Mike Baldwin on an early Honda...
Mike Baldwin on an early Honda Interceptor superbike at Daytona.
While researching this issue’s buyer’s guide, I realized that there is no Interceptor in Honda’s lineup for 2012. Yes, I know I’m a couple of years late and the Interceptor name fell by the wayside with the VFR800’s transformation into the VFR1200F. I must have known that, but it struck me that the Interceptor is a big part of Honda’s heritage and it’s a bit sad that — at least for now — the model is gone. The Interceptors have always been special for me because I owned one of the originals, the 1983 VF750F “Interrupter” as I and many others fondly called it.
My brother Stephen actually owned the bike from new, and I remember it being one of the first in the country with a low-numbered VIN. For a while my father owned it while my other brother Peter raced it, and then I bought it to ride on the street. One year it was my only transportation until well into the fall, and I remember scraping frost off the seat some mornings before riding to school. I had some fun times on that bike, times that should have gotten me in a whole lot of trouble over but somehow didn’t. While I sold the bike after a few years — to pay for racing, of course — many fond memories linger.
While the Interceptor name has come and gone over the years, the original VF750F spawned a number of V-4 sportbike models in various displacements. In the early ‘80s, the V-4 engine was the future, being used in Honda’s Sabre and Magna models beginning a year earlier than the Interceptor. For a decade practically every Honda sportbike from the 400cc NC30 to the VF1000F Interceptor was a V-4. And even though the CBR900RR eventually brought in a different future for the company, the V-4 engine configuration has remained in Honda’s lineup in some form for 30 years now.
The first-generation Interceptor had a rocky start, in both street and racing form. Developed almost solely for the AMA superbike rule changes in 1983 from 1000cc to 750cc, Honda couldn’t have been happy that Wayne Rainey won the championship that year on a very old-tech and underdog Kawasaki GPz750. But then the liquid-cooled V-4s caught their stride, with Fred Merkel winning three titles in a row on VF and VFR models, then Rainey winning in 1987 and Bubba Shobert in 1988 on VFRs. Overseas, Merkel went on to win two World Superbike championships on the RC30 — a direct descendent of the VF and the first homologation-special model. After a similarly rocky start for the RC45 in 1994, that bike realized its promise with AMA titles under Miguel Duhamel and Ben Bostrom and a world title with John Kocinski. The first Interceptors had a similarly rough beginning as streetbikes as they were plagued with well-publicized camshaft problems, and it wasn’t until the VFR model was introduced in 1986 that the bikes shed the resulting reputation.
Even though the Interceptor and VFR models definitely parted ways from the RC homologation specials, there was a family resemblance especially when it came to the sound of the bikes. There was no mistaking the V-4 exhaust note and the whine of the cam gears on the 1998 Interceptor, sounds that could make you feel like a world superbike racer even puttering around town. Unfortunately, each generation of the Interceptor/VFR over the years has edged away from the sport end of the spectrum and closer to the touring end. Honda is well known for loading its V-4 models with almost too much technology — think of the extravagant but overweight and underpowered oval-piston NR750 — and perhaps that could be blamed for the departure from the Interceptor’s original intent. The VFR1200 is still decidedly sporty, but I think not at all what the designers of the original VF would have liked to see.
Every year, around new-model time, sketches and Photoshop drawings of a “new” Interceptor make the rounds in various magazines and on websites and message boards. The all-new model is always supposed to be MotoGP-inspired and more like the original bike, based on performance rather than technical showmanship. And every year it’s a disappointment when the new Hondas are unveiled and there is no new Interceptor. Or at least, not the new Interceptor that the old-school fans of the line have been screaming for. Maybe now that the MotoGP class is going back to four-cylinder 1000s, Honda will consider producing an RC213V replica worthy of the Interceptor name. We can only hope.
Sometimes, usually every time I see one of the original Interceptors, I wish I had kept mine. Just a couple of months ago I came upon one on the freeway, and when I first realized what it was I felt the usual tug. But as I got closer I saw the bike, with dirty mismatched bodywork, bouncing up and down on completely sacked suspension and wobbling side to side on its worn, skinny tires. And I realized then that if I had kept mine, it would most likely be in that kind of shape — or worse yet, stuck in a corner of the garage covered in dust rather than being ridden. Sometimes the memories are better than the real thing, and it’s probably a good thing I sold it when I did. SR