Honda 750 Interceptor - CLASSICS REMEMBERED

The first sportbike?

1983 Honda Interceptor 750 studio side view
Early on, it was assumed that the only things American riders cared about were quarter-mile times and top speed. Nail the numbers and slap on bold new graphics and you had it made, manufacturers thought. The 1983 Interceptor 750 changed that conception.Cycle World Archives

The speed with which AMA's new production-based 'Superbike' racing class became popular took manufacturers by surprise. American Honda set to work with a vigorous dyno and chassis program to make something competitive out of its CB900F. Titanium valves were ordered by the carton, cams were ground in increments of duration, and cylinder heads were placed in the hands of the usual suspects—from Valley Head Service to Branch Flowmetrics. This was the end of the formative period, 1976 – 1982, when big-inch but definitely unraceable bikes were welded, fabricated, and modified by sleepless importer teams into something that could almost handle the grip of slick tires, and could sometimes go 50 miles at racing speed without throwing parts or warping brake discs.

When Freddie Spencer, after doing great deeds on a factory superbike, was presented with a street version (to go with his newly-minted driver's license), he was appalled. "You mean, they actually ride 'em like that?" he said after a first spin on public roads.

This was not a tenable situation. Behind the scenes, planners were busy with a longer-term solution—bikes designed to have the chassis and engine qualities to win Superbike races. Anyone who saw those early Superbike races knows why. I stood watching Supers as they rounded Riverside Raceway’s Turn 9 in 1977, and every single bike was weaving (riders today call this “pumping”). It was largely because of the ragged handling of 1000cc Superbikes that the class limit was cut to 750cc for 1983.

Honda Interceptor 750 stripped view
Plenty of real steel in all the right places. The Interceptor's chassis was still a classic twin-look tubular design, but as American Honda fabricator Todd Schuster observed at the time, it translated plenty of material into stiffness.Cycle World Archives

The first of these new “designed-to-race” bikes was Honda’s 1983 Interceptor 750, and it was not really intended to produce many sales. In those days, everyone knew that the only things American riders cared about were quarter-mile times and top speed. Nail the numbers and slap on bold new graphics and you had it made. So Interceptor was, like the soon-to-come RC30, a homologation special—a bike built to race, and produced only in the quantity required for (in this case) AMA Superbike homologation.

Interceptor had a hefty twin-loop chassis made of rectangular steel tubing. Todd Schuster, chief fabricator at American Honda, said of it, “There’s only one chassis heavier than this one in the history of racing—the 1954 Hudson Hornet.” He then stepped into a bare chassis and pulled it up as if it were a pair of pants. Just as Douglas engineers did with the classic DC-3, Honda overbuilt the Interceptor to make sure it was stiff enough to handle well.

The engine was a further tuned version of the 1982 VF750F Sabre V4, rotated back 15 degrees in the chassis, and with internal changes aimed more at reliability than ultimate performance. Claimed stock power was 90 hp, and for the race engines, 132 @ 11,500. As a reaction against the narrow power of the previous year's hotted-up 1000F-based in-line superbike, Interceptor was given the flat torque curve Honda had learned to engineer for the almost-but-not-quite 1000cc FWS that had run in the previous year's Daytona 200.

Mike Baldwin riding the Honda Interceptor in Daytona testing
After riding the Interceptor in Daytona testing, Mike Baldwin (who now sells Harleys) said it was the first bike he'd ridden that just burbled over the Turn 5/West Banking pavement transition with the power on. Previously, riders timed an upshift for that transition, so the resulting brief interruption of power would reduce the normal upset there.)Cycle World Archives

To everyone’s astonishment, Interceptor was a sell-out success, and riders all over the US and Canada were excited by this new motorcycle that did what you asked it to do—without wobbling and weaving. This was a complete surprise to the marketeers, who had to refine their concept to include accurate, responsive handling. Other manufacturers were quick to do the same.

Interceptors were soon offered in larger and smaller displacements. Suzuki would bring forth its GSX-R750, featuring extremely light weight. Thus the sportbike battle was joined, to rage on until the "Great Recession" of 2008 reset everyone's thinking.

And what happened in AMA Superbike in 1983? Interceptors won six straight races but Rob Muzzy's Kawasaki GPz750s had a very experienced team behind them, and Wayne Rainey carved his way to the title in the second half of the season. Yet Honda V4s would win the next five AMA Supers titles. When Kawasaki did their usual—pulled the breakers on their race department—Rob Muzzy moved his crew to Honda. A man's gotta eat.

The Interceptor forever changed the nature of sporting motorcycles, and the lap records set by pure racing machines of the previous era were soon not only equaled, but made to look slow by lap times in 750 Supersport events. Racing brought us fabulously improved machines, at prices we could then afford.