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Vintage Motorcycles: Meguro Motorcycles

Vintage Meguro Motorcycles

Meguro Motorcycle History

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Meguro may well be the first "manufacturer" of motorcycles in Japan, tracing its roots back as far as 1909, to a small ironworks in Shibuya-cho, Tokyo prefecture. During this period in the early 1900s, there was a burgeoning cottage-industry of small-scale garage builders within Japan, cobbling together motorcycles from odd bits and pieces.

By 1922, the early incarnations of the "Meguro" brand were now produced by a man named Osamu Murata, who founded the Murata Iron Works of Tokyo Prefecture, Japan. Murata's first motorcycles were either single-cylinder models based on the British singles of the era, or knock-offs of the Harley-Davidson Model J big twins.

At some point around 1928, Murata Works adopted the name "Meguro Works," which was possibly chosen in honor of the Meguro racetrack located in the Tokyo ward of Meguro from 1907 to 1933. The Meguro racetrack was relocated to the west in Fuchu-Shi as Tokyo expanded outward.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Meguro was facing competition from Europe and America, and by the mid 1930s Harley Davidson was gaining in popularity throughout Japan.

Meguro & Motosacoche Engines

Motosacoche 500cc & Meguro 500cc Engines

   Meguro & Kawasaki Tank Badge Logos

Evolution of Meguro & Kawasaki Tank Logos

In 1935, the head of HD's Japanese sales division, Alfred Rich Child, urged the Milwaukee company to built a factory in Shinagawa, Tokyo. The new venture was called 'HD Company of Japan,' and the first model produced at the new facility was the 'Model VFE,' with the 'V' indicating its Far East origin.

By the mid 1930s the Meguro Works was back to building European-type singles, as was the case with the 1937 Meguro Z97, which utilized a 500cc rocker-valve motor that may have been based on the Motosacoche JubilŽe Sport's 498cc OHV engine made in Switzerland. The Meguro Z97 was the first Japanese motorcycle that was built entirely in-house, from-the-ground-up.

Harley-Davidson's stake in its Tokyo factory was short-lived, and in 1937, their Shinagawa factory was nationalized by the Japanese government during a rising tide of nationalism brought on by a global economic depression. The Harley-Davidson factory was taken over by Sankyo Co., Ltd, adopting the Japanese name "Rikuo," meaning "King of the Road." The first Rikuo model was the 'Rikuo Model 97' 74ci v-twin.

250cc Meguro S3 Junior
1958 Meguro S3 Junior 250

In 1939, the Meguro Z97 was adopted as the official motorcycle of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and was used until the start of WWII. In 1941 the Tokyo Meguro Works was converted into a munitions factory, and all motorcycle production was halted.

As the war ramped up, production of the HD Rikuo was farmed out to a company called Nihon Jidosha of Hiroshima, Japan, and Nihon Jidosha again renamed the big twin "Kuro Hagane," or "Black Iron." As you can guess, production of the Kuro Hagane ceased on August 6, 1945.

After the conclusion of WWII, the Meguro Works once-again achieved dominance within Japan. Meguro continued to manufacture derivative single-cylinder OHV motorcycles such as their 500cc Meguro Z97 and the newer 250cc Junior S3 (photo above). Meguro also briefly produced several OHC (overhead camshaft) models, but soon returned to the OHV design.

A distinctive feature on the cylinder-head of late model Meguro's such as the S3 Junior is the red logo written in katakana, which is a Japanese syllabary that is used for the transcription of words in a foreign language.

By 1960, Meguro Works entered into a business arrangement with Kawasaki Aircraft Co.,Ltd., and began production of its first two-cylinder model, the 500cc 'Meguro K1.' The K1 was based on the BSA A7 - an outdated motorcycle which began production in 1946, and ceased production in 1962.

Rikuo did resume production of its large v-twins after the war, but its motorcycles were too expensive for the Japanese public, and in 1960 the company went bankrupt.

In 1963, Meguro Works merged with Kawasaki Aircraft Co.,Ltd., forming Kawasaki Motor Sales Co., which was the forerunner to Kawasaki Motorcycle Co.,Ltd. The first all "Kawasaki" motorcycles were the Kawasaki SG which had a 250cc single-cylinder OHV motor, and the 496cc OHV twin Kawasaki K1 which was based on the Meguro K1.

Meguro Links

Kawasaki Museum - Meguro Motorcycle Histrory

Meguro Histrory (in Japanese)

Meguro Kawasaki SG 250 Restoration (in Japanese)

VJMC Vintage Japanese motorcycle Club

Motosacoche Histrory

Rikuo Histrory

1955 Meguro S2 Restoration

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