Top 10 pre-1978 bikes

For an MOT-exempt classic from next year

Top 10 pre-1978 bikes

FROM next May there’s going to be a rolling exemption from MOTs as well as road tax for ‘vehicles of historic interest’ over 40 years old. That includes bikes, provided they’re not heavily modified.

While pre-1960 bikes are already MOT-exempt, they’re simply too old to be very usable. With the new rules, anything made in 1978 or earlier is included, bringing us into the era of multi-cylinder engines, disc brakes and alloy wheels. In other words, you could have a truly usable classic bike while still being exempt from both VED and the MOT.

Although we’d still suggest that an annual, voluntary MOT test is a good idea, and the saving from not taking one is pretty minimal, the news is sure to have had plenty of people scanning the classifieds for pre-78 bikes nonetheless.

Here top 10 of machines from that era, starting with…

10: Honda GL1000

Back in the 1970s, the Honda Gold Wing wasn’t the leviathan it’s become in later generations. Instead it was a cutting-edge streetbike, with no fairing and the latest in engine technology. The flat four, 1000cc engine was water-cooled – a first for any Japanese four-stroke – and its 78hp output, along with disc brakes and (by 1978) cast wheels meant it was a bike to boast about.

Here’s one for the wealthiest of you. Of course we know that by the late 70s, the Japanese had pinned down engine building, but their bike frames were still a bit, well, rubbish. Bimota built its reputation around the idea of taking powerful Japanese engines and putting them in bikes that actually handled, and the Kawasaki Z1000-powered KB1, introduced in 1978, was among the first. A Suzuki-engined SB2 or a Honda-powered HB1 are the other two Bimotas that fall into the pre-78 class, but they’re even rarer and more expensive…

While it’s easy to focus on the big bikes of the era, Honda’s CB400 Four was something of a revelation in the middleweight class in the 1970s. Following on from the CB750, it was among the first of a new breed of small, multi-cylinder machines that screamed to crazy revs. While its 37hp isn’t that much today, it’s still not bad for a 400cc four-stroke, and the noise will bring to mind Honda’s legendary 1960s race bikes…

Moving away from the Japanese multi-cylinder options for a while, remember that BMW was making some decent bikes by the late 70s, too. The R100RS might have a pushrod twin but it also pioneered aerodynamic fairings and has much of the same appeal as the firms more modern offerings.

If the £35 you’ll save on MOTs each year is why you’re considering a pre-78 bike, a Laverda Jota probably isn’t for you. They’re expensive to buy and not cheap to maintain, but they’re also legendary 70s machines. It’s hard to align the Jota’s 97hp output with its fearsome reputation, but that’s mere’s a reflection of how much bikes have come on over the last four decades.

With double the Jota’s three-cylinder, the Honda CBX was the first six-cylinder superbike that normal people could hope to own (the Benelli Sei shared its cylinder count, but was smaller and more exotic). These days a good CBX will set you back five figures, though.

We had to have a Kawasaki Z1 in here, and while the original Z1 900 was a strong contender, the 1978 Z1R, with a 1015cc engine and nose fairing, was our final choice. Handling wasn’t its strong point, but the engine was amazing in its day.

We had to have a two-stroke in here somewhere. A Kawasaki H1 or H2 was tempting, or a Suzuki GT750, but the RD400 is a generation newer than those rivals and as such offers a touch more practicality while retaining that two-stroke goodness that’s simply unavailable on any modern performance road bike. Compared to the heavyweights that make up most of this list – and most bikes of the 1970s for that matter – it’s a lithe, lightweight thing, too. Having said that, the pre-78 two-stroke choice is a wide one, so if that’s your bag then there’s something to suit most budgets and desires out there.

Introduced for 1978, the GS1000 was a cutting edge bike but doesn’t seem to have attracted the mad prices that some of its four-cylinder muscle bike rivals attain these days. Most importantly, perhaps, it gained a reputation for handling that none of its period competitors could match – in the days when the Japanese ruled the roost in engine design, the GS1000 showed they could make a chassis, too.

While it’s by no means the best bike on this list, the Honda CB750 was the genesis of the modern superbike, and as such it deserves a high spot for its historical significance alone. Made since 1969, there will be plenty of pre-78, MOT-exempt-next-year examples out there, too. In 1979, though, the more powerful DOHC version came out – it doesn’t have the cult following of the original SOHC model, but might make sense come 2019 when it will also become MOT-exempt…