Rediscovering the legendary Little Honda, the Beach Boys’ song, and the ultra-famous Super Cub.
Little Honda, recorded in 1964 by the Hondells and the Beach Boys, forever broadcasts the suave appeal of the Sixties Surf Music.
This song, concealed in the delusive shade of innocence, embodies the visible and wistful part, the sympathetic tip of an industrial marketing iceberg, initiated ten years earlier by Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa. This is just another upshot, an almost collateral consequence of an ambitious multi-levels strategy.
In 1956, the two leaders of Honda Motorcycles returned home from a trip into Europe, convinced about the business interest of a lightweight and versatile motorbike, a compact and long-lasting machine. Therefore, they engaged in the design, manufacture, and distribution of an original model “that could be driven with only one hand, while carrying a bowl of soba noodles” (according to Fujisawa).
Off the assembly line in 1958, the Super Cub 50 was already founding its own legend: monthly sales (30000 and 50000 units) amounted to one and half times the entire Japanese two wheels production, and the manufacturing site (Suzuka factory, inspired by Volkswagen model in Wolfsburg) became in 1960 the largest infrastructure in the world for motorcycles production.
Fujisawa then planned to conquer the world, and organized a worldwide export network. Branches were created in Germany, Belgium, UK and France, in the wake of the powerful American Honda Motor Company, in 1959.
For the U.S. market, Honda hands a gigantic publicity campaign to Grey Advertising in 1963. The fifth Episode, fourth Season of Mad Men (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword) briefly mentions this historic contract.
The agency developed the first example of “Lifestyle Marketing”. To stand out from the marginal and violent image of the Bikers, the tiny moped was aiming at families, as an ideal vehicle for middle-class America: friendly, clean, reliable and docile. Rather than ostensibly selling a product, Honda commercials were pervading into the collective mind, gradually replacing the traditional bicycle with a new vehicle, in the scenery of the rightful thinking suburbs. Henceforth, behind the posing couple, the ultra-bright smiling kids, a dog and a clean-shaven lawn, in the soft light of a summer day, you could catch sight of a discreet but obvious brand new bike, the Super Cub.
“You meet the nicest people on a Honda” proclaims the poster campaign for twelve uninterrupted years. To that, add a wide multimedia promotion, on television, and radio waves, but also a more devious method: a Honda dedicated promotional disc. Here came Gary Usher, Surf music producer and Beach Boys manager during their career humble beginnings. Around a track composed by Mike Love (singer of the above mentioned Beach Boys), he created a band from scratch, the Hondells, and pushed realism to invent a fake common history in order to record a LP of songs dedicated to the glory of a small Honda, the famous Super Cub 50.
In 1964, Little Honda reached number nine in the ranking of U.S. music top sales. A few months after this Hondells success, the Beach Boys tried to bring the song back on the album All Summer Long, but their now famous cover then goes unnoticed. In 1997, Yo La Tengo exhumes the track and gives it a second life in a more rocky than surfy, saturated and slightly jaded cover.
Little Honda remains a privileged overview of a lifestyle, amidst Surf and Rock n ‘roll, within the sun, the beach, and the golden years of California in the Sixties. The true origin, but already mercantile culture of the West Coast culture to follow, from Gangsta Rap (Ice-T and NWA, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog) to the underground 90’s hip-hop), and Custom Choppers (Arlen Ness, and Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers, true descendant of the famous outlaw).
Motorcycle and Surf sometimes come close, in favor of akin characters, marginality, rebellion, the relationship with space and constant contact with the elements, the movement and the feeling of freedom as an ultimate quest . Since 2013, the Wheels & Waves event in Biarritz (organized by Southsiders), provides evidence of connections and the existence of a common visual vocabulary. Inaugurated by the Beach Boys and the Super Cub, this link has naturally extended to a relaxed and appealing lineage: the Suzuki Van Van absolute holidays’ requisite, the mini bikes Dax (Honda) and Chappy (Yamaha), as far as Deus’ inspired creations, and their final tribute to the Cub reinvented.
Without necessarily coexisting, the two worlds are also corresponding with each other at a distance. Cameron Diaz and her board on the hot sands of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in 2003 turns into a neon Biker Goddess, accompanied by Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore for a MX race on 250cc KTM X, Suzuki and Yamaha YZ RM.
Keanu Reeves, enthusiast biker, undercover surfer in Point Break (1991), promotes Arch Motorcycle, and the first establishment of his association with Gard Hollinger, the KRGT-1.
In the meantime, the history of the Super Cub has extended to an electric urban concept, the EV-Cub (presented at the Tokyo Show in 2009), and the various versions of the original moped in 50, 70 , 90 and 100 cc have completed Fujisawa and Honda’s dreams of conquest, registering an absolute world record in terms of production of motor vehicles with more than 50 million units recorded in 2006, 60 million in 2008, and still counting today as manufacturing never ceased in Asia, and goes on in South America and Africa. Cheap and exceptionally long-lasting, the Cub adapts anywhere and proves to be the ideal business or commuting partner in most emerging economies, far away from the Pacific and Malibu beach waves.