There are stars of stage and screen that you automatically associate with motorcycles in their everyday lives. Stars like Keanu Reeves and Steve McQueen immediately come to mind, because that moto love was, is, and forevermore shall be so clearly in their blood. Did you know that John Wayne was into motorbikes, though? We know he enjoyed at least one bike greatly during his lifetime—and it’s this 1971 Honda SL350 that’s about to go up for auction in January, 2022.
While our mental images of John Wayne may more readily place him on the kind of horses that eat hay than those fueled by gasoline, the story goes like this. A Honda SL350 was used in filming and stuntwork on the set of the 1971 classic Western film Big Jake, which starred Wayne. In fact, there’s a famous photo of Wayne in his full cowboy costume from the film, sitting on this very bike during shooting.
Apparently, Honda’s first attempt at a dual sport won over the Duke’s heart so much that he simply had to go out and buy one—this very 1971 SL350, in fact. It’s powered by a 326cc four-stroke twin mated to a five-speed gearbox. When Honda initially introduced the SL350 model in 1969, it was essentially a CB/CL with a bit of an off-road makeover. Some dirt bike aficionados saw potential in the engine, but it was hard to take seriously because the Keihin CV carbs it came with didn’t do so well going over rough terrain, especially on hill climbs. The problem was weak return springs, which would cause the slides to slam shut exactly when riders didn’t need that to happen, according to classic dirt bike site SuperHunky.
Gallery: 1971 Honda SL350 owned by John Wayne
By the time this 1971 SL350 came around, though, Honda had sorted out a number of the early problems that off-road riders had with this model. The heckin’ chonker (to put it politely) was pared down to a wet weight of 368 pounds, and had such useful features as a 19-inch front wheel and competition-derived cast aluminum fenders. Later SLs also used standard Keihin carbs that solved the early slide problem. Those later bikes were also down on overall horsepower, but this engine's reputation for power delivery all throughout the rev range meant it still did just fine on off-road jaunts.
This particular 1971 SL350 has been fully restored, and looks quite nice in the photos presented here to accompany its upcoming auction. There’s no mention of any paperwork regarding the restoration, but it does come with the California ownership transfer document showing that Wayne purchased it directly from American Honda Motor Company on December 21, 1971. Total mileage is unknown.
Wayne’s 1971 Honda SL350 is due to cross the auction block at Sotheby’s Arizona on January 27, 2022. It’s being offered with no reserve, and is expected to fetch somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $80,000.
Sources: Sotheby's, SuperHunky