Retrospective: 1983-1986 Honda VF1100C V65 Magna

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna. Owner: Van Krebs, Fresno, Ohio. Photos by Jason Keller.

The motorcycling world looked upon this machine in absolute amazement — a cruiser putting out more than 100 horsepower. Unheard of! Sure, sportbikes like Honda’s CB1100R were knocking out that many ponies, but those were for riders who liked leaning into corners at insane speeds. But a cruiser with feet-forward pegs and wide handlebars — and a shaft drive no less? This was nutso!

If this bike could be put in a category, it would be Power Cruiser. Harleys were the standard cruisers of the day, and they were lucky to get 55 horses to the rear wheel, using a pushrod V-twin that had been around for the better part of half a century. Whereas this bruiser was a V-4 with two overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. And liquid cooling to boot, so no worries about overheating when cruising down Main Street on a crowded Saturday evening. Except for that mildly unaesthetic radiator up front.

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

What was Honda thinking? The company had a whole bunch of bikes in the showrooms that year, 40 different models covering all the bases, from shopping-friendly Passports to huge Gold Wing touring platforms. Even a V-twin cruiser, the 750 Shadow. And a second V-4, the 750 V45 Magna, introduced the year before.

This all began with Soichiro Honda’s wanting to again be celebrated for putting an entirely new machine on the market. The world remembers (although this may be news to some of the younger generation) when he introduced the overhead camshaft, in-line four back in 1969, beginning the evolution of the UJM — Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Now the V-4 would do it again…he hoped.

But the backroom boys wanted to create a jaw-dropper, knock the American public back on its heels, as they used to say. The 750cc V45 was just a starting point for creating a machine the likes of which the motorcycle crowd had never seen. The V65’s majorly oversquare engine, with a 79.5mm bore and 55.3mm stroke, would cheerfully rev to 10 grand, with maximum rear-wheel power of 105 horses coming on at 9,500, redline at 10,000. A lot could go wrong with 16 valves popping up and down 10,000 times a minute, but Honda’s engineers made sure nothing untoward would happen.

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

These horses came from using some appropriate fiddling inside the head, with the four valves having a rather narrow 38-degree included angle. This and the shape of the combustion chamber effectively put the fuel as close to the spark plug as possible, compressed 10.5 times. Bang, bang, bang, bang — and the crankshaft spins.

Four constant-vacuum 36mm carbs, by Keihin, were accessible by lifting the gas tank. These had an easily changeable paper air cleaner. Fuel consumption was less than 40 mpg, but range was no problem as most riders wanted to get off after an hour or so. And at the time the U.S. was blessed (cursed?) with the 55-mph speed limit, so highway riders on the V65 had an excuse for not going very fast. With the V65 ergonomics city traffic was preferable to the interstates.

Power ran via straight-cut gears back to a hydraulically operated clutch. This had a diaphragm spring as an essential part of the device, which the engineers knew would be much abused, with the single diaphragm offering more consistent control than a multi-spring unit.

The gearbox had five speeds plus an overdrive sixth. If the bike could have pulled 10 grand in sixth gear, its top speed would be better than 170 mph. A more practical (!!) top speed was 140 in fifth. If the rider could hang on!

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

A full-cradle frame, with double downtubes, held this unit-construction herd semi-firmly in place, as rubber mounts were used to keep any vibrations hidden away. Which were few as the 90 degrees between the two pairs of cylinders presumed good balance, enhanced by that short 55mm stroke. A shaft final drive went out the left side, so those Levi’s would be nice and clean on cruise night, not having to put up with an oily chain. An air-adjustable 41mm fork suspended the front end, with an anti-dive unit. Rake was a pretty lazy 30.5 degrees with more than four inches of trail, and while this was OK in town, it was best not to get too optimistic out on the twisties. At the back a pair of shock absorbers had all the adjustments: spring preload, rebound and compression damping. The fork had almost six inches of travel, the swingarm a little more than four inches. Axle to axle measurement was just shy of 63 inches.

Cast wheels were 18 inches at the front and 16 at the back, with two discs at the front and a single at the back, all three squeezed by twin-piston calipers.

This power cruiser was designed by the Los Angeles boys for the American market, because the rest of the motorcycling world was not much interested in cruiser styling, preferring standard or sport. Honda hoped that the numbers would blow the Harley riders into the weeds.

Which they did. Quarter-mile times? Don’t even think about them. The 1,338cc Harley was in the 14-second category, and couldn’t break 100 mph. While the 1,098cc V65? In the 10s!! At 125 mph! More numbers? At $4,000 this V65 was at least three grand less expensive than a Harley.

What Honda had failed to realize was that in the cruising world of the 1980s, style was far more important than performance. Power cruisers would be a passing fancy, whereas Honda’s Fury model of today is a V-twin.

One final note: apparently somebody in the 1980s was selling a supercharger kit for the V65 Magna. Boggles the mind!

39 COMMENTS

  1. I have a 1983 v65 1100c magna now. I’ve have gone thru just about everything on the bike except the frame. Looks better then new. Little over 16,000 original mile on it. Love the bike!.

      • I would be very interested and no one a little bit more about this bike as well as where you are located. I once had a 1984 VF 1100 and sorry to say I got rid of it.

  2. I had the last of the breed, an 86. I called it my rocket ship. Fast, smooth, and a gorgeous sound when I twisted the throttle! I didn’t expect a bike with that kind of frame and front forks to handle well, but I could easily keep up with some of my buddies on their BMWs in the twisties. Like I told them, “There’s no substitute for lots of torque.”

  3. Suzuki Madura was even uglier than the Magna but I preferred the ’83-84 Sabre V65 style even if its acceleration figures were little less good than the Magna .Pee Wee Gleason ran a 10.92 1/4 mile on this bike ( = magna) . Honda unfortunately revive the Sabre name in 2000 for a v-twin of the Shadow variety maybe to disassociate the name with this first gen of Honda v4 which was affected by heads/cams wear problems .

  4. I own an 83, they will do better than 140 mph… They are scary at those speeds, but can. The gas tank is not fake, it has a secondary tank near the battery, but the main tank is still the larger tank. Best looking bike ever made. Mine still draw attention everywhere I go.

  5. my son came across an 86 v65 sitting in the corner of a garage had 1600 miles on it for 500 bucks, it had been sitting for many years. well countless hours and about 2500 bucks spent over a 3 year period i have a fantastic magna that is a joy to ride and stops bikers in there tracks. its ready for another 36 years.

    • I have an 83 honda magna v65 1100 but need to get parts for up until 5 days ago i had a 1985 yamaha virago 1000 it got stolen havnt found it yet so back to working on the honda

  6. I’m still rockin’ my ’83 Magna. It’s been through a lot, and kinda shows it too! But hey… it’s a Honda! All they do it RUN! I’ve owned 3 V65s and 3 V45s. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t own a V4… all the way back to the mid 80s and my first 2 bikes (both Honda’s as well). I can’t imagine getting ahold of a new (sic.) one today! Without the cam chains slappin’ away in there… without the exhaust leakin’ outta the rust perforated collector down below… without the rear brake wanting to be a parking brake if you left her parked for more than a month!! But do I love the bike? Hell YAA! Do I long for some other bike to putz around town on? Doubtful.

  7. Still have my burgandy 83. Love that bike and she loved to cruise no less than 100. I think I actually hurt some feelings while riding that bike and never coming in second. One night the spring that engages the transmission shift arm broke leaving me at a dead stop in forth gear. She pulled forth from a dead stop.

  8. I owned Magna V65 in late 80’s or early 90. I traded my Shadow for this Guiness Book winner at loco Honda dealer.
    With only 3000 K (Burgundy) what a bike it was!
    I used to take my Magna for ride in late afternoon Vancouver – Seattle and back home.
    At 140K/hr in OD downshift and would take off like a bullet, and limited slip clutch was a great invention then.
    I never went over 165 K/hr there (Interstate 5) and I agree with comments that Sabre would feel more comfortable at those speeds. I always look at Magna V65 as Honda great achievement.
    And guess what I am looking again for one of those Great Classics.

