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In 1983 the future arrived: if you wanted cutting-edge aerodynamics and a turbocharged motorcycle harnessing the spirit of 90 horses, whisking you to 200kph and beyond the reach of ne’er do well’s, the XJ650 was in a class of its own. Almost, anyway. Let’s imagine class had recess, and that during said recess Seal Team 6 snuck in, grappled cheeky little Honda CX500TC to the ground and whisked him off by his underpants to an unknown location - only a year earlier, Honda had released the very first turbocharged motorcycle in the world.
The XJ’s power came from a pressurized double-overhead-cam 650 air-cooled and oil-cooled four-cylinder, yet still often broke out in a sweat. An incredibly in-depth article on the turbo-charging technique used can be found in MotorcycleSpecs but for simplicity the XJ’s engine inhaled through four separate carburettors (not fuel-injection) feeding it’s four-cylinders, and then exhaled through only the right-hand-side exhaust, the left-hand-side was reserved for the over-boost. Plenty of torque was on offer thanks to its shaft drive, but with more plastic than an episode of Jersey Shore, it all added pounds: the XJ’s wet weight was over a quarter of a tonne, heavier than a modern-day BMW R1250GS and an astonishing sixty kilos heavier than a Kawasaki Ninja 650cc (the Kwaka still reaches roughly 200kph like the XJ yet you’d be putting 23 horses out to pasture in the process).
The XJ650 captured the imagination of Hollywood though, appearing in Never Say Never Again, to power a very ageing James Bond past a fleet of Blofeld’s villains. If you haven’t seen the film, please allow the good people at Shepsters Towers to set the scene: resounding box-office success; a young Kim Basinger in a leotard; and a svelte XJ650 equipped with rocket launchers! That’s right, the film is bloody awful. The XJ was to suffer an equally unfortunate fate.
The turbo was expensive to service, let alone buy in the first place, and extremely complex to boot. The turbo lag was never solved and being a good deal heavier than its competitors, there was simply no market for it. Despite the electric start, the XJ needed considerable coaxing through foul-mouthed tirades to get moving. Yamaha soon admitted defeat in their plastic-fantastic, producing a limited run of 6500 in 1982 and only 1500 the following year. Rare as a Hollywood braincell, yet as valuable now as when they were released (the XJ, not the braincells). To add insult to injury, in 1983, those upstarts at Honda released the 500’s bigger brother, the CX650 Turbo, knocking out 100 horses. Suzuki joined its Japanese raibaru in producing a turbo, with the same limited run of bikes yet similar results. To quote thedrive.com, “turbocharged motorcycles are a terrible idea!”. Never say never again, right?