Big Red Baja: Honda XR680R Desert Racer

Honda XR680 Baja

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!

Honda XR680 Baja

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!”

Honda XR680 Baja

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.

Honda XR680 Baja
Matteo’s photo of the original XR680 from the Honda museum.

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.

Honda XR680 Baja

Below, we talk to Matteo for more details on the build!

Honda XR680 Baja: Builder Interview

Honda XR680 Baja

• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

Honda XR600R, 1994.

Honda XR680 Baja

• 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!

The ’91 XR628, which Matteo intends to build next.
• 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.

Honda XR680 Baja

• 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.

Honda XR680 Baja

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

The graphics — amazing ’90s era.

Follow the Builder

Website: gpgarage.it
Instagram: @gpgarage.moto
Facebook: Gpgaragemoto
Youtube: Gpgarage Moto

6 Comments

  1. Of all bikes past and those to come, they’ll never build a more reliable steed than the mighty XR range, particularly the XR600 AND its little brother the XR250. I raced both in desert and enduro for many years and the bulletproof XR never let me down. Great story of an awesome bike… Thank You.

  2. HOLY CRAP !!! What an awesome build .

  3. jack loganbill

    Beautiful off road bike. Something about the XR650 has grabbed my soul and won’t let go!

  4. Wayne Cooper

    Bought myself an newly built 600R for my 54th birthday. With the help of a few conections got it street plated. I took 18 months off work and only missed 6 days of riding. Definitely got strange looks showing up at New Years party at -10 C on it. Whether it was carving up single track trails or running old railway trails at almost 100 mph this was the bike that did it and asked for more. The cult like following of these bikes is well deserved. At 60 it was parked and a properly modded 650L took its place. Sold them both in my 64th year. A move that to this day I regret.

  5. Awesome to see the iconic XR in Baja livery, they were truly a great bike to own and race and set the stage for what we have now, wouldn’t it be great to be able to still buy an ,XR 600 off the showroom floor

  6. Rich Orchard

    As a KX500 owner I would imagine fuel consumption would have been the green devils issue, with modern fuel injection this issue could be partially solved I am lucky if I get an hrs riding out of 10L gas on my 500 I would imagine the XR can do 3x that,

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