Psychedelic Honda: 1972 Honda CL350 Flying Dragon

A 1972 CL350 Honda Flying Dragon sports a tank and side covers painted in an unusual tie-dye scheme.

| September/October 2014

1972 Honda CL350 Flying Dragon
Claimed power:
33hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 90.63mph (period test)
325cc air-cooled OHC parallel twin, 60mm x 50.6mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry):
351lb (159.5kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
2.4gal (9ltr)/45-55mpg
Price then/now:
$775 (est.)/$1,500-$3,500

Believe it or not, once upon a time, Honda offered its customers a tie-dyed motorcycle. Available in at least four different combinations, the paint flowed across the body panels like psychedelic rivers of color, fluid and eerily formless.

To explain Honda’s Flying Dragon, we have to revisit the era that produced it. Starting in the mid-1960s, America and Europe experienced an upwelling of creative energy, much of which went into the visual arts. Advanced artistic thinking became part of everyday culture and advances in technology were harnessed into creative expression, such as the light shows that were a part of many musical events. Visual artists such as Peter Max, Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus and Roy Lichtenstein became household names.

At the same time, clothing and textiles became modes of self-expression. Tie-dying, a traditional fabric decorating technique used in Japan and India, as well as other places, became the hallmark of the counterculture. Restrained traditional tie-dye effects became loud, exuberant and psychedelic in the hands of young experimenters dancing to a new beat.

The changing styles must have been difficult for the Japanese manufacturers to comprehend. Although celebrations of individuality were foreign to their culture, their motorcycles were as popular in Sixties and Seventies America as sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, and it was important for them to understand their customer base in the U.S. Honda and the other factories worked hard to please their American customers, and someone in the paint department decided that a tie-dyed tank option might make some customers happy. Enter the Flying Dragon paint set.

The Flying Dragon

Don Stockett, the owner of this 1972 Honda CL350 K4, has spent considerable time tracking down the history of paint sets that pop up for sale under the name Flying Dragon. The sets consist of a gas tank and side covers to fit either a CL350 or a CL450 Honda twin, model years 1972 or 1973. The sets come in a box marked “Honda Japan,” with a graphic depiction of the tank, but in a standard scheme with horizontal striping. A part number (06171-456-810 for the CL350 version followed by a two-letter color code) is stamped on the box, which is lucky, because no one would believe that the Honda factory would come out with something like these paint sets without a part number to trace back.

9/26/2014 9:14:04 PM

The 350cc was bullet-proof...perfect sized engine.

9/25/2014 7:34:46 AM

I had a 69 CL350. I bought it around 1980, and rode it to high school until I could afford to buy a shiny new GPz550. I have to admit, that old Honda got me where I needed to go. Sometimes I wonder what happened to it after I sold it.

8/17/2014 8:47:23 PM

This is a very informative article about a little know piece of Honda history. Thanks!

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