HONDA’S FIRST GOLDEN DECADE AT THE GRAND PRIX

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In June 1959, Honda entered its first World Championship race, the Isle of Man TT Ultra-Lightweight. In 1960, it competed in its first season of the World Championship, earning its first podiums. In 1961, Honda scored its first Grand Prix victories and achieved the World Championships in 125 and 250. By the end of 1967, it had won 138 GGPP and 34 Drivers and Constructors World Championships in the five categories: 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc.

This unique achievement was founded on the inspiration of one man: Soichiro Honda, who founded the Honda Motor Company in 1948.

Honda-san had a vision of the future. Back then, when Japanese motorcycles were not yet known in Europe, he knew he had to conquer the European racing scene to make Honda a global force. And he was not willing to waste time.

In the summer of 1954, less than six years after he had founded his company, he announced this: “My childhood dream was to be a World Champion with a machine I made myself,” he wrote. “I have made the decision to compete in the Isle of Man TT races… it is a difficult goal, but we have to do it to prove the viability of Japanese industrial technology and demonstrate our ability to the world… Right here I swear my final intention to participate in TT races and I proclaim with my coworkers that I will waste all my energy and creative powers to win. ”

That summer Honda-san traveled to the Isle of Man TT, the most important event in the world of motorcycle racing at that time. His objective was to examine the machinery of what would be his future rivals. And he had an unpleasant surprise.

“We were stunned to see that the motorcycles were much more powerful than we had imagined,” he wrote many years later.

Honda-san returned to Japan to develop a motorcycle fast enough to compete in the TT. Five years later, he sent a small team of pilots and engineers to the Isle of Man, where Honda took the team award in its first World Championship race on June 3, 1959.

It was an extraordinary achievement considering the TT was Honda’s first speed race as many of the races in Japan took place on dirt tracks. In fact, when the team arrived in the Isle of Man they had to adapt Honda’s RC142 125cc machines, which had been equipped to run on land, not on asphalt.

Not only that, the Honda riders had spent the past few months watching videos and maps to learn the entire 37.75-mile Mountain trail. Only when they arrived on the Island did they discover that the Ultra-Lightweight race would be run on a different circuit, the Clypse course!

Honda’s presence on the Isle of Man caused a sensation because European motorcyclists had never seen Japanese motorcycles before. Some fans were not very convinced with Honda’s first attempt to make a GP bike – a four-stroke twin-cylinder that developed 18 hp, enough to reach a top speed of 180km / 111mph.

However, the results of the team’s debut in the races – Naomi Taniguchi finished in 6th place, Giichi Suzuki in 7th, Teisuke Tanaka in 8th and Junzo Suzuki in 11th – confirmed that Honda knew what it was doing. One witness – promising Australian GP driver Tom Phillis – was so impressed by the team’s scrupulous efficiency that he wrote a letter to Honda in Japan asking for a mount for the 1960 season.

The following spring, Phillis became the first Honda non-Japanese rider to participate in the World Championship and was amazed at the progress Honda had made with its machines. In August, he took his first podium in the World Championship by piloting a four-cylinder RC161 250 to second place in the Ulster GP, two weeks before Kenjiro Tanaka made history by taking the podium in his first Grand Prix, also on a RC161, at the German GP.

Honda’s rapid pace of improvement continued in 1961, when Phillis achieved the brand’s first Grand Prix victory in the first race of the 125cc season at the Spanish GP. Three weeks later Kunimitsu Takahashi claimed Honda’s first 250cc victory at Hockenheim.

Honda dominated both categories in its second season of the World Championship. In September 1961, Honda-san and his wife Sachi flew to Sweden, where they witnessed the conquest of the First Honda World Championship in the 250 category by Mike Hailwood. Four weeks later Phillis secured the 125cc title in Argentina. Honda also won its first constructor crowns in both categories.

From then on, Honda became the dominant force at the Grand Prix. The next six seasons turned into a beautiful battle between Honda’s four-stroke and its rival’s two-stroke machines. This technological race resulted in some of the most fabulous machines that had ever stepped on a circuit: the Honda 250 six-cylinder, 125 five-cylinder and 50 twin-cylinder.

Honda has always considered competition to be its laboratory on wheels, and perhaps this has never been as true as in the 1960s, when the company was relatively new to the game board. The technological concept behind these three machines was the same. Honda needed more rpm to beat the two strokes, so the engineers reduced the engine stroke and multiplied the number of cylinders to raise the rpm. At the same time, they used four valves per cylinder, accommodating comfortably in the widest diameters, while the light weight of the smallest valves solved reliability problems due to high rpm. Honda had achieved a powerful engine design.

In 1962, Honda participated in the new 50cc World Championship, adding the effort of the 50 to the 125, 250 and 350 categories. At the Spanish GP, which opened the Championship, in Barcelona, ​​Honda’s first 50 He had difficulties, so the Honda engineers got to work, in the most extraordinary way.

The Honda riders told their engineers that the bike needed more speeds than the six it had. A few weeks later, the drivers arrived in Clermont-Ferrand for the French GP and found new engines with eight-speed gearboxes. Another two weeks later, in the TT, the bikes were equipped with nine-speed gearboxes.

Such a rate of development was unprecedented in Europe. And all this despite the “small” issue of transporting equipment from Japan. This involved a grueling air route from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Europe via Hong Kong, Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi and Beirut.

At the end of 1962 Honda replaced its single cylinder 50cc with a completely new twin cylinder machine. In 1965, the twin cylinder won the 50cc World Championships, both for drivers and constructors. The final version of the 50, which won the constructors crown in 1966, had a bore and stroke of 35.5 by 25.14mm, went up to 22,500rpm and developed 14 horsepower. This means a specific power of 280 CV per liter!

Despite the fact that the 50cc was a marvel in miniature, it made fewer headlines than its older sisters, the 250 six and the 125 five.

Honda’s 250 six-cylinder is still revered as one of the most fascinating Grand Prix bikes of all time – the sound of its engine through the six open tailpipes was music to racing fans in the 1960s .

The machine was presented at Monza, in September 1964, when Honda took a motorcycle to Europe crossed on three passenger seats of an airplane, since they had not had time to send it by air transport.

Six was extraordinary in many ways. The 39 x 34.8mm 24-valve engine was just slightly wider than its four-cylinder predecessor and went up to over 18,000rpm, developing 60hp of power for a top speed of over 240kph / 150mph.

Its crankshaft – nearly 35cm long – worked with one-piece connecting rods and tiny flywheels, with most of the mass concentrated toward the center, effectively halving the length of the vibrations.

The engine was bombproof, even when Honda built a bloated 297cc version, with more bore and stroke, which was held at six 350cc World Championships for riders and builders between 1965 and 1967.

The five-cylinder 125 shared the measurements of the 50cc twin cylinder engine and made a shrill noise, a couple of octaves above that of 250. This engine also developed its maximum power above 20,000rpm, so it required enormous skill to its pilots, who played wonderful tunes with its eight-speed gearbox.

The internal components of both engines, the 125 five and 50 twin, were so tiny that the mechanics used pliers to fit the valve keys and abrasive stones to grind the tappets down to a valve set of just 0.1778mm. Adjusting carburetion was also time consuming: five carburettors with five jets each (main gas and air jets, intermediate gas and air jets and low air jets) plus three different lengths of intake tires.

By 1965, Honda had conquered the 50cc, 125cc, 250cc and 350cc categories, leaving the brand with one final objective: the 500cc World Class Championship.

The first Honda GP bike for the premier class was perhaps less exotic than its smaller companions – the RC181 had four cylinders – but was immediately successful. In its first race the RC181 claimed a landslide victory at the West German GP in 1966 with Rhodesian Jim Redman at his command.

Redman also won the second race at Assen and could have won the 500cc title on Honda’s first attempt, but fell off the third race – on the terrifyingly fast Spa-Francorchamps street circuit – suffering injuries that ended his racing career. pilot. Hailwood, who had focused on the 250 and 350cc classes, took over the wheel of Redman’s bikes to participate in the last five races of 500, in a season with nine races. He won three, but it was not enough to clinch the title.

However, the five victories achieved by Redman and Hailwood gave Honda the 500cc category constructors’ title on their first attempt. And this gave the company a ranking of the Constructors’ World Championships in the 50, 125, 250, 350 and 500 categories, an achievement unmatched by any other manufacturer.

The 1967 Grand Prix season turned out to be Honda’s last, which was later absent for more than a decade. Once again, the company won the 250 and 350cc titles, but the 500 title was elusive with its drivers and engineers. Hailwood finished the season tied on points with Giacomo Agostini and MV Augusta, but the scoring system gave Ago the title.

Honda pulled away from the Motorcycle Grand Prix to focus its efforts on the Formula 1 World Motor Racing Championship. Honda’s first F1 cars were powered by engines designed by the same engineers who had created the 250 coolest sixes and other wonderful machines.

There is no doubt that the ’60s were a very special time for Honda and for motorcycle racing. The duel for supremacy between the four times and the two times precipitated a technological career never seen before in sports, neither before nor after.

Engineers and pilots were pushed to the limit in their fight for victory, both in design offices and workshops and on the track. The people who were involved in that battle remember the 1960s as a golden age, when nothing seemed impossible. After all … the man was on his way to the moon!

Honda returned to the Grand Prix in 1979 and won its first World Class Championship in 1983. In 2001, the company became the first manufacturer to reach 500 Grand Prix victories. In total, he has accumulated 143 drivers and constructors world championships and is very close to achieving 800 victories in GG.PP., including absolute dominance, with the conquest of the last four titles of pilots and constructors in MotoGP, at the time when Marc Márquez (Repsol Honda RC213V) has become the most successful Honda rider in the premier class.

About Honda

Honda is the world’s leading manufacturer of internal combustion engines, the leader in motorcycle manufacturing and marketing, and the world’s eighth largest automaker. In addition, it is the first company in the automotive sector to fully develop a private jet aircraft, the HondaJet, and is the architect of the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, ASIMO, making it the leading mobility company. With 70 production centers and 21 R&D in 27 countries, Honda Motor Co., Ltd, distributes its products to more than 31 million customers (year 2019).

In Spain, Honda concentrates its business unit in Santa Perpètua de Mogoda (Barcelona), where it employs 266 people. In addition to the motorcycle, spare parts and accessories production plant, the Japanese multinational has the automobile and motorcycle commercial division of Honda Motor Europe Spain, the brand’s own finance company (Honda Finance Spain), the Honda Institute of Safety, the HMEL-ES logistics center, the headquarters of the Trial competition team, the Repsol Honda Team and a division of HRC.

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