The Honda A-Type, Honda’s First Product on the Market (1947)

The initial A-Type auxiliary bicycle engine now preserved in the HCH originally had an aluminum fuel tank that was made by sand casting in two parts, upper and lower. In order to prevent fuel leaks through pinholes that often resulted from this casting technique, the tanks are said to have been given a coating of Japanese lacquer. The brand mark from Hondas founding period, which shows a “nude figure racing across the heavens,” is still faintly discernible.

In November 1947, the Honda A-Type entered production and was immediately put on sale. The earlier, modified engines used a tubular fuel tank that had been nicknamed the “tea canister,” but the A-Type had a cast aluminum fuel tank with a teardrop shape instead. The idea came from the cast aluminum hot water bottles that were being made by Enshu Keigokin Corp., now known as Enkei, in Hamamatsu, and Honda ordered the A-Type’s fuel tanks from that company. They could be made with things like the mounting bosses for the fuel tank caps and the fitting brackets all in one piece, so they were bound to require less work than the tea canister tanks. For President Honda, who was very particular about the attractiveness of design, the looks and style of the tank were an important factor.

Before long, original ideas began to show up in the plant facilities that were a foretaste of the Honda Motor Co. of later years. In February 1948, an engine assembly plant was newly established in Noguchi-cho. Here the company had its first conveyor line, conceived by President Honda. Operations were not on a scale to require a conveyor line, in terms either of the number of employees or the number of products. Just as with the changeover to die casting, however, the Honda dream of the future was beginning to show its effects at this time.

Furthermore, this line was created with the idea of making the work less strenuous, reducing the distances over which parts had to be moved, and requiring less space. This concept of such a compact assembly line had never been seen before. The line itself was still very unsophisticated, but the basic thinking that underlay it is what Honda has fulfilled in its plants today.

Still, it was a tremendous amount of work for the employees, because the cast tanks and the die cast parts were riddled with pinholes at first. In order to prevent gasoline and oil leaks, they had to come up with the idea of putting on a coating of Japanese lacquer, a substance that causes severe allergic reactions in most people.

Grinning broadly, Isobe describes what this was like:

“There wasn’t any technology yet for impregnating things with resin. Japanese lacquer was cheap at the time. We brushed it on by hand, onto the outside of the fuel tanks and the inner surface of the crankcase. We were aiming to eliminate processing steps, and we ended up with more work, on top of which we got lacquer poisoning. It was terrible, it really got to me.”
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