  9. I am 51 years old, and from Duluth Minnesota. Over the years, l have owned 4 v-65 magnas, and loved blowing away harleys and anything else that I didn’t see fit to be ahead of me. This fire breathing dragon, i have loved my whole life. It would be nice to see a v-105 Magna.

  10. I ride every day.ive owned over 100 bikes.5 v65 and four v45.still ride one of each. I have lots of parts.call me 251 979 8068. I’m In Foley ala.my name is ray

    • Ray, my name is Paul. Gardendale Al.. I’m interested in the parts you have. Please send me some information on what you have. Thank you.

  11. I was fortunate to have the 500cc first, and the V65 ,both the same burgundy color. It was a nice Ride. I remember I had to lean forward for inicial take off.
    That’s how it felt!!!

  12. I have two sons in their twenty’s that need to ride one of those v65magna rockets. I’m looking to purchase one for them a black one in good shape. Email me a pic and a price thanks.

    • are u still looking for one got an 83 v65 mags 1100 I just got will take 4800 run great and it black will send a picture if u want ti to look at maybe buy it

  13. After seeing that commercial of the bike with factory rider Gleason go through the quarter mile I had to have it. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley I used to love blowing other bikes and exotic sports cars off the road. I had an 83 and loved that bike.

  14. I’m 60 years old and I remember buying my first magna and 1984 83 head pull back handlebars and the 84 they changed them up just a little bit so it’s a little bit more forward my first race was against Kawasaki KZ1000 and I just came out of the showroom with the bike didn’t even break it in and that thing ripped the highway’s apart the guy in the KZ waves me off back off cuz we’re going too fast 135mph. Like you said i had to hold on for dear life love the bike wish I could get another one.

    • I have an 1985 V65 Magna 1100cc
      Barn fine. Sat in a friend barn since 1986.
      It has 7759 original miles
      Just put 60 miles on
      Selling for the original owners
      Just order a new rear tire
      Going to pickup a battery tomorrow when in town
      I put some money into it
      Would like to get $3000.
      If you interested give me a call
      Email me

  15. I have an -83 V65 Magna, and before that I had -84 -model. I am 51 years old, and I fell in love with that bike in 1985, when I first time saw it. Sometimes I rev it up to 7000 rpm, and on that point things start to happen VERY fast. Usually I keep the revs below that point. The looks of the bike is really great: hot rod, power, somehow brutal but still aesthetic.

  16. I was too young to own this bike during its heyday, having been born in 1974, but I was a huge bike fan as a kid (dad and both uncles rode and I grew up on the back of a Z1, an XS1100, a Virago 1000, a Goldwing, and an FJ1100) and just loved this bike. This is exactly what a “cruiser” looks like to me, and exactly the kind of engine one should have, too. Closest I’ve gotten was owning a Kawi 454LTD and a Honda VF700 Interceptor.

  17. I have a 1994 v4 Honda magna 750. I love everything about it . Its fast for sure 135 is not a problem for my old girl yesterday! I did some research as to why she was so fast ,and I found my answer on ebby I hit in the search bar for a 96 intercepter replacement motor and there it was ! My motor no chrome but exact motor as what is on my bike ,the only difference in them is mine has chrome and the tranjy is different.

  18. I bought a 1984 V65 with my best friend buying o e also.
    We paid $3,485 each and got the roll bars, sissy bars,
    AND an ORIGINAL shop manual ALL INCLUDED in the deal.
    I ran mine on a dyno, and recorded it @8,700 rpm ,
    164.3 MPH!!
    I have just shy of 20,000 miles on it, AND can STAND IT STRAIGHT UP in first gear WITH 1 or 2 people on
    AND land on the ground AT 70 MPH!!
    BEST BIKE I HAVE EVER HAD!!
    LOVE PULLING A WHEELIE FROM A START TO PASS ANYONE!!

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