The cumulative total of the motorcycles produced by Honda passed the hundred million mark in October 1997. This is counting from the very first motorcycle Honda made, the D-Type which debuted in August 1949. It was named the Dream, a name that seemed to symbolize Honda itself, and this machine was the embodiment of the company’s dream of becoming a motorcycle manufacturer. It is no longer known who gave the D-Type this name.
The revolutionary feature of the Dream D-Type was that "it did away with the hand-operated clutch." The lever on the left looks like the clutch at first, but it is actually the front brake lever.
Years later, President Honda said, "I can’t remember. I was always talking about how Honda would become a world-class manufacturer, which was like a dream. So somebody probably just started calling it that."
"I think the Old Man was really happy about it. After all, it was a real motorcycle," said Kawashima, who was in charge of drafting engineering drawings for the D-Type engine, as well.
The D-Type was an offshoot of the C-Type, but it no longer had the look of a bike with an auxiliary engine. The design had evolved into something appropriate for a motorcycle. The D-Type assembly line also used a powered belt conveyor. This was an original company design.
"The line was on a slope, and the assembly process moved from the higher end to the lower end," Isobe recalls. "This was the way to make things easier for the people working the line in terms of their posture. When you pressed a switch, a bell would ring and the line would move forward one step in the process."
The company was starting to be more aggressive in taking up the challenge of mass production. "But, as I mentioned before, the precision of the parts was far from what it needed to be, so we still had to hand-work them to get them right, and the conveyor line had to be stopped all the time. It was thanks to this challenge and this experience, though, that everyone fully absorbed the fundamental idea that the parts handed to the line should not need any further working."
The conveyor belt mass-production process for the D-Type at the Noguchi and Tokyo Plants was the subject of an article in the December 1956 issue of Science Asahi (Kagaku Asahi) magazine. The article said: "There is a company that has achieved a production increase unthinkable in our time, producing 876 units in fiscal 1950 out of the national production total of 3,439, and then leaping to 700 units a month in fiscal 1951. As the reality of free trade approaches, the first thing people talk about is the cost problem. But costs are difficult to cut in any sector, and the greater difficulties faced by larger companies are well known. It is not easy to streamline a business without taking some kind of special measures. This is what the Honda Motor Co. has been exploring in actual practice. With a mere 150 employees, they have been using die casting methods not found even in European motorcycle engineering, and manufacturing all their own engines. Perhaps the key to increased unit production is to be found in this direction."
At that time, all the other motorcycles manufactured in Japan used steel tube frames. Among them, only the Dream D-Type used a channel frame made of pressed steel plate. Furthermore, at a time when the market assumed that motorcycles would be painted black, Honda gave its product a beautiful maroon color to the President’s taste. The D-Type stood out on the road, and the Honda name took on tremendous appeal. Sales were good from the very start.
"We used a channel frame of pressed steel plate partly because it was so difficult to obtain good quality steel pipe," said Kawashima. "What the Old Man was aiming for, though, was increased production speed and streamlining of the production processes. The Old Man was constantly talking up the switch to press fabrication and to die casting. This was a manufacturing method based firmly on conviction. Compared to steel pipe, the work required for fabrication was completely different, and we could keep the quality consistent. This method also required welding at fewer points.
"However, the idea for that type of frame wasn’t original," he added. "Various manufacturers in Germany and other parts of Europe had been using it since the 1920s, and in Japan, too, a prewar company called Miyata had used the same method. The Old Man hated to copy other people, but in the early days, we often used precursor machines for reference anyway. However, we never made a complete imitation, no matter what. That’s why the D-Type is filled with new ideas that are typical of the Old Man’s thinking. These are ideas that you could say were revolutionary. However, that’s also part of the reason that sales dropped off after doing so well at first."