Americans love performance, so Honda gained lots of fans with the V65 Sabre. The bike stood out from the crowd not only because of its record-shattering quarter-mile performance, but also because it was powered by a V4 in a sea of inline fours. The 65? That referred to the motor's displacement in cubic inches; metrically, it packed a whopping 1098cc.
The Sabre was a high-tech performance machine that broke the mold. Not a cruiser, a standard, or a sportbike, the Sabre had a style all its own, and boasted the kind of stump-pulling engine performance that the inline fours of the day couldn't match. The powerplant featured liquid-cooling, twin-cam heads, a six-speed gearbox and a low-maintenance shaft final drive.
The chassis components were equally impressive; cast six-spoke wheels front and back, single-shock rear suspension and a beefy 41 mm leading axle fork with Honda's TRAC® anti-dive system. On top of that, the Sabre was smooth, versatile and comfortable enough for touring.
Though the V65 engine debuted a year earlier in the Magna, a machine that featured a cross between cruiser and drag bike styling, the 1984 Sabre galvanized public opinion of Honda's newly minted V4 engine configuration.
Until then, Japanese high-performance was defined by inline fours. Honda did offer V4 400's for the Japanese market in 1982, but the V65's raised the performance bar with a broad torque range combined with a serious top end rush. Four valves per cylinder, relatively mild cams, an efficient induction system with straight-shot intake tracts, clean-burning combustion chambers and a quartet of 36 mm constant velocity carbs gave the V65 Sabre its most powerful production motorcycle engine available. Pumping out a walloping 121 horsepower, the mighty Sabre could launch from a standstill to 50 miles per hour in just 2.31 seconds!
In addition, the 90-degree V4 package was physically narrower than the transverse four cylinder engines. Though the V4 powerplant may have been slightly longer than an inline four engine, the Sabre's forward bank of cylinders helped ensure sufficient front-end weight bias for excellent steering.
With its well-balanced chassis and muscular engine, the V65 Sabre earned a reputation as a versatile motorcycle that was fun to ride in more than just short, straight bursts down the drag strip. Californian Jim Newberry rode his Sabre to a fifth place finish at the 1984 Iron Butt Rally and improved one position the following year, demonstrating that the bike was comfortable and reliable for the long haul.
Indeed, the Sabre proved the versatility of Honda's family of V4's, which included machines as diverse as the custom V65 Magna and the Interceptor® sportbike line. The Sabre's unique balance of performance and versatility became a hallmark of Honda's V4 machines in the years to come.
The Honda Sabre was made by Honda from 1982 to 1985. It was one of a group of Japanese motorcycles known at the time as "tariff-busters" because of the modifications made to allow the bikes to circumvent the newly passed United States International Trade Commission tariff on foreign motorcycles 700cc and larger.
Sabre models and their marketing names were: VF750S - V45 Sabre (1982–1983), VF700S - 700 Sabre (1984), VF700S - Sabre (1985),VF1100S - V65 Sabre (1984–1985).
The V45 Sabre was introduced in 1982. It shared its V4 engine design with the Magna and Interceptor. The engines in the Sabre and Magna were so similar to be almost completely interchangeable except for a few fuel and carburation-related differences. The Interceptor engine was angled differently in the frame and had a chain drive instead of shaft, but shared the same 90-degree-V four-cylinder, DOHC configuration.
The V4 engine combined the high-revving power of an in-line four-cylinder with the narrow width of a v-twin. The 90-degree angle of the V also gave the engine perfect primary balance, which helped avoid the vibration problems that plagued many in-line four-cylinder motorcycle engines without the need of heavy solid rubber mounts or counter-balancers.
In 1984 import tariffs were changed, causing the V45 engine to be modified. Honda reduced the displacement to 698 cc by de-stroking the motor from 48.6 mm to 45.4 mm, added a tooth on the clutch gear to compensate for a loss of torque and changed the model name to VF700S. The VF700S models continued for only one more year.
The 750 cc V45 engine produced 82 hp for 1982 models, 86 hp for 1983–1985 models, and 76 hp for 700 models. The 1,100 cc "V65" engine, which was introduced in 1983, produced 121 hp. Both were slightly detuned throughout the run of the first generation engine to cope with customs and EPA regulations. However, Honda reported the same horsepower figures throughout the whole generation even though the actual dyno-proven, detuned, figures showed up lower than advertised.
The engine's downfall was premature camshaft wear in some early models in both the V45 and V65. In retrospect, the wear was caused by inadequate oil flow to the heads/cams, driving for a long time on low engine speeds (under 3,000 rpm) and at cold start /engine warm-up procedure, non-accurate valve adjustment, and insufficient maintenance. But this came too late to save the engine's reputation. Honda itself at first denied there was a problem, then blamed inadequate or incorrect maintenance for the problem. They changed the maintenance interval, and developed and sold a special tool for 'proper' valve-lash adjustment. They eventually made changes to the design and production methods of the engine which eliminated the problem.
But it was too late. The first generation V4 was discredited, and the first V4 revolution failed. While Yamaha (the V-Max) and Suzuki (the Madura) had both responded to the Hondas with V4 engines of their own. Eventually, Suzuki dropped the Madura, and the production of the Yamaha V-Max was continued for over 20 years.
The Sabres, especially the V45, were technology showcases for Honda. Not only did they feature revolutionary water-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree-V four-cylinder engines, but they also featured hydraulically actuated, one-way clutches, TRAC anti-dive front suspension, Pro-link rear suspensions, and electronic speedometers and tachometers.
The original V45 came with a fibre-optic anti-theft system, self-canceling turn signals, built-in lap timer, and an electronic instrument cluster that included an LCD gear indicator that doubled as an electrical fault display.
Many of these electronic features were dropped from later V45s, and the VF700, though most of the mechanical features remained.
Honda introduced the V4 engine in three motorcycles, representing the three types of street bikes. The Interceptor was a sportbike, the Magna was a cruiser, and the Sabre a standard. Both the Interceptor and Magna continued in production for decades after the Sabre was discontinued.
In 1984, Cycle magazine reported that they achieved a 0-60 mph time of 3.04 seconds and an 11.2 second, 121.69 miles per hour quarter-mile run with a Sabre V65.
Honda resurrected the Sabre name for a model of their Shadow V-twin cruisers. Despite sharing a name, the V-twin Sabre has nothing in common with the V4-powered Sabre models.