Honda Motocompo: the cool commuter
Forget greed, right now the 1980s are good.
Riding the current wave of retro classics are 1980s cars. But if you want a cool set of two wheels rather than four, hop on the bike that looks like a box, the Honda Motocompo.
The 1980s. Brought back into focus thanks to smash hit TV series such as Stranger Things and movies like Ready Player One, its neon-lit brashness evokes geek game nostalgia for Generation X-ers and Millennials, who fondly remember waggling their joysticks in the driving seat next to a pixelated blonde in Out Run’s Ferrari Testarossa or sitting in a car-shaped machine down their local arcade, hunting down baddies in Chase HQ.
Huge waves of Eighties sentimentality are also ridden now thanks to the appeal of modern classic cars from the decade, but how about a two-wheeled machine, very definitely of the greed and yuppies era? Ladies and gentlemen, the Honda Motocompo is that very vehicle and it’s undeniably the cutest and coolest commuter.
Cute? Yes. What else would you call something so diminutive. It’s as diddy as the car that carries it. The car that carries it? Yes, let me explain. While not as mini as the Honda N360, the City of 1981 was a tiny ‘Tall Boy’ of a car. The City’s angular yet adorable appearance made it an easy four-seater, but not to the expense of style – it didn’t look like a wardrobe unlike some of its later kei car cousins. But, it had the space of one, because under that rear hatch was room for a motorbike. Yes, that’s right, space for a fully-operational two-wheeler!
OK, the Motocompo – or NCZ 50 Motocompo to give it its full name – was technically a ‘Trunk Bike’, but whatever it was called, it was a proper petrol-powered mini motorcycle. The City’s luggage compartment had actually been designed around the Motocompo, which at 1.185m long, was little bigger than a large suitcase. In a decade known for excess, the Motocompo was the opposite. And therein, thought Honda, was the appeal: City drivers who commuted could park the car out of the space-limited urban sprawl and then ride the last mile perched atop the Motocompo.
And riders were perched on top of Honda’s smallest ever scooter. The handlebars, foot pegs and seat may have ingeniously unfolded from the body when in use, but brochure images depicted adults riding what looks like a slightly inflated child’s bike. Not generally cool, but, that’s exactly what the Motocompo now is. There may have been an ironic wink in portraits of young dudes at outside burger bars and leotard or legging-clad ladies with their Motocompos in tow back in 1981, but fast forward almost four decades and a fervent owners’ scene gives credence to Honda’s vision.
Fast is one thing the Motocompo wasn’t. Powered by a 49cc, air-cooled two-stroke engine, output was an equally Lilliputian 2.5bhp, but just look at it! Available in red, white or yellow, its simple primary colour palette aids its retro appeal now. Cheeky and cheery, the Motocompo’s diddy demeanour were seized upon in its sales brochures. If you think the idea of a miniature motorbike is madness, so did Honda – it used the energetic British ska lads to promote it.
Sadly, the Motocompo (also known as the ‘AB12’) was perceived as a little bit mad, as sales projections of 10,000 a month translated into a total of 53,369 from 1981 to 1983. The City did much better, surpassing the 150,000-car mark in the same amount of time. The Motocompo idea was easy to digest, the 45kg weight perhaps less straightforward to feed in and out of the car. The Motocompo which was part of my teenage 1:24 Tamiya Honda City model kit was a little easier to pick up.
But think about the concept now. In a world obsessed by lowering emissions, congested cities and ‘last mile’ deliveries, it’s bang up to date. Honda has actually revisited the idea itself several times with the e-Dax, e-NSR, and in 2011, the most Motocompo-inspired concept yet. The Motor Compo packed Asimo-aping looks with an all-electric powertrain, and like the original, could fit into a car, this time the Micro Commuter Concept. Heck, so iconically-clever was the original Motocompo design and logo, there are even 1:1-scale laser cut wooden model kits of the baby bike!
Back in the arcade, the Motocompo just might be the bike Mario and Luigi would ride in Mario Kart. It’s the steed which would (with a large trailing wind) chase Toad, Princess Daisy and Diddy Kong. And, just like the Italian plumber protagonists, the Motocompo is a hero when it comes to pint-sized packaging. The Honda Motocompo is a mammoth among retro motorbikes.
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