Open Menu
Open Menu

1968 Honda CB750 Four prototype sets auction record for a Japanese motorcycle

Published in

1968 Honda CB750 Four prototype. Photos courtesy H&H.

Introduced in 1969, Honda’s CB750 Four motorcycle brought a just-right blend of performance, convenience, and affordability to the masses. Beloved the world over, early examples have climbed in value in recent years, and last Sunday a 1968 Honda CB750 Four prototype crossed the stage at H&H’s National Motorcycle Museum Auction in the U.K., selling for £161,000 British pounds (roughly $223,550) to become the most expensive Japanese motorcycle ever purchased at auction.

The CB750 Four wasn’t the first motorcycle to offer a transverse-mounted, overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, but it was the first to do so at an affordable price point of $1,495, roughly half the price of other large-displacement bikes of the day. It added the convenience of an electric start, along with the safety of a front disc brake, and the Honda’s performance potential (124-mph top speed and 13-second quarter-mile ET) added a new term to the motorcycle lexicon – “superbike.” Its do-it-all competence as a sport bike, commuter, or even long-distance tourer would add a descriptor later applied to an entire segment – the “Universal Japanese Motorcycle.”

1968 CB750 Four prototype

Its development was no accident. After achieving success – and five consecutive championship titles – in the World Grand Prix Road Racing series, Honda wanted to cash in on the lessons learned from competition to build a segment-leading, large-displacement motorcycle. Setting its sights on established British and American brands, Honda’s development goal for the project was to match the displacement of Triumph’s then-new 750-cc triple, while besting (by one horsepower) Harley-Davidson’s 66-hp “Shovelhead” V-twin engine.

Honda had already proven its ability to sell motorcycles in the U.S. market, and by the mid-1960s, over half its two-wheeled production was shipped here. In 1966, however, the company began to suffer a downturn in American sales, primarily due to its lack of large-displacement models. The 1965 Honda CB450 Dream may have had the performance to keep up with larger rivals on a road course, but its smaller engine size (and lack of torque) prompted many potential buyers to pass it by. To American riders, there simply was no replacement for displacement.

1968 CB750 Four prototype

Work began on the CB750 Four project in February 1968 and, by the end of the year, the team had not only assembled a test mule, but four additional preproduction examples. Each was hand-built and, while they would later be sold into various markets across the globe, the prototype models shared few – if any – common parts with later-production examples. The four would be painted in individual “candy” colors, with one wearing candy red, one candy blue, one candy green, and one candy gold.

The candy gold example was a late-production prototype, shipped to the U.K. in early 1969 to prepare for the bike’s global launch. Its first public appearance came at the Brighton Motorcycle Show on April 5, 1969, and shortly after the Honda also appeared on the cover of Motorcycle Mechanics magazine. After time spent as a U.K. dealer road-show demonstrator, the gold prototype was sold to the Earl of Denbigh.

1968 CB750 Four prototype

Not much is known about the bike’s intermediate ownership, but in 1982 the CB750 Four was acquired by a private British collection. Sometime later, a restoration on the prototype was started, but the death of the bike’s owner put any additional progress on hold. Since then, it has remained in the same condition, owned by the same family.

H&H predicted a selling price of £35,000-£40,000 (roughly $48,600-$55,500), which would have made the Honda a relative bargain. In 2014, the candy blue prototype sold in an online auction for $148,100, making it – at the time – the second most expensive Japanese motorcycle ever sold at auction, behind a 1962 Honda CR72 production racer that traded hands at a January 2009 MidAmerica sale for $180,000. When the dust settled last weekend, however, frantic bidding had driven the price of the candy gold Honda CB750 Four prototype to over four times the high estimate, a statement on the significance of the model to motorcycling history.

1968 CB750 Four prototype

As for the other two remaining Honda CB750 Four prototypes, the candy red example was scrapped (accidentally, we’d like to think) in Iowa circa 2013, while the candy green bike disappeared years ago, after being shipped to France. If it’s still out there, chances are good the selling price of the gold Honda prototype will draw it from its hiding place in the very near future.

For complete results from H&H’s National Motorcycle Museum Auction, visit