Failure leads to greatness
IT’S UNDENIABLY true that, as with the RC30 and VFR750F, a significant part of the success of the VFR400 is due to the failings of the preceding VF V4s.
The second 750 version to be introduced, the VF750F sportster, is infamous today for its soft cams while the later ‘junior’ version, the VF400F followed by thevf500f2, suffered crank problems despite being more robust.all of which was nearly enough to kill off Honda’s V4 project entirely.
Instead, Big H redoubled its efforts to get its new project ‘right’, leading to all-new engines featuring geared cam drives instead of chains – in turn powering some of the best bikes Japan has ever built.the first, famously, was the original VFR750F in 1986.A racing version, the RC30, followed two years later. Less celebrated but arguably just as important junior, 400cc versions – designed specifically to adhere to Japan’s domestic 400cc/59bhp/180kph licence regulation – were introduced at the same time, primarily for the home market.
The first of these was the 1986-’87 VFR400R, also known by its internal model designation as the NC21.AT its heart was an all-new engine which was effectively a junior version of the 750cc gear-driven cam set-up and designed specifically to fully meet the Japanese domestic licence regulations – which it did. In addition, it was defined by a full fairing complete with single headlight, a conventional dual-sided swingarm with a single shock, hydraulic clutch and forks featuring the then-trendy anti-dive system, in this case Honda’s ‘TRAC’ (Torque Reactive Anti-dive Circuit) system. The naked VFR400Z
In this guise the new engine had a 180-degree firing order and a 13,000rpm redline. It was also offered as THEVFR400Z, a half-faired variant, plus (even more oddly) as a police-spec VFR400P. Primarily sold in Japan, where it proved an instant hit, a few NC21S were also exported to New Zealand.
Back in the mid-’80s, however, competition between the Japanese ‘Big Four’ was as fierce