Honda Sabre Switchblade Concept

Magna History

The birth of the sport cruiser

Early Japanese motorcycles pretty much came in one style; the style commonly known as the standard. In the late seventies and early eighties, motorcycles began to evolve into different styles based on the priorities of the consumer.

In the early 80’s, Honda created an entirely new niche of motorcycle with the introduction of the Magna. Honda took the basic concept of a cruiser motorcycle and added a sport bike engine. This new bike was called the V45 Magna.

This gave the Magna a unique combination of performance, comfort and style. The Magna possesses the laid-back, slightly chopped, style typical of cruisers and along with the not-so-typical performance of the Interceptor sport bike engine. This allowed the Magna to achieve a level of performance that was unmatched at the time.

Cruisers weren’t designed to accelerate and blur scenery the way that the Magna could. This was the birth of an entire new concept of motorcycle, the sport cruiser, or “musclebike” and it’s sometimes referred to.

The Magna is more than just a kick-butt engine stuffed into a cruiser. Honda added a 5 speed + overdrive transmission, anti-dive front suspension, gas shocks with reservoir and hydraulic clutch and front brake. All of these features were unheard of in a cruiser.

The end result was a 750cc cruiser that could blow the pipes off any other cruiser on the road.

The V45 engine, so named because of the V configuration and 45 cubic inch displacement, produced 78 horsepower and could propel the Magna to a top speed of 240 km/h. The V45 Magna could do a standing quarter mile in 12.8 seconds which was Ferrari territory in those days.

The V45 Magna was introduced in 1982 and was a huge seller due to the fact that it had no competition.

In 1983 Honda introduced the V65 Magna, an 1100 cc monster. “The V65 Magna hit the streets like a 600 lb chrome sledgehammer” Just to completely smash any remaining doubt as to its street supremacy, Honda brought their V65 to Orange County’s International raceway and had drag-strip legend Jay “Pee-Wee” Gleason unleash the V65 in an asphalt burning 10.92 second standing quarter mile. This established the V65 as not only the fastest accelerating production motorcycle but the fastest accelerating production vehicle of any kind.

As to be expected, sales were extremely brisk during the early to mid eighties. However, there were three things that would put a damper on the Magna’s glory. They were the V4 camshaft problem, the consumer’s trend towards big V-twins and the Vmax.

The V4 Camshaft problem:

Honda makes great engines. That almost goes without saying. So when a premier engine maker like Honda makes an engine that develops a problem, it becomes big news.

The V4 engine that Honda used in the Magna, Sabre and Interceptor had developed a problem where the camshafts would wear prematurely. The problem was not with the camshafts themselves but rather the oil pump that provided inadequate oil pressure during idle, thus causing poor lubrication to the upper engine parts. Honda immediately fixed the problem on their engines.

Worried about their reputation, Honda changed the name of their Interceptor to the CBR, discontinued the Sabre and redesigned the Magna.

Consumer’s trend towards big V-twins:

The Shadow, Honda’s other competing cruiser, was selling well and the consumer demand was more toward that distinctive V-twin look and sound reminiscent of a Harley Davidson. V-twin cruisers became big, heavy and expensive. Some of them performed very well, but the Magna was hard to beat. The V65 disappeared soon after the Vmax arrived on the scene.

The V45 Magna was restyled to resemble a V-twin even though it was a V4. The name was changed to simply Magna. The original character of the Magna remained.

It was a tire-smoking little muscle cruiser that did everything well. As the trend continued, Honda made the decision to replace the Magna in 2003 with the VTX, a huge V-twin with 1800 cc’s. The VTX is a great bike in its own right, but the Magna will still outperform it in spite of having less than half the VTX’s engine size.

The Vmax:

Honda Sabre Switchblade Concept

Not to be outdone, Honda’s rival, Yamaha had muscle bike aspirations of their own. In 1986, Yamaha released the Vmax, a motorcycle designed with one thing in mind; acceleration make that ACCELERATION.

With the V65 Magna in their crosshairs, Yamaha made the Vmax a 1200cc rocket. It became the new acceleration champ, a title the Vmax would hold for more than 15 years. The Vmax killed off the V65 sales but the V45 remained.

Even though the Vmax can out accelerate the Magna, the Magna is considered by most to be a better balanced machine for handling, comfort and general everyday use.


Cruisers remain the dominant genre in the motorcycle market, comprising more than 60% market share. Today’s cruisers are big, powerful and refined with engine sizes that rival some cars today. They have evolved from an inexpensive alternative transportation to more of a rich man’s toy.

They are mostly all large, V-twins and are designed more for show than for go, although some of them go pretty good.

All is not lost for the musclebike enthusiast. There are two excellent choices still available. The Vmax is still available, virtually unchanged from its debut 20 years ago although there is an updated model in the works (it’s about time).

Another consideration is the Triumph Rocket III which is now considered the acceleration champion.

Collectable significance of the Magna:

The Honda Magna was the original muscle bike and has earned a place in history no less significant that John Delorean’s Pontiac GTO, which is considered to be the original muscle car.

In spite of the performance advantage of its contemporary counterparts, the Magna remains the best handling and best balanced sport cruiser ever produced. Although Honda invented the muscle bike, it currently has no offering in that genre and the Magna remains its only foray into genre that they invented. The Magna is currently not well known in motorcycle circles largely due to most cruiser enthusiasts preoccupation with big V-twins but that may change as this punchy little cruiser continues to leave the big V-twins in the dust.

The Honda Magna is one of the best kept secrets in the motorcycle world. Hopefully this website will help let that secret out of the saddlebag.

Honda Sabre Switchblade Concept
Honda Sabre Switchblade Concept
Honda Sabre Switchblade Concept

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