When I was a teenager back in the 1960s Japan was just a country that made cheap cameras and plastic toys that fell to bits the first time they were played with. When they introduced motorbikes we thought it was just a joke and that they would be rubbish. How wrong we were.
I was a young budding ton up kid in those days with a 350 cc Matchless. It needed a re-bore which was being carried out under warranty and whilst it was being done the shop I bought it from lent me a Honda 90. Hey I was used to tearing around on a big 350 single! I soon changed my mind about the Honda though; the first time I sat on it, started it up and then put it into gear it reared up like a stallion and dumped me on my backside! There was just so much power pushing through that rearwheel. I quickly learnt that whenever I needed to drive off from a standing start I had to lean well forward and use as little throttle as possible.
Several of my friends who hadn't yet passed their driving tests bought Honda 250s. The whole purpose of banning learners from having bikes with capacities in excess of 250 cc was safety; the authorities felt that 350 cc upwards was too much to handle without some road experience. Here we were with a 250 cc bike that any kids over the age of 16 could legally buy and which would do 100 miles an hour! It is perhaps no surprise that the accident rate for motorcyclists was so high in those days. However most of them found that after 10,000 miles or so the engines were pretty well worn out; yes they were powerful but that was because they were extremely high revving, and high revs in the hands of young inexperienced kids leads to a lot of showing off and engine destruction.
Fast forward another decade or so when I became a builder. I bought two vehicles, and both of them were Japanese. One was a Datsun Sunny van; I bought it for the simple reason that (a) it was cheap and (B) the local Datsun dealer was a friend of mine who gave me a decent discount. It was okay until it was a few years old and the steering started to get very vague, clutches were burning out rapidly, and after 50,000 miles the engine was shot. It didn't really make much difference however since there was so much rust that it was only fit for the scrapyard. Then again just about every car on the market in those days was just as bad.
The next one was a Toyota Hilux pickup. I really wanted to have a Ford Transit but when I phoned up the local Ford dealers I was frankly met with complete indifference. I finally got a price from them but just as I was about to place the order it was mentioned to me that of course paint would be extra. Who ever bought a van that wasn't painted? I quibbled about this but finally accepted it; and then I was given an extra quotation for delivery. This was getting silly. I finally asked them for a price for a completed Transit, ready for the road, ready for me to collect. They told me they didn't know since it would take several weeks to get one anyway and some price rises had been rumoured. I forgot about Ford.
A friend of mine had a Toyota Hilux, and he swore by it. I rang up the local stockists, they gave me a reasonable price and asked me what colour I wanted, and when did I want to come and collect it. A few days later I was delivering a stack of bricks in it.
My experiences suggested to me that Japanese bikes and cars were probably better than the products of the British manufacturers of the day, but not much better. Their marketing on the other hand was infinitely superior. I often wonder if, instead of brilliant engineers, brilliant sales and marketing people with decent people skills were in charge of companies like British Leyland, we would still have a huge car industry in this country. Then again we British are a pretty aggressive lot so perhaps the awful labour relations which plagued, and then ultimately destroyed, much of the UK car industry would still have made it's mark no matter what happened. It's a subject we could debate forever. Speaking of which if you wish to get in touch my name is Brian Ross, my address is 156 Great Charles Street Queensway, Crossway, Birmingham B3 3HN and my email address is brianross (at) emailengine dot org. looking forward to hearing from you .