Transition Machine

The history of Honda is connected to racing like few other brands. The founder of the world s largest and most successful motorcycle empire, Soichiro Honda, knew that victory on the racetracks was synonymous with media coverage. Mr Honda also knew well that it did not help to only win on the home turf in Japan, so in the late Fifties he set his eyes on the most prestigious race of them all; the TT races on the Isle of Man.

At that time hardly anybody knew anything about the Japanese automobile or motorcycle industry. The first news of Honda s participation was in the February 1959 British motorcycle press, where Honda engineer Ichiro Niisuma, along with rider William Hunt, had discussed the possibility of participating in the 125 race.

Honda was using RC141 s and RC142s which were of 125cc capacity. It was hoped to race them on the 37.75 mile TT circuit but that was limited to 350 and 500cc motorcycles, with the Clypse course being used for 125cc, 250cc and sidecars, so Honda s debut in the Isle of Man was on that course instead.

Transition MachineFor 1959 Honda signed on four machines for the TT. The team meant business, underscored by the fact that the entire team showed up on the island a full month before the race. The Honda racers bore the technical name RC141 and RC142. Their two-cylinder engines were fitted with double overhead camshafts, had a compression ratio of 11:1, and a claimed output of around 18hp at 13,500rpm.

When the big day arrived on Wednesday, June 3, the newcomers were no match for the East German MZ, Italian MV and Ducati race bikes, which seemed unbeatable in the 125 class. But in spite of the stiff opposition Honda still did well, and won the team prize. Another sign that Honda was serious was the fact that the factory spent US$100,000 on this single race in 1959 money —far more than most factories spent on a full year of racing.

MAKING PROGRESS

Honda was ready for the Isle of Man TT in 1960 with even better equipment. The new weapon was an improved 125 named RC143, which had bevel driven camshafts. In the 250 class Honda entered a four-cylinder 250, also called RC161, which basically was two 125s put together.

The 250 lightweight team consisted of Japanese riders Moto Kitano, Naomi Taniguchi, Giichi Suzuki along with Australian Bob Brown and Tom Phillis. Bob Brown was the most successful, finishing fourth, with Moto Kitano fifth, and Naomi Taniguchi sixth. Giichi Suzuki and Tom Phillis both failed to finish.

The bikes in the 250 class produced 36hp at 13,500rpm, and could rev to 17000rpm before there was any danger of a mechanical meltdown. The next round of the Grand Prix series was held at Assen in Holland, where Honda had made a deal with Jim Redman because both Phillis and Taniguchi had sustained injuries in crashes during training.

Redman did well claiming fourth in the 125 class and eighth in the 250cc race. Honda still couldn t match the mighty MV Agusta and superfast MZ though. The year ended in tragedy for Honda, as Bob Brown died during training at the Solitude circuit in West Germany. However, Honda had proved that it was here to stay.

HONDA ENTERS-HONDA WINS

1961 was an eventful year. In April the Soviet Union showed the world that it was way ahead in the exploration of space by sending a Vostok rocket with the charming cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit. Later, on August 13, the East German government began erecting the wall in Berlin. That year would also be a landmark for Honda.

During the winter of 1960-61 the engineers in the racing department had been busier than ever, and the result of their efforts was the new quarter-litre machine, called RC162. The RC144 was Honda s bid for the title in the 125 class, and it allegedly pumped out 20 horses. Later that year MZ DDR rider Ernst Degner was poised to win the 125 Grand Prix World Championship. But when he defected to the West, the door was wide open for Honda and the last crucial points in the last GP race in Argentina that would determine who was the champion of the world. Honda s Tom Phillis won in Argentina, and by gaining the maximum eight points Honda ended at the top of the podium with 44 points against MZ s 42 points.

In the 250 class there were a total of six factory racers. Three of them were run by Honda factory s own official riders, Redman, Phillis and Takahashi. The other three RC162 racers were loaned to the British Honda importer, who had distributed them to private riders Mike Hailwood, Bob McIntyre and John Hartle.

Transition MachineThe bikes were an odd mix at the start of the racing season. The frames for the new RC162 were ready; which was more than could be said for the engines. Therefore Honda was forced to use RC161 engines in the RC162 frames, until the all new RC162s and RC163s were ready.

In spite of Honda s official team getting all the support and help from the factory it was young privateer, Mike Hailwood, who went on to become world champion in the 250 class, pushing Honda s factory rider Tom Phillis down to second place. Swiss rider Luigi Taveri only managed 10th in the 250 class riding a RC162.

Overall, Honda had done well, especially with the privateers, and with Honda in the first five places, it had proved that the new brand was something the racing world had to reckon with in the future. That year also another new Japanese brand, Yamaha, appeared on the world stage and the invasion from the East began on more than one front.

THE HYBRID RACER

This particular RC162 has a permanent address in the office of Consolidated Motor Spares BV, (CMS) in The Netherlands, a company that deals in spare parts for classic and newer Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha motorcycles.

The bike belongs to company owner, Mike Buttinger, who admits it s the pearl of the collection of the 100-plus motorcycles he currently owns. As is common among such collectors, it is not revealed how much the bike cost or where it came from.

As already mentioned, 1960-61 was a busy time for the racing department. Time was scarce, and because only the frames were ready, it was decided to fit some of the R162 racers with the RC161 engines from the previous year. This RC162 is one of those hybrids fitted with the RC161 engine.

Aside from the output of the engine, variations between the RC161 and the RC162 were many. One major difference was the fact that the RC162 engine had a dry sump, and hence had the oil tank positioned under the seat. The RC161 on the other hand, had a wet sump which meant that the lubricating oil was contained in the crankcase.

By using the dry sump system on the RC162 engine, Honda was able to reduce the engine s frontal area and thus achieve less wind resistance in comparison with the wider RC161 engine. Like the smaller 125 racer the RC161 engine was tilted about 35 degrees forward, and the cylinder block was cast in one piece and placed on top of the horizontally split crankcase. The cylinder head was also cast in aluminum, while the covers and other parts were molded in electron, a very light alloy consisting of aluminum and magnesium.

The two overhead camshafts were driven by a bevel gear, and in order to make the engine even narrower, the drive was placed behind the cylinder block. The bevel gear also operated the ignition magnet. The total angle between the valves was 76 degrees-36 degrees for the intake valves and 40 degrees for the exhaust valves. The engine was fed by four Keihin carburettors, and it was estimated that the RC161 motor provided 37-38hp at 14,000rpm, and it easily spun to 18,000rpm. The non-hybrid RC162, with the RC162, engine produced more than 45hp at around 14,000rpm.

For those wishing to hear what an RC161 or an RC162 sounds like, just go to YouTube and search for RC161 or RC162. Remember to turn up your speakers, and enjoy!

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