Showing posts with label Honda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Honda. Show all posts

Honda RA302

Honda RA302 1960s Japanese classic F1 car

Honda's RA302 car was a while in the making. The Japanese giant arrived in F1 in '64. It brought with it a transversely-mounted V12 motor. A complex masterpiece of engineering, it was the talk of the GP world. It took Honda nearly two seasons to make it to the top step of the podium. The first win came in Mexico - in the final race of the 1.5-litre era. If Honda thought they had cracked it, they were ahead of themselves. In '66 and '67, results were lacklustre. At the time, all F1 engines were heavy. Honda's exotic V12, though, tipped the scales at 100lb more than its rivals. Not ideal!

Thankfully for Honda, John Surtees was on the driving roster. By the start of the '68 season, he had helped develop the RA301 car. It was tidier of design than its predecessor. It was also more powerful. Surtees was assured that a lightweight V12 was on its way. At that point, head honcho Soichiro Honda threw a spanner in the works. Well, it was his works, to be fair! Honda-san's priority was selling N600 saloon cars. Their engines were still air-cooled. Honda's increasingly successful motorcycles were also on Soichiro's mind. They, too, were air-cooled. For Mr Honda, bread and butter business trumped motorsport. He instructed the race department to come up with an air-cooled motor - to match the roadsters' powerplants. The lightweight V12 Surtees had been promised was mothballed.

In due course, Soichiro got his air-cooled F1 car. Parked in Silverstone's paddock, the Honda RA302 looked a dream. Light and compact, its 120° V8 sat snugly at the back of a monocoque chassis. When the time came to fire it up, Innes Ireland was at the wheel. The erstwhile Lotus legend was now a journalist. Ireland was about to take the RA302 out for its first test-drive. When he returned to the paddock, it was not with good news. Handling-wise, he said, the new car was all over the shop. Surtees' mood that day was already testy - and Ireland's report did not improve it. Surtees had not even known the car was coming, until the last minute. Never mind that it was already entered in the upcoming French GP. Surtees declined to have anything further to do with the RA302 - which was clearly way underdeveloped. Honda France duly stepped into the GP breach. Jo Schlesser - looking to move from F2 to F1 - would do the driving at Rouens. Come race day, the French weather was dreadful. Schlesser - and the RA302 - started towards the back of the grid. Surtees, meanwhile - driving the RA301 - was vying for the lead. On only the second lap, Schlesser's new air-cooled engine let go. The RA302 careened into a bank and caught fire. Tragically, the French ace died in the blaze. Later that year - in the Italian GP, at Monza - Surtees did finally drive the recalcitrant RA302. But, to no avail. At the end of the '68 season - perhaps chastened by the RA302 experience - Honda withdrew from racing. It did not return until the Eighties!

Honda RC166

Honda RC166 1960s Japanese MotoGP bike

6-cylinder bikes - like the Honda RC166 - are a rarity on the road. Even more so at the racetrack. Motorcycles are suckers for straight lines. To the motorbike mindset, corners are burdensome things - involving the manipulation of mass. And, the more mass there is, the less keen on cornering the bike becomes. More cylinders mean more mass - which means more meandering through the twisty bits. Well, according to the standard laws of physics, that is. The Honda RC166, however, obviously did not do things by the book. Having half a dozen cylinders strapped across its frame did not seem to bother it one jot. Numerous race wins - and world championships - were testament to that.

The writing was on the wall back in '59. That was the year in which the Japanese first took part in the Isle of Man TT road races. As it turned out, that season brought Honda only modest success. Subsequent visits to the island, though, saw them decimate all-comers. The Sixties were a heyday for Honda. In '66, Mike Hailwood won 10 out of 12 GPs - on the 250 RC166. On top of that, he took the 350 title - on a bored-out 297cc bike. The following year - in '67 - he did the same again!

As befitted a bike with a 'six-pack', the RC166 was enviably slim. Its fuel-tank was vintage-style slender. It had clearly been designed with 'flickability' in mind. A dry weight of just 264lb was perfectly aligned with that. As well as its petite proportions, the RC166 brought raw power to the table. 24 small valves - 4 per cylinder, by my maths - spun up 18,000rpm. 60bhp was the much-cherished result. Certainly - combined with its skinny physique - it was more than enough to get the job done. Throw a rider like Mike Hailwood into the mix, and it was a cinch. To the racing cognoscenti, the bike's exhaust note was a six-cylinder symphony, no less. For many fans, old school shots of 'Mike the Bike' Hailwood on an RC166 are as good as it gets. Hurrah for Honda and its high-speed six-pot ... bike racing had moved up a gear!