Honda’s 60 years on the Island: Nine years that rocked the world

This year marks the diamond jubilee of Honda’s first appearance at the Isle of Man TT in 1959, and there hasn’t been a single year since without the successful participation of racing machines built by the Japanese factory. Pete Kelly continues his look back over the first nine eventful years, from Honda’s first 125cc foray on to the Clypse course in 1959 until Mike Hailwood’s record-shattering TT victories in 1967.

With two-stroke development well in the ascendancy, Honda had been working flat-out on finding a way of beating the lightning-fast Yamahas (which in the hands of Phil Read won both 1964 and 1965 250cc world championships) and Suzuki’s fearsome-looking square-four two-fifty that was also on the way.

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In the 1964 Grand Prix des Nations at Monza on September 13, racegoers’ ears were assailed by a murderous war cry the like of which had never been heard before when Jim Redman took to the start line of the 250cc race on Honda’s fabulous six-cylinder machine that had been flown secretly from Japan, and before the race was even disguised to give the appearance of a four-cylinder machine.

Ralph Bryans takes the Gooseneck in style during the 1967 250cc TT in which he finished third. Mike won, with Phil Read (Yamaha) second.

Jim didn’t win – he rode the howling ‘six’ into third place – but the awesome new machine tasted its first victory next time out at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Honda’s intentions were writ loud and clear!

In the 1965 TT, Jim Redman rode to victory at 97.19mph in the opening 250cc solo race, followed home by Mike Duff (Yamaha, 94.71mph) and Frank Perris (Suzuki, 93.99mph). Redman also won the Junior for Honda at 100.72mph, with Phil Read (Yamaha) second at 99.35mph and Giacomo Agostini (MV Agusta) third at 98.52mph.

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The 125cc race was won by Phil Read (Yamaha, 94.28mph), followed by Luigi Taveri (Honda, 94.15mph), Mike Duff (Yamaha, 93.83mph), Derek Woodman (MZ, 92.19mph) Hugh Anderson (Suzuki, 91.62mph) and Ralph Bryans (Honda, 90.89mph).

Mike Hailwood poses outside the Castle Mona hotel (now closed), with one of his unbeatable Honda sixes in 1967.

On the 21,000rpm 50cc Honda twin, Luigi Taveri took victory in the ‘tiddler’ class at 79.66mph, with Hugh Anderson second on the 16,000rpm Suzuki twin at 78.85mph and team-mate Ernst Degner third at 77.04mph.

For many avid TT fans, myself included, 1966 held the promise of one of the most exciting events in history, with more exotic machinery locking horns than ever before, and as a junior staffman at Motor Cycling I was looking forward immensely to tasting once again the incredible Island atmosphere as I helped the reporting team – then came the infamous seamen’s strike!

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Jim Redman at the 1964 TT, aboard the 250.

Throwing everything into complete chaos, the strike went on until July, so the races had to be postponed until much later in the year, by which time, homesick for my native north, I’d returned to ordinary newspaper journalism and so missed it completely!

The only slot in the FIM racing calendar that could be found for the TT came immediately before that year’s September Manx Grand Prix, which brought the Island a full month of disruption – but the racing that ensued was well worth the wait!

Read more and view more images in the October 2019 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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