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  • The Hunt for the Legendary 1987 ATC's Continues

    Three wheelers have been subject to ignorance and hate for a very long time, and after the infamous Consent Decree in the late '80's, three wheeler production ceased. However, we take a look back into a few special models that never seemed to have rolled off the showroom floor...or did they? Join us as the hunt continues, indulge in the legend and grab a beer while you're at it.

    Over the last year there has been a multitude of things that have been put up on the internet concerning the existence of 1987 model three wheelers. While we know that just about every model three wheeler (in regards to Honda specific models) was offered in 1987 including the ATC 125M, ATC 200X, ATC 250SX, the famous Big Reds (which actually made it to production in 1988, though not sold in the United States), there are a few machines that have never gotten so much attention before. These machines would be the infamous ATC 250R and ATC 350X. And we take a look into why that is once again.

    Back in 2010, a full article was written here on our site and posted to the front page; much in the way we've recently done things the past few months. However, this article
    concerned the same subject, and had a lot of interesting material in it that would question whether or not Honda actually built, shipped and sold both the 1987 250R and 350X. With very little physical evidence to back their existence, it was clear we had a mission on our hands: to find out what happened to these bikes. Originally, as noted in the original article, it was believed that no 1987 model Honda's were ever released, if ever even built. Over the years, machines and parts began appearing on the internet as the internet took off and it was eventually confirmed that many Honda models were sold that year, yet there was and is two models that no one could ever find. We all know that family member or friend who supposedly had one (let's be honest, how many times have you actually heard that), but then ended up being an earlier model. Before you continue reading on, if you have yet to read the original article complete with evidence, breakdowns and other interesting things, we suggest that you start there.

    Between the time of the original article, things concerning the trikes in question had died down a bit. In 2013, things started to flare up a bit in the forums, with members once again questioning the age old tale. In October of that year, the hunt started getting in depth again. We spoke to Honda USA, who confirmed that three wheeler models in the United States were cut off 1986 and that no 1987 models made it out of the warehouses before they were cut up, and also that many of them never even made it out of the factory to be shipped off. Due to this, no production numbers for 1987 models could be given by the US branch. Honda also stated that it was possible some NOS OEM parts could have slipped out of the factory to be sold for other older models. It's also well known that places like Mexico ended up getting 1987 200X's that got converted into quads; so it's possible this also happened but it very unlikely.

    What's interesting about this statement is it's most recent confirmation. A former Honda worker that witnessed all this has come forward with a similar statement. In a recent forum thread post at the official TRX 250R website, a $50,000 reward is being offered to anyone who can prove the existence of these machines. In this thread, the former employee stated:

    Before the consent decree went into effect Honda had already released shipments of some of their 87 models of ATC's ....So there were a few dealers who were lucky to have them on their showroom floors....The way it was interpreted by the dealers when the consent decree went into effect they could no longer order three wheelers but could sell what they had on the showroom floor....That is why you see some 87 models floating around out their..NO 250r ATC's Had been released by that time..ALL 1987 ATC's that were in Honda's warehouse's were taken and dismantled at the warehouse. Any parts that did not have a serial number on them and would interchange with previous models were returned to stock ...Since the engines all had serial numbers and it was not profitable to have the engines dismantled the dealers were asked to contact the local schools and colleges and donated the engines to the automotive programs (You can imagine what happened)....The frames were cut up on site at all of the warehouses....I personally was at the Meico warehouse in Carson California picking up a shipment of Quads when this was going on.....Security was as High as on a Military Base....There were armed guards everywhere...And out in the parking lot next to the roll off scrap bins were a bout 20 guys with cutting torches,,,,cutting up what looked to me to be 200x and 250r Frames into 1 foot pieces..It was really sad..I was sad because i knew it was the end of an era....The take off wheels and tires that came off all the different models were sold to the dealers for insane prices...I think I bought a pallet of 200x take offs for 50.00 a pallet...And 250r takeoffs went for 75.00 a pallet......IMO I really doubt that ANY 87 250r's exist...again security was insane and Honda was taking NO chances as this had already cost them and they did not need another lawsuit. From the retail side of Honda ATV's this was the end.....I doubt if my lifetime I will ever see anything like this again for the ATV market.....At the heyday of ATC;s it was not uncommon to see 25 ATC's roll out the door a day....Because of the Consent Decree Honda also pulled out of all ATV racing by 1989....Thus no TRX250r models for 1990..Honda had received the brunt of the Consent Decree and since their Automotive sales (Civics and Accords) were selling very well over here why take a chance on ATV's?...Personally this whole thing was caused by irresponsibility of riders and the sad part is it still continues today....But I am shocked but happy as being one who personally saw all of this happen that Three wheeler racing is happening again....Three wheelers were banned from all the tracks I raced on as no insurance company would touch and event at that time that had three wheelers.....As a side note AGAIN Honda's release date had not come up yet even though the 250r ATC's were in the warehouse's...So I really think the chances of finding one are none......I will be happy to answer any questions as I realize some of you were probably too young to even remember this.....You have to give me a break though as this is my busy season for my business, but I will get back to you....
    Now, that's a lot of information to soak up, but over the years have proved that as true. Honda confirmed over the phone exactly what was stated above as far as what happened in the United States. Crate engines for 350X's brand new have been found (and are found often), and it's well known that brand new engines made it to schools as well. But in the case of NOS parts being returned to stock, no one ever actually proved this happened. That is, until we go back to the original article, which showed photo's of a 250R with white fender plastic, 1987 style decals with a story behind it that the owner wanted new plastics and those were what was given to him. Not only that, but it was also noted that the lines, curves and edges looked to be factory made by injection molding; something that the popular aftermarket company Maier does not do and consequently has softer edging. It was also pointed out in the original article that an OEM style 1987 250R seat was also located which appeared on eBay sometime back. It all makes sense right?

    That's all great when it comes to the US side of things, and with the Consent Decree we really didn't expect a different outcome. But what about the other continents and countries?

    Across the World

    Confirmation starts at 12 minutes.

    In the video above, we received verbal confirmation from Honda Canada of sub 100 models of both fully running models sold in that country. They stated production was cut off very early, but did say they did sell a few. They did not provided much more information, but made it very clear that if we could provide a VIN number for a machine, they could give us information on it, meaning date of manufacture, specifications etc. To add to that, they were surprised that the hunt for these machines has gone on this long. Unfortunately we ran into the same issue as on the US branch; an issue that most of the employees who were there during this time were gone. However, this time we lucked out and a man who was there at the time was the one who indeed confirmed this. They also made mention that it was possible the machines were put together either there or in a factory in the US and then imported to Canada, but again, the only way to know was by a VIN. When question directly about if they were built and sold, it was a very clear "Yes" answer. If you'd rather not watch the video, we have a written version here. The important thing here to realize is that two different branches of Honda's corporation have confirmed that the 1987 models did indeed exist.

    This is where things start to get gritty. In the original article, it was noted that the stamped numbers on an engine case photo shown there were specific to the ATC models:

    Dirt Wheels Magazine Caption

    And then, we have this little gem in the rough thanks to forum member Jesse (hrc200x on the forum). For 10 points, can anyone establish whats wrong with this picture? Anybody? Bueller? Nope? So here is the scoop. Like the product codes I mentioned above, all the 3rd generation 250Rs start with TB06E as part of the serial number for the engine. You can clearly see the letters casted into the case above the stamped/riveted portion. The only thing "wrong" with this picture is the fact that the 85-86 ATC250R's did not start with 800~ on the stamped plate. They started with240~ (1985) and 250~ (1986). Your saying "Well, that's just a TRX250R case then". Not so fast, because the TRX250R's have a different casting in their cases. They have TE12E ('86-'87), and TE06E ('88-'89). Here's the best part though, according to the Honda Motorcycle Identification Guide, that I referenced above, the serial # for 1987 year model TRX250R would be TE12E-800~. Did you catch that? That number on the case pictured above has the first half of an ATC vin (TB06E) and the last half of an '87 model TRX vin (800~). Obviously, we do not have a printed guide to reference 1987 year model ATC250R numbers with, but that is an extremely logical way for one to be formatted. You can full size the picture and check it out for yourself, but Jesse tells me the VIN reads: TBO6E-8006250

    Up until that point we had no way of connecting that number to a parts manual or anything like that. While it's been mentioned over the years that Honda had plans for a ATC 500R as shown by pre-production manuals, many people don't think that a 500R was actually built and that it's possible the 250R and 350X had the same fates. However, in comparison, the 500R has much less backing it's existence than these models do. This was the case until this photo to the right showed up on the forums. This photo is significant in the fact that it came from a Honda dealer only specific disc. This disc also had the 1987 parts fiche. According to this disc, it was confirmed that they got 1987 models in Australia as well. This photo is significant in the fact that we now have physical evidence as far as stamped castings paired to a dealer disc (as seen below).

    Following that, it was noticed that this website carries parts for the 1987 H model 250R in Europe. That's 4 places in the world now that have had some direct relation to the 1987 model. It was also noted that all the TB06 part numbers on this website match the photo to the right. If that wasn't enough, we also found that a frame number on the site matches perfectly with the C-area Canada code number also found in the photo; the other half differing because of the regions. These two sources are unrelated and in no way affiliated with each other.

    Up until now, his was the only concrete evidence that had matching numbers , until it happened again. Mike Palmgren from Vintage Motorsports located a parts manual that contained many things for the H model 250R including various diagrams, parts numbers, decals, and other things. While other members of the forums also have found these parts manuals, these photos below were the most anyones shown (that we know of).

    Other Interesting Artifacts

    We also have found an engine cylinder with casting codes specific to the 1987 250R. The cylinder was cast "87" with the "HA2" code. You might think that it was probably a cylinder for a TRX quad, but those cylinders are cast as "HB9". Originally it was just one cylinder...and then we found another. It is possible that Honda did recycle some ATC parts onto the TRX's, so we can't rule that out, but it definitely makes your mind wonder about the history behind them. These pictures were added to the original article as well. It's just more proof that some of the machine was manufactured, but we've yet to find a complete machine, and these day's it's possible we might never.

    Over the last year, a number of things regarding the machines have gone up, peaking interest among us owners and riders, and another very interesting one was the magazine articles from Dirt Wheels Magazine back in the day. Not only did it get a mention by Dirt Wheels stating that Europe and Canada had sold models (which think back to earlier when we were told by Honda Canada they did sell them), it also got FULL specifications. Interestingly, the 350X was excluded from this lineup, as was the Yamaha Tri-Z 250; as the only non-Honda there was the 1987 Kawasaki Tecate which aren't exceedingly rare (similarly to the Big Red).

    It should be noted that the specs don't look very much, if at all different from the 1986 model. While we would like to believe that the 1987 R could have been changed for the better for the 1987 model year, it's possible that it was simply full of obvious cosmetic changes and nothing else.

    Despite having included the three wheeler in the magazine, it was quickly forgotten by them with the Consent Decree making headlines, Honda ceasing production and releasing the now infamous TRX machines. Nothing mentioning the 1987 ATC was ever mentioned by Dirt Wheels again following this (as far as we know). There were no reviews, no mentions, no anything since they just disappeared, so there isn't much to go on past this. But we though it was interesting.

    Other neat things we've found regarding them was a brochure image mentioning the 1987 350X and 250R, and a forum member who recently just posted a microfiche containing the 1987 250R. Unfortunately, the owner does not have a reader so it's contents remain secret for now. Hopefully, that will change in the future.

    Microfiche containing 1987 250R information.

    If you're a non-believer, well we aren't sure what to tell you, but between the must read original article and these recent findings from the past year or so, the evidence supporting their basic existence is incredibly overwhelming. Even if you couldn't have bought one, even if we never find one, even if they did built them and cut them up, scrapped them, melted them down or whatever, there is is still physical evidence suggesting that they were being manufactured at one time or another. We'll continue hunting these legendary machines down, we'll take anything we can find, and we won't give up until we know everything we possibly can about them. We may never find a complete one. We might never find that frame everyone wants to see with that vaunted VIN number stamped on the side. But we have found all sorts of undeniably concrete evidence supporting our cause. That's a win in our book.

    If you'd like to drop a comment or see things unfold as they happen, you can check out the most recent thread with all our findings here. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion, share something you might think is related to them, or anything in between. We want to hear your thoughts!

    Replica 1987. It's not perfect, but gives you a basic idea
    what it may have looked like in the flesh.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Trikebuilder's Avatar
      Trikebuilder -
      Just completed my Honda 185 ATC in fact touch up paint is drying and fired it up after carb rebuild and starter coil rebuild a few hours ago. Maiden voyage tomorrow! It with it's custom reptile paint will join the Manco Agway Rustler 308 I finished this summer in reverse colors. Pic to be posted in next few days.
    1. Aulbaugh's Avatar
      Aulbaugh -
      Good article slash!
    1. Jamie119's Avatar
      Jamie119 -
      Hey guys what's my engine code vin mean. It has 87 ha2 on cylinder sleve and ha2 on head and my engine vin is TB06E-8002703. Can someone please help me?
    1. atc300r's Avatar
      atc300r -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jamie119 View Post
      Hey guys what's my engine code vin mean. It has 87 ha2 on cylinder sleve and ha2 on head and my engine vin is TB06E-8002703. Can someone please help me?
      It could be an 87 trx motor.
    1. oscarmayer's Avatar
      oscarmayer -
      Quote Originally Posted by atc300r View Post
      It could be an 87 trx motor.
      TRX250R Serial Numbers
      1986 1987 1988 1989
      Engine Numbers
      TB06E - 1000014 to 1021097 TB06E - 8000015 to 8008442 TB06E - 8100014 to 8109454 TB06E - 8200001 to Subsequent
      Frame Numbers
      TE120 * GC000013 to GC021064 TE120 * HK100011 to HK108429 TE120 * JK200011 to JK209449 TE120 * KK300001 to Subsequent
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