The Honda FT500, a beautiful miss

Honda FT500
ER Classics Desktop 2022

The Honda FT500. A beautiful miss

The Honda FT500 was a single-cylinder 500 cc machine that was loosely based on American flat track racing. That flat tack racing is a hugely spectacular activity in the USA. The Americans themselves see it as the most prestigious branch of motorsport in the world. It is a kind of speedway that since around 1920 has always provided a solid dose of adrenaline and spectacle for drivers and the public

The flat track racers have no brakes and no rear suspension and they burn methanol. And their riders have big hearts, because on their unrestrained machines they take turns on such an oval track drifting crossways at speeds up to 130 + kilometers per hour.

Pick up on popularity

On something so popular, the Japanese wanted to use the Honda 500 FT. And of course 'FT' stood for 'flat track'. The FTs were made in the early 1980s and they were not a success. They were not untrue tough, rough and fast. They were pretty, slender and almost feminine. They were lively and agile. Their power sources were largely based on those of the XL / XR from 1979 with four-valve heads, a ø 35 mm carburetor and balance shafts but without the kickstarter. Biggest problem that the lubrication of the starter motor bearing was not good. And then the only option remained. Regular preventive replacement of the bearing in question solved the problem nicely. The machines were conceived for the American market and cost $ 2.195 there. In 1984 the remaining stock was offered for $ 1.295 each. Many orphaned FTs became adrift and ended up on the European market.

The Honda FT500 was not welcomed

He was not welcomed there either. The looks could convince, but the 'Ascot' lacked the 'bite' and tough masculinity that engines like the Yamaha 500s gave. They scored on their behavior in a busy urban environment because there they were fast enough, nice and narrow and with a huge slack in the corners. Also the torque and power under the 5.000 rpm was okay, greater than even the Yamaha SR 500.

Here in the Netherlands, FTs also pop up regularly. It is funny that the machines are often in good condition and have low mileage. We recently saw a more than reasonably decent copy for 700 euros finding a new home. Another did not succeed in adopting a virtually new copy for 1.500 euros.

Perhaps the purchase of a Honda FT500 is a nice option to drive a pretty nice classic. It is quite rare, it is surprisingly pleasant to drive and manoeuvrable, it takes up little space in the garage and it does not cost much. So how many reasons can you find not to buy one?

Their strongest point

What FTs were most appreciated for was their ability to become a piston donor for the popular Datsun L28 six in-line engines as they were in a number of popular Datsuns from the 1970s. If the bores of such a Datsun 3 mm were drilled, the Honda pistons would fit perfectly.

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