From 1988 to 1996, the big-bore Kawasaki two-strokes ruled the Baja 1000, ripping across the desert chaparral at more than 100 mph, covering the 1000-mile race in 10-20 hours. However, their arch-rival, Honda, has never liked to lose, and by the early 1990s, they were hard at work developing a four-stroke race machine that could usurp the mighty KX500’s throne. All of American Honda’s R&D would pay off in 1997, when Johnny Campbell won the Baja 1000 on a Honda — first of the 11 victories that would make him “The King of Baja” — and Honda would go on to win the next 17 Baja 1000 races in a row!
One man who has a special passion for Honda’s Big Red Baja machines is Matteo Gualandi of Italy’s GPgarage Moto. His workshop focuses almost exclusively on Honda off-road bikes, racing a pair of modern machines in the Italian Rally Championship, but Matteo’s passion for the old air-cooled Honda machinery burns bright, as evidenced by his Honda XR628R Johnny Campbell tribute, which we featured last year.
“Everything started three years ago after seeing some Johnny Campbell videos — I was in love with his XR628 Baja… I had to build one especially for me!”
Now Matteo is back with his latest Baja build, a replica of Honda’s 1994 XR680R Baja racer. Since there’s scant information available online about Honda’s Baja XR builds — especially as the team worked to keep certain developments under wraps — Matteo relied on his collection of old magazines, photographs, and articles to piece together the build.
Custom work on this 680cc beast includes bespoke triple clamps, headlights, oil cooler kit, oil tank, custom Supertrapp exhaust, and more. While the XR680 failed to take victory in the 1994 edition of the race, which ran a Mexicali-Mexicali loop — it was an incredibly potent weapon, and one development step closer to Honda’s Baja supremacy.
Below, we talk to Matteo for more details on the build!
Honda XR680 Baja: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Honda XR600R, 1994.
• Why was this bike built?
I built this bike for my personal collection. Now I’ve got the ’96 Baja bike and this ’94. During 2022, we will build the 1991 version!
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I used all the info and photos I could find from old magazines, and the few online photos. [Editor’s Note: Below are some of the photos of the original from the Honda Museum.]
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Custom triple clamps, custom front headlight, oil cooler kit, oil decanter kit, custom Supertrapp exhaust, and more.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Never used yet; I finished the bike just before a national bike expo.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The graphics — amazing ’90s era.