Even hindsight glasses can't dim that turbo magic.
If you give a team of engineers a challenge, they aren’t just going to throw their hands up in frustration and go home. What they’ll do instead is innovate ways to meet that challenge, even if they haven’t necessarily been tried before. Sometimes, especially if they haven’t been tried before. So it was that when Harley-Davidson successfully petitioned the Reagan-era U.S. government to introduce tariffs on bikes over 700cc in the early ‘80s, all of the Japanese Big Four suddenly went turbo-mad.
After all, who wouldn’t see the beauty in ostensibly creating a middleweight bike with liter-bike levels of power? Obviously, it would need to be usable, manageable power, but those are just details, aren’t they? With all that in mind, Honda turned the CX500 into the 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo you see in this video, as ridden by Brian, one of the two guys behind the Regular Car Reviews YouTube channel. For those unfamiliar, they mostly do cars, but Brian also likes bikes, so sometimes they show up as well. You’d ride a CX650 Turbo too, if you could.
One of the most interesting things about delving into motorcycle evolution over time, to my mind, is seeing what kinds of ideas were thrown at the wall, as well as why they stuck—or didn’t, in the case of turbos. Turbo lag was still a thing with these bikes, and how sharp the contrast was between being on-boost and off-boost was also a factor to consider. As such, reviewers in 1983 mostly noted that the CX650T would make an excellent sport touring machine. However, its relatively high center of gravity and 600-ish pound weight made getting to grips with turbo cycling through switchbacks, um—how shall I put it—not the most desirable of circumstances. Instead, they said, it was seen as much better suited to long, sweeping curves and highway munching.
That is, it would be if it wasn’t also, somewhat uncharacteristically for Honda, a bit unreliable. Sure, it had fuel injection, shaft drive, a 19-psi turbo, twin disc braking up front and a single disc in the rear, and a nearly $5,000 price tag, but still, unreliable. Every bike develops known issues and quirks as owners gain experience with it, and the CX650 Turbo is no different. The stock alternator tends to let go around 15,000 to 20,000 miles, and you have to take the engine out to address it. Also, the stock starter motor often goes bad, and from there can create a domino effect of other problems, as proud CX650 T owner Ron Graf told Motorcycle Classics. In other words, you’d better like wrenching on it, or like spending money on mechanics, or both.
Low production numbers and a thirst for ‘80s and ‘90s tech roughly comparable with this turbo engine’s thirst for fuel—another problem, given that most people at the time wanted fuel efficiency—mean the CX650 Turbo is extremely collectable. You’ll see it pop up through various auctions, where one fetched $6,200 on Bring A Trailer in March 2019 only for the new owner to find some significant undisclosed damage once he received it.
Only just over 1,700 of these bikes were ever made, with around 1,200 of those making it to North America. There’s an apocryphal story that around half the bikes shipped to North America went straight to Honda tech schools in the U.S. and Canada for students to learn to work on, alongside very specific instructions about bike destruction requirements once this model was no longer in production. Naturally, the story goes, the schools didn’t listen, and those bikes ended up being sold at rock-bottom prices later on. Is it true? Unclear, but is it a good and interesting story that would be even more interesting if it was true? Absolutely.
Anyway, at the end of the video, Mr. Regular ends up asking the owner if he’d be interested in selling the CX650T with the kind of nervous chuckle that only seems half-joking. Wouldn’t you?