Let’s start with this sobering statistic: if you bought an officially-imported Honda VFR400R (NC30) back in the spring of 1991, it would have cost you a whopping £6615 for a J-plate machine.
Yes, more than six and a half big ones. Back then Honda’s CBR600F-N (a brilliant bike in its own right) cost just £5488. It’s this reason that meant that Honda UK only brought the bike in for about 18 months.
But why do people love them? There are still lots of them out there and many have even been raced in the various clubs’ Supersport 400 classes. Well, if you want to know why people loved them – just look at it. It’s a baby RC30 and sounds just divine. Thankfully you can still just about get one for between £1500 and £3500… low mile minters are now heading to silly money and embarrassing even that original 1991 list price by almost double.
Honda – it seems – will always be linked with the V4 concept. The original VF750 models were problematic back in the early 1980s, but they persevered and re-developed the motors into the 1986 VFR750F, which – later – a Honda PR bod called Graham Sanderson once said: “I don’t care how much the VFR750 costs, it’s worth £1000 more!” Recently they’ve even got into 1200cc sports tourer V4s and they race a V4 in MotoGP…
The baby V4 concept was born for the Japanese marketplace and before the NC30 came the NC21 and NC24. The NC21 replaced the outgoing VF400F, which we even got and this came with a full fairing, single head light and a twin-spar swingarm. The NC21 was advanced for its time (1986-1987) featuring Honda’s anti-dive front forks, a hydraulic clutch and that peachy 13,000rpm V4 motor of 399cc with a 180-degree firing crank.
Next along was 1987-88’s NC24 and this is easily recognisable from the 21 in having the single-sided Pro-Arm. In fact it was the first road-going Honda to use this ELF-patented bit of frippery. Other than some engine mods, the rest of the bike looked similar to the 21, but what set the 24 apart was that it also came in a very cool official Rothmans paint scheme, similar to the likes of the earlier NS400R… nice. Quirky, un-faired versions could also be found, as the VFR400Z which was a half-faired version, popular with riding schools in Japan.
The definitive model for many really was the NC30 (1989-1992) which saw an all-new fairing with small, twin headlights, a 360-degree crank with 14,500rpm redline and all the looks and feel of its bigger (and illustrious) brother, the RC30 – right down to the 18-inch rear wheel. Under the bodywork the NC’s engine had changed. The NC24 used gear-driven cams and tappets (the VF400 used chain-driven) and the NC30 replaced tappets with shims.
The NC30 was replaced by the NC45 (just as the RC30 was replaced with the RC45) but unlike the 30/45, this was largely the same machine as the NC30, albeit with re-designed upper fairing with faired-in headlamps and RC45-style scoops along with inverted front forks (the NC30 used conventional 41mm forks) and 17-inch wheels all-round. The NC21, 24, 30 and 45 models of VFR400 were all popular machines in the grey import market of the early to late 1990s and are still cropping up to this day.
To ride, the NC30 almost feels like a 500cc machine thanks to that wide spread of power in the mid-range. It’s deceptive: the lazy exhaust note and apparently relaxed power delivery are normally at odds with numbers on the speedo. VFR400s are deceptively fast, jewel-like in construction and make 14,500 rpm seems like child’s play… we love ‘em!
WHAT GOES WRONG?
The NC30 pretty much stayed the same: although the early models didn’t have as adjustable forks. It’s handy to know that the UK-spec bikes (L and M models) came only in the ‘RC30’ colour scheme of red/white/blue and a later red/white/blue scheme. Changes included larger indicators, an extra number plate light, oil cooler, 60/55 Watt headlamps, large RC30-style hinged mirrors and MPH speedometer. Although the bike officially stopped being made in 1992, the bike was around in dealerships in Japan for a year or so after before being replaced with the NC45.
Like many Honda systems of the 1990s the regulator/rectifier can go pop which makes replacement/upgrades common.
The wheels themselves can often be dinged easily in a crash or be put out of line, so do check. When it comes to tyres, the 18-inch rear can (like the RC30) lead to precious few rubber choices.
Actual access to the rear pipes is tricky and the link pipe underneath can rot out. The full standard exhaust system is also (now) rarer than rocking horse sh…er, hen’s teeth!
It’s a small, diminutive V4. That means it’s hard to access these areas: even with two of you and a bike lift! Inlet rubbers on the 34mm Keihins can rot/perish. Spark plugs can foul.
Generally very sound: valve clearances are worth checking as this motor revs freely and highly! Race-tuned motors can have crank issues.
Can corrode and will cost plenty to replace: always use a decent coolant/water mix.
Fairing/bodywork is now quite rare and original ones are brittle so expect to see broken lugs and/or bodged plastic repairs. Tanks are also getting in short supply. Many owners have gone the route of using TYGA bodywork for a ‘new’ look.
If you can smell a whiff of fuel this is often down to a leaking tap diaphragm.
Later forks were adjustable and the rear was pretty soft (for smaller Japanese riders) as standard so has since suffered in 20 years: many companies offer decent upgrades and – with this being a great handling bike – are worth getting sorted.
HONDA VFR400R NC30, 1989-1992
Price New: £ (1991)
Price now: £1500-£10,000!
Engine: 399cc, liquid-cooled 4-stroke V4.
Power: 59bhp @ 12,800rpm
Weight: 165kg / 363lbs
Wheelbase: 1345mm / 53ins
WHY WE LOVE IT: That V4 howl… a mini RC30
WHY WE DON’T: Tight spaces to work in, pricey/rare parts…