Many factory machines participated in the 8th rally in 1986, with entries of the BMW factory R80GS (1040 cc) and the Cagiva Elefant with L twin engine. Yamaha offered a conventional 660 cc 2-cylinder machine and a monster machine, the FZ750 Tenere, with a 4-cylinder engine and maximum speed of 200 km/h.
Although the NXR was not as powerful as its competitors and somewhat disadvantageous for high-speed cruising, it had excellent high-speed stability and total driving performance. The NXR was able to complete the approximately 15,000 km, rally―which has been called the toughest rally in the history of Paris-Dakar―with almost no trouble.
As a result, Neveu was victorious, followed by Gill Lalay also riding the NXR and Andrea Balestrieri, riding a modified XL600, leading to Honda achieving a trifecta finish of first, second and third places. This perfect race gave the NXR the name of “Desert Revolution” and after its victory, the Paris-Dakar became more and more tough and extreme.
Each factory had back up riders supporting main riders (usually a three-car system) and the mechanics with the parts for the factory machines followed after the groups in automobiles and trucks. They later turned into “armored divisions” that sent manpower and resources by air to the next base camp.
A good example of the extremity of the rally was the 9th Paris-Dakar in 1987, in which Neveu on the NXR and Auriol on the Cagiva engaged in a head-to-head match. The two riders, who had been rivals from the first rally, fought hard for the top place right up until the second last day of the race.
Honda and Neveu’s second consecutive win was determined when Auriol hit a tree stump and broke both legs (Auriol announced his retirement from racing after managing to make it to the finish line by himself).
At the 10th rally in 1988, a fierce charge was made by rivals aiming to overthrow the NXR. Suzuki newly entered as a factory team and Rayet, who had moved from BMW, rode the new DR-Z800.
Yamaha introduced the “pure” production machine, the YZE750, manufactured by the Motor Sports Development Division. Like the NXR it focused on total balance and had a compact water-cooling DOHC 5 valve 750cc single-cylinder engine.
In response to its rivals’ efforts, Honda then entered a total of seven NXR machines, with a three-vehicle team by Honda Italy and one privately supported vehicle in addition to the three machines that comprised the Honda France team. However, Franco Picco on Yamaha’s new machine was a formidable enemy blocking their path and forced the team into its most difficult battle yet.
Picco, who led the rally in the early stages, was extending his lead. Behind him, Neveu, who had been considered the favorite, took several falls and finally retired after hitting a rock face in the middle of the rally and breaking his leg.
Meanwhile, Edi Orioli, who made his first appearance as an NXR rider that year, pursued Picco, but the gap between them only widened. This changed however, when Picco lost a significant amount of time searching for a false-check point which was placed on the map by the organizer’s mistake.
While Picco was fervently searching for the checkpoint, Orioli took the lead. Picco engaged in fierce pursuit as he still had a chance to come from behind. But on the final day, the rally was shortened, allowing Orioli a successful getaway. This was the third victory for the NXR. It was, in fact, a “survival race,” with only 34 of the 206 entries completing the course.
At the 11th rally in 1989, Yamaha made improvements to the YZE in order to avenge its previous year’s loss. The NXR also evolved, undergoing power and maneuverability improvements and this led to a neck-and-neck struggle between the NXR and the YZE.
Lalay, on the NXR, was pursued by Picco, on the YZE. This year, there were no operational problems or serious accidents and it was an extremely smoothly-run race. Therefore, the contest between the two machines was a genuine match of ability. Lalay was able to escