Honda’s muscle-flexing cruiser that cost $225m — the outrageous Rune

CAPTION: Ostentatious, you say? Perhaps a touch. We've borrowed this pic from Visordown, which has a road test on the Rune that's definitely worth a read. The link is down the bottom of our story.

IT WAS one of the most extravagant production decisions in motorcycle history. Build 3,000-odd bikes at a reported manufacturing cost of $US100,000 each, sell them for just $25,000, and put the resultant $225 million loss down to marketing expenses.

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It was the type of exercise you might expect from a brash young billionaire looking to make a name for himself, or a desperate company trying to prove a point. But no, it was none of that. It was one of the biggest and most successful motoring companies of all time, flexing its muscles and showing off what it could do.

The madness must have been tough (but obviously not impossible) to get past head office. If the publicly quoted numbers are accurate, the $225m bottom-line hit must have been sold to management for its ‘brand image’ marketing value and, perhaps, corporate pride.

CAPTION: We found this beautiful low-mileage Rune down near Mandurah — and it’s for sale.

The company was Honda – or more accurately, Honda America – and the marketing product was the 368kg, 1750mm-long, 1832cc, six cylinder, 116hp, 140mph cruiser, the Rune. And not only was it conceived and designed in America, it was also made there; rolling out of a factory in Ohio. Almost all stayed in America, although half a dozen went to Japan (presumably because all the senior executives at head office just had to have one).

There was a photograph doing the rounds a few years ago with Tom Cruise looking as cool as, well, himself, and riding what looked very much like a Rune down a San Francisco street. Then-love Katie Holmes looking very relaxed and happy sitting behind him. The folks at Honda probably thought they got their $225 million worth of exposure right there.

Only a dozen Runes are said to have made their way to Australia although a few more have since dented the Atlantic and come across by privately-sponsored boat. Those that sold new were priced around $AUS50,000. It was hold-your-breath money back in 2004, but each one still represented a thumping great loss to Honda.

 The bike you see here was one of those Aussie bikes. Proudly wearing a compliance plate on its headstem and showing just over 11,000km on the clock, it’s no less extravagant and no less impressive than it would have been 13 years ago.

It’s the outrageous styling that catches your eye, especially if fitted with the optional (Corbin) panniers that give the bike an almost 1930s Bugatti rear-end curvature, but it’s also technologically impressive.

The motor is a heavily breathed-on Goldwing engine, featuring fuel injection through six separate 32mm throttle bodies, a more aggressive camshaft, and revised fuel injection and ignition timing mapping. It runs through a close-ratio gearbox and breathes through a huge 6.9 litre airbox.

Then there’s Prolink rear suspension, a single-sided swingarm, trailing bottom-link twin-shock front suspension, and linked brakes. The Rune is a single-seater, with a seat height of just 27.2 inches.

Current owner Lou Van Daele bought the bike from Queensland several years ago. Its (one and only) previous owner is believed to have been a university professor who bought the bike without even having a bike licence. As a result, the bike had very little use and the professor eventually gave up on the idea and put the Rune on the market.

Lou’s son spotted it for sale on the internet, and the bike found its way across to Western Australia.

Lou’s daily ride is another American cruiser — a Victory —  and the Rune just isn’t getting ridden. So this bike is up for sale once again. (The advertisement is in our Bikes For Sale section.)

British bike website Visordown rode a Rune back in 2003 and was surprised at how well it went, stopped and handled — saying it had a “special, omnipotent feeling … sort of like a big-block V8 American engine in a lightweight car.”

“Just a whiff of throttle sends the Rune surging forward,” Visordown said “while a full handful of throttle makes it leap towards the next corner.

“Indeed, the six-cylinder engine is remarkably smooth and composed, and features a powerband a mile wide. Once above 30mph, you can leave the Rune in fifth gear and still have healthy acceleration on demand.”

You can read the whole Visordown article here and there’s a lengthy and informative story about the Rune’s creation, including an interview with the boss of Honda America, here.

CAPTION: When it was released, its 1750mm wheelbase made the Rune the longest machine Honda had ever made. It was also fitted with the biggest brakes Honda had ever bolted on a bike. They’re twin 330mm discs up front, backed up with a single 336mm disc on the rear. (All bigger than current-day CBR1000RR discs.)

CAPTION: Headlight is distinctive — and huge. Front suspension looks weird but apparently works extremely well. There are two shocks tucked in behind the headlight — one’s the spring, the other’s the damper.

CAPTION: Despite its gargantuan size, the Rune comes standard as a single-seater. Lou’s is fitted with a Corbin seat and backrest. In case you wondered, yes, Corbin does make a (heated) twin-seat. It costs around $US800 in America, presumably more here in Oz.

 

CAPTION: That’s a whole lot of motorcycle. Optional Corbin panniers are works of art on their own. Lou told us he had the devil’s own time getting them painted, eventually importing a quart of the genuine stuff (said to contain diamond dust) at substantial expense from Honda America. We’re not sure about the diamond dust, but we can confirm it’s a stunning paint job. Exhaust note is wonderful too — not overly loud but throaty and authoritative. Unlike many of Japan’s modern cruisers, the Rune looks and sounds fast.

CAPTION: This shot gets us closer to those twin shocks. Click on the photo to zoom in further.

CAPTION: Buyers of the Rune received a hardcover book about the bike, with a letter from Honda America boss Ray Blank slipped inside. Ray modestly described the bike as “one of the most important and visionary motorcycles the world has ever seen”.

Also see:

Honda’s V8 racer

The Britten V1000

Bikes For Sale

Did you know?

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