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.
Follow the Builder
Youtube: Gpgarage Moto
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.
HOLY CRAP !!! What an awesome build .
Beautiful off road bike. Something about the XR650 has grabbed my soul and won’t let go!
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.
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
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,
I remember reading about the combo that was so successful in Baja. It was in both Dirt Bike as well as Dirt Rider magazine. Also National Champ Scott Summers used the engine combo for 1 season in Grand National Cross Country. As well Ricky Johnson used the combo to win the Four stroke World Championship in 1983. As I remember it used a combination of HRC parts as well as porting and building by Rob Muzzy of World Championship Superbike fame. Muzzys also came up with the combination with Bruce Ogilve. It used the HRC dirt track cam, additional welded on cylinder head fins and a stronger third gear. The cylinder liner I believe was out of a 650L and JE made the forged piston. I believe the single carb was a 40 or 42mm. The combo was tested on a rear wheel dyno at 68hp and the engine was said to easily last through the 1000 mile Baja race.That was something many of other high powered bigger bore XR600s failed at,some miserably so. I’d o remember the compression wasn’t quite as high as some other combinations which let it rev out more on the top end and was probably the reason for the custom designed and built piston from JE instead of the HRC piston, they were one of few companies back then who offered that service. It was a potent combination and was successful both before and after the Team Green KX500 era but not during it. It was obviously hard to overcome the 50 lb weight disadvantage between the two. If you could come up with a source of alternate parts to duplicate the original combo today, it would probably make a great Supermoto, Superbiker, Dual purpose or Flat Track bike. To bad it was never raced in Baja with the ATK/C&J chromoly frame Ricky Johnson used inhe Four Stroke World Championship. It would have been lighter, stronger and better handling. I believe Jeff Cole of C&J is still making frames, maybe he would make a copy of it. It used the the XR600 plastics and seat. And had the single sided single shock same as the ATK. I believe it used the original Honda wheels , brakes, and front fork.