While cult collectable motorcycles have usually been associated with British, European or American marques, this is changing. 1970s and some 1980s Japanese motorcycles have now become highly collectable, and the Honda RC30 is at the forefront.
The RC30 meets all the criteria for a classic; it was expensive, built as a limited edition, had an impeccable race pedigree and looked fantastic. And while Honda was known for championing mass production the RC30 harked back to an earlier era; one where function and quality took precedence over profit.
Honda produced the RC30 purely as a homologation machine for the forthcoming World Superbike series and it was initially intended to create only enough bikes to satisfy the regulations. Thus, each RC30 was hand assembled one at a time in the HRC race shop at Hamamatsu alongside GP machines. This was no conveyor-built motorcycle.
Basically, the RC30 was a production version of the incredibly successful RVF750 F1 and endurance racer. In the hands notables such as Joey Dunlop and Wayne Gardner this provided Honda with a string of victories in the mid-1980s.
The RC30’s 750cc V-four engine (with 16 valves and gear-driven double overhead camshafts) and twin spar aluminium frame were virtually carbon copies of the RVFs, but the production version was detuned about 30 horsepower (to 112 horsepower at 11,000rpm). Although the RVF’s ceramic cylinder coatings were dropped because of cost, the RC30 (or VFR750R) still featured titanium con-rods, two-ring pistons, and camshafts running in roller bearings.
Unlike the production VFR750 the RC30 also had a 360-degree one-piece crank instead of 180-degree. Carburetion was by four 38mm CV Keihins and a factory race kit was also available that increased the power to around 130 horsepower. This kit included cams, carbs, larger radiators, and a shorter swingarm for tighter circuits.
Also inherited from the RVF was the single-sided swingarm. Originally developed by the Elf 500cc GP team under Honda patents, this “Pro Arm” was claimed to centralise mass. Linked to a single vertical Showa shock the single-sided swingarm allowed faster wheel changes even if the unit was heavier than a standard swingarm.
An ingenious bearing-mounted torque arm linkage between the frame and rear brake caliper reduced rear wheelhop under deceleration. At a time when 17-inch wheels were becoming standardised, for some reason Honda fitted the RC30 with an 18-inch rear wheel, limiting tyre selection.
The RC30 was immediately successful with Californian privateer Fred Merkel winning the World Superbike Championship in 1988 and repeating this the following year. At the Isle of Man Steve Hislop and Joey Dunlop dominated the 1988 Production and F1 TTs, the RC30 proving unbeatable until 1993.
Steve Hislop’s 1990 lap record of 124.4 mph (200.2 km/h) remained unbeaten until 1999. The final series victory for the RC30 was in 1993, Troy Corser winning the Australian Superbike Championship on the then six-year-old machine. Nick Jeffries also won the Senior TT at the Isle of Man that year.
The initial impression conveyed by the RC30 is that it is tiny and impeccably presented. Weighing 185kg but barely larger than a 250, the hand-laid fibreglass and gleaming paint are second to none. Touches like the quick release wheels and fasteners, and a stainless-steel exhaust system elevate the RC30 beyond regular mass-produced machinery and on open roads with plenty of corners the race pedigree shines through.
The RC30 epitomises what a classic collectable motorcycle is all about; looks, sound, pedigree and relative rarity.
Australia’s go-to-guy for classic motorcycle wisdom. Ian has written nearly 45 books on motorcycles that each offer unparalleled insight on the historical and technical development of particular makes and models.