History And Mystery Of The Honda CX500 Turbo


Summary

  • Honda CX500 Turbo was the first production motorcycle with a turbocharger and electronic fuel injection.
  • Despite having some issues, it offered respectable performance enhancements and better handling than its competitors.
  • The CX500 Turbo was a game-changer, inspiring a wave of turbocharged motorcycles in the ’80s.



Think of the most influential Honda motorcycles, and the bikes that pop into your mind usually comprise the Honda CB750, CBR900RR Fireblade, RC213V-S, or RC51. If you’re deep in Honda’s fanbase, you might even come up with the Super Cub (or even an Activa). But one Honda most modern riders never think of is the CX500 Turbo.

It’s not surprising at all, as the CX500 was only sold for one year. And it doesn’t look anything special, too, right? But look closely at its name, and you’ll notice ‘Turbo’. That’s when it’ll hit you this is a 500cc sports tourer with a bloody turbocharger under the hood. Dive deeper, and you’ll also know this is the first production motorcycle that also came with Honda’s electronic fuel injection. These things make it one of the spiciest 500cc sports tourers ever made and a testament to what Honda can achieve when its reputation is at stake. With the intro out of the way, let’s dive into its history.


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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Honda and other authoritative sources, including Cycle World, Motorcycle Specs, and Motor Trend.


The Beginning Of The Turbo Era Of Motorcycles

Production Year: 1982

The ’80s began the power wars, with motorcycle manufacturers cramming massive engines in flexible frames suspended on poor suspension. The goal was to create the fastest bike, regardless of its road manners, comfort, or practicality. Perhaps the best example of this was the Kawasaki Z1R, featuring the KZ1000 engine that could barely fit in the frame. The press wasn’t a fan of it, but consumers loved it for its power.


For Kawasaki, that wasn’t enough. In 1978, a limited edition Z1R TC was introduced with a turbocharger. It was quick, but it was terrible in almost every regard. You even had to sign a liability waiver at the time of purchase and Kawasaki didn’t provide any powertrain warranty. Needless to say, the bike was prone to catastrophic failure.

As terrible as the Z1R TC was, it piqued the interest of the consumers, kickstarting the turbo-era of motorcycles. Other Japanese manufacturers followed suit, but Honda was the first one to jump on the bandwagon with its CX500 Turbo, a middleweight turbocharged motorcycle — the world’s first mass-market production bike with a turbo! It was based on the 1978 CX500. This wasn’t a quick bike per se, but it was crammed with tech features for the time and segment. It featured a water-cooled, longitudinally-mounted V-twin — like a Moto Guzzi — and a shaft drive, making a respectable 48 HP.


The First Ever Mass-Produced Turbo Motorcycle

Power Output: 82 HP @ 8,000 RPM

Honda CX500 Turbo
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The CX500 Turbo was still nowhere close to a superbike, but it was still decently quick. The turbo offered around 34 extra horses, giving the bike a top whack of over 125 MPH and a quarter mile time of just over 12 seconds. Not mind-blowing, but on par with a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. This performance came despite the fairly hefty curb weight of the bike, and credit goes to Honda’s robust V-twin engine.

We’re going to say it again — the engine wasn’t much of a performer. It was an old-school pushrod V-twin that had been largely unchanged since 1977. Still, it had some benefits that Honda found fruitful for the CX500 Turbo. It was liquid-cooled, the construction was strong, there was ample torque, and it didn’t cost much to make or maintain. This helped the bikemaker plonk the turbo much more easily than normal.


It still wasn’t without its demerits, though. The turbo was front-mounted between the two cylinders, and it heated up a lot. The fuel rail and tank would get hot, too, reducing the overall combustion efficiency. Plus, the turbocharger sucked air through an oiled foam filter, which could be easily swallowed if it started deteriorating. Lastly, the intake pipe and turbo pipe on the compressor side were long, and the air also had to pass through the plenum chamber and a set of reeds before getting to the intake manifold. That’s a lot of plumbing to get through, meaning massive turbo lag.

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Honda Went All Out With The CX500 Turbo

Honda CX500 Turbo
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The Honda CX500 Turbo wasn’t just the first production bike to get a turbocharger, it had many other ‘firsts’. To start with, the bike got Honda’s first-ever electronic fuel injection system. As it happens, turbos and carbs don’t work well together, so Honda had to innovate with computer-controlled fuel injection. Similarly, it was also the first Honda production bike with a dedicated computer-controlled engine management system and production-specific forged pistons.

Apart from these first-ever features, Honda also added some nifty upgrades to the CX500 Turbo’s package. For example, the liquid cooling was upgraded over the non-turbo model, and the internals (crankshaft, conrods, and clutch) were made stronger. These made the engine much more powerful than the standard CX500 even without a turbo. This was a peaky motorcycle — once the turbo spooled up. Had you kept the turbo spinning, you would’ve been surprised at the smooth power delivered through the wide-ratio five-speed transmission. It was punchy and torquey with the pull of a much larger motorcycle.


Engine Highlights

  • Turbocharger ran at 19 PSI boost
  • Small cylinders required the world’s tiniest turbocharger, built by IHI with rotors measuring less than two inches in diameter
  • Turbocharger rotors could spool up to 200,000 RPM
  • Engine case revised to accept the larger crankshaft bearings
  • Fuel injection system was mated to various sensors to measure boost, airflow, air temperature, engine temperature, RPM, crank position, throttle position, etc.
  • A limp mode in case things went wrong

Honda CX500 Turbo

Apart from the powerful engine, the CX500 Turbo had other merits in terms of handling and comfort. Unlike the Kawasaki Z1R TC, this one didn’t skimp on suspension or brakes. The bike was suspended on Showa forks with a TRAC anti-dive system and an adjustable monoshock. Meanwhile, large dual discs and a single rear one made up the anchors. For reference, the standard CX500 had a drum brake on the rear.


The CX500 Turbo wasn’t just a safer bike to ride, but also well-mannered on the road. The performance boost was predictable, but the handling was a big surprise no one saw coming. This hefty bike steered well and held the line through curves while inspiring confidence. It was a step ahead of its competitors–be it turbo ones or non-turbo ones.

Then there was the funky fairing. It might not have aged well, but it did a decent job at keeping the wind off your torso. Speaking of it, the riding position was upright, and the large seat was cozy. The bike was riddled with Honda’s quality touches all around, like quality paint and a purposeful dash area.


Performance Specifications

Engine Type

Longitudinal 80-degree V-twin, turbocharged

Displacement

498cc

Compression Ratio

7.2:1

Power Output

76 HP @ 8,000 RPM (on the wheel)

Torque Output

58.2 LB-FT @ 5,000 RPM

Wet Weight

580 LBS

1/4 Mile Acceleration

12.3 seconds

Top Speed

128 MPH

(Specs sourced from Motorcycle Specs)

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Turbocharging The Motorcycling Industry

Honda CX500 Turbo
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The Honda CX500 Turbo was a game-changing motorcycle when it was introduced. It had an impressive list of features, including electronics, fuel injection, and a turbocharger–all pretty uncommon in the bikes of that time. Plus, the retro design was cool with a big turbo decal on the mufflers. Let’s also not forget how easy it was to ride.


Sounds like the perfect recipe to become the best-selling motorcycle, right? Wrong. The CX500 Turbo didn’t sell well; Honda only made around 5,000 of these before replacing it with the 650 Turbo the next year. Still, we hold the CX500 Turbo in high regard for being much more than a nostalgic motorcycle. The CX500 Turbo inspired a breed of monstrous turbocharged motorcycles of the 80s. Sure, it wasn’t race-ready or powerful, but it belongs to the list of the most influential Honda motorcycles ever, wedged somewhere between the Honda Super Cub and the RC213V-S. More importantly, it deserves to be called an iconic sports tourer!

Turbocharged Bikes That Followed

  • 1982 Yamaha XJ650T Turbo
  • 1983 Suzuki NX85
  • 1983 Honda CX650 Turbo
  • 1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo



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