|One of a family: Hanoian Nguyen Luong Ngoc (left) shows a Honda 67 motorbike at his house in Ha Noi. Ngoc has a full set of six Honda 67 motorbikes collection manufactured between 1966 and 1972. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam|
by Cong Thanh
In early the 1960s, Japanese motorbikes were used throughout the south of Viet Nam, but northerners had to wait a decade later to drive the first Japanese motorbikes after the conclusion of the American War in 1975.
Two Honda models – the Super Cub 50 and T-bone SS50 – have become perennial favourites since their import to Viet Nam in 1965.
However, motorbike lovers continue to search for the rare T-bone SS50 model, also known as the Honda 67 in Viet Nam, to indulge their vintage motorbike collections.
Hanoian Nguyen Luong Ngoc, a connoisseur of the T-bone motorbike, bought a full set of six Honda 67 motorbikes collection manufactured between 1966 and 1972.
It's a rare collection of the classic Japanese motorbikes in Viet Nam, and a perfect example of the most popular four-stroke motorbike in the country for past 50 years.
Ngoc, a machinery engineer, is proud of his collection, despite the huge investment in time and money.
"The collection is my favourite because it took me a decade of scouring the country from north to south to complete. I bought a half share in my first Honda 67 in 1980 with my brother," Ngoc said.
"I delighted with the collection because all six motorbikes still display their original features, including paintwork, engine and accessories. I've only changed their tyres and kick-start them every week," he said.
Saigonese motorcycle connoisseurs are still fore-runners in Viet Nam because most of the popular vintage motorbikes were originally only imported into Sai Gon, now HCM City, during the American war.
Japanese motorbike makers such as Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki and the US-made Harley-Davidson were driven by the southerners in the early 1960s.
Honda debuted its T-bone motorbike, or Honda 67, in 1962, but the first model only arrived in Sai Gon in 1965.
During that time, bicycles were the popular choice of transport for northerners, but rare well-off families continued to use the French two-stroke moped Mobylette and Peugeot, or an East Germany-made Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau (IFA)‘s Simson and MZ, a two-stroke motorbike, Belarussian Minsk, or Czechoslovakian Babetta moped and two-stroke motorcycle Java.
"Bicycles were a big deal back then, but a motorbike or moped were utter luxury back in the 1960s. Each bicycle had a licence plate like current motorbikes do now," Phan Cong Toan, a motorcycle connoisseur in Hung Yen Province, recalled.
"The Honda 67 appeared as a superior brand to motorbikes from Russia, East Germany or Czechoslovakia because they are very comfortable, economic and easy going on the open road or city street," the 51-year-old said.
He added Honda 67's fuel efficiency was another benefit, clocking in at 1.5 litres of petrol per 100km and was ideal for long journeys.
Ngoc, a Hanoian collector said he bought a 1966 Honda 67 for the exorbitant price of VND80 million (US$4,000) in An Giang Province, but it's proved good value with original paintwork and engine. "It doesn't even have any indicator lights," he adds.
He said Honda made few changes to the original design, and the orginals remain instantly recognisable with their distinctive black and red paintwork.
The T-bone model has a five-gear box and a single four-stroke cylinder 49cc engine. However, an unskilful driver may have a little trouble when using the bike's manual clutch and gears.
"The 1968, 1969 and 1971 models are designed as sports motorbikes with a larger handle-bar, higher exhaust pipe and a four-gear box, but the 1972 model, the last of the T-bone style, featured a five-gear box," Ngoc says.
According to Tran Anh Tu, a member of forum www.honda67.com.vn, there are 25 clubs of Honda 67 lovers nationwide.
"Many young people want to make extraordinary old style motorbikes, but they modify most of the design of the engine or paintwork," Tu said.
"It is very rare for collectors in Viet Nam to have a full collection of the Honda 67 in their original design. It's priceless," said Tu, a telecommunications businessman in HCM City.
He also added he has a collection of three Honda 67 motorbikes, but only one still remains in its original form.
Dang Minh Tuan, 48, a member of Phan Thiet City's Honda 67 Club, said he has used the T-bone model for a long time.
He said he has also amassed a range of different 1960s-made Japanese motorbikes including Suzukis, Yamahas and Hondas.
Tuan and two members of the Phan Thiet-based club also intend to join a trip of the country's north-western provinces with Honda 67 motorbikes next week.
"It's great when you drive your favourite motorbike and travel around some of the most beautiful mountainous landscapes of the north," Tuan said.
"I still drive a Honda 67 on trans-Vietnamese journeys in my leisure time. It's not only a pastime, but a great inspiration." — VNS