorcycling. But then it had to be, as – if you remember – the VF750F and other VFs in the early 1980s were hamstrung with a number of issues, not least the ‘chocolate’ camshafts…
Thankfully the VFR750 changed all that in an instant. launched at the-then new ‘circuito de Jerez’ in southern Spain, this superbly engineered machine had a claimed 105bhp at 10,500rpm. OK, so even 30 years ago this wasn’t an eye-popping amount, but every bhp was delivered in silky-smooth, linear fashion: completely at odds with the rev-happy opposition of the time such as Suzuki’s GSX-R750F and G…
In stock form, we Brits got our first look at the potential of the V4 as a racer at the wet Transatlantic meeting at Donington Park on March 16th 1986. This was the race that saw the UK debuts of the likes of Kevin Schwantz and Fred Merkel – both later world champs. Honda UK figured it would be a good idea to give Ron Haslam a run out on a bike, but the only one they had was a standard VFR750F-G. Commentator Barry Sheene thought that giving Rocket Ron such a poor quality machine was shameful, and said as much during commentary.
But this was Ron… and it was damp. He only went and took a rostrum on the thing. Ron recalls: “The only bike we could get was a standard model from the shop floor of Granby Motors. We had to use this bike as my race bike blew up – so it wasn’t really Honda UK’s choice. When we put the bike through scrutineering, the only thing we had to change from standard was to remove the side-stand…” After that weekend of racing success, Honda UK sold their quota of the V4s within a week…
From this small acorn, many racing VFRs were born – not just in the UK, but in the USA and in Australia.
In the UK one of the first 1986 road bikes was taken by tuner Ron Grant and the crank ‘cut and shut’ to change the 180-degree firing order into a 360-degree one, similar to the older VF’s. The 360 ‘big-bang’ crank was used on the US-based ‘Interceptor’ racers (as the VFR was called over in the US of A) and these were ridden by Fred Merkel, Wayne Rainey and Bubba Shobert during 1987 and 88. Anyone who remembers the great Transatlantic battles between Schwantz and Rainey will recall how the VFR seemed to power out of corners while the GSX-R of Revvin’ Kevin had the edge on top-end speed…
In the UK there was also the almost mythical ‘6X’ a VFR-look-alike which had some very (and we mean very) trick bits on it. Apparently there was a genuine HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) prototype of the 6X and the bike was ridden by Wayne Gardner where he beat proper factory TT F1 machines, breaking his own Suzuka four-stroke record by 1.5 seconds. This thing was seriously light, despite the road-going chassis and other bits used. Interestingly, in the motor were titanium valves and flat-slide magnesium carbs, meaning that the whole bike weighed less than the race-spec Honda RVFs of the time!
At the Isle of Man TT, the 6X took second place in the Senior and F1 TTs in 1986 ridden by Geoff Johnson. Johnson only had the trick 135bhp 188mph motor for practice as the carbs went back to Japan after the first week in a Honda mechanic’s hand luggage, but Johnson did the job even with ‘just’ a kitted VFR motor. In Australia a similar machine was raced by the legendary Mal Campbell, who took 19 out of 21 wins to take the 1986 Australian Superbike Series.
So what do we have before us then? Well, this bike is owned by Graeme Climas, who is a larger than life figure in the Japanese sportsbike club in Bendigo, in Victoria, Australia. Graeme wanted a bike that was a replica of the one Campbell rode to success in 1987, he says: “My aim was a partial replica of what was the full factory machine, producing about 135bhp at 13,000rpm and logged at 188mph! It weighed in at just 165 kilos dry and became the basis of the later VFR750R, RC30.”
Graeme wanted to find a low-mile 1986 machine and found one at Old Gold Motorcycles, in Sydney. “This one was mechanically sound,” says Graeme. “A Jap import with just under 13,000km on the clocks and in one of the launch colours of blue – it even had the same front tyre from 28 years before! Being the Jap bike there was no rear seat cowl or grab handle and it had a 190kph speedo instead of a 250kph one. Being a bike tech with 40-years-experience I could see it had fallen off the side-stand – there was a dent in the tank and a crack in the lower-left fairing. After buying it, I serviced it, registered it and sorted the valve clearances. After riding her steady for 500kms, I found she had no issues and rode perfectly.”
That’s when the modifications began: “The big change was simply a repaint and decal job – but that job is a brilliant one. It’s the factory Honda Tri-colour scheme. I tracked down the paint codes from the USA and then the bodywork was professionally repaired, painted and decaled by my good friend and top sprayer Glenn Deary.” One problem was the red stripe on the fuel tank: the sticker wasn’t able to be applied, so Glenn had to paint the stripe on by hand with the colour to match the decals…
There was no way Graeme could get hold of a factory set of flat-slides and associated titanium valves that the 6X had… but he could do something to get more pep out of the standard motor. He says: “I sourced a second-hand Kerker 4-into-1, which is similar to the ones fitted to the superbikes of the time. The rear foot-pegs were removed and the rear mudguard tidied up. The only mod I wanted to do next was swop to 17-inch wheels from a CBR600 – later VFRs went 17-inch anyways. Sure, it’s not got magnesium carbs, or lightweight titanium internals like the real 6X, but the bike rides extremely well for a 28 year old bike. It’s still quite light and powerful.”
Honda VFR750F-G SPECIFICATION
748cc, 16-valve, liquid-cooled, V4 four-stroke
BORE X STROKE
70 X 48.6mm
4 x 34mm Keihins
105bhp @ 10,500rpm (6X racer 135bhp @ 13,000rpm)
Front: 2 X 296mm discs with two-piston caliper. Rear single 256mm disc, two-piston caliper
Front: 110/90-16. Rear: 130/80-18
198kilos (dry, 6X racer 165 kilos dry)
147mph (6X 188mph)