TOKYO -- Honda Motor closes the curtain this month on its Monkey minibike, as the model long adored by fans across Japan reaches its 50th anniversary.
Fans gathered Monday at the Japanese automaker's headquarters in Tokyo, with 45,333 people applying for a chance to win one of 500 of the latest Monkey motorcycles.
The Monkey originally was developed by a group of young engineers in a competition to design the smallest motorcycle. Honda's Monkey Z50M emerged as the first foldable motorbike in 1967. The collapsible handles made the vehicle small enough to fit into the trunk of a car. The model became immensely popular, kick-starting the market for such foldable motorbikes during Japan's era of high growth. The Monkey eventually became a long-selling product alongside the company's Super Cub motorbike.
"We incorporated the ideas of young designers when developing" the Monkey, said Ichiro Koizumi, a former designer at Honda.
But as Japan's market for two-wheelers dwindled to 370,000 units, down to roughly 10% of its peak in the 1980s, Honda decided to end production of the Monkey.
"I wanted my successors to experience what I learned by developing the Monkey," a researcher at Honda R&D said.
Since it was a longtime seller, "I was able to get parts and have fun making alterations," said a Yokohama man who owns more than 15 Monkey motorbikes.
Honda had released a concept vehicle for the Monkey at an overseas motor show, and some fans said they were hopeful of a future revival in Japan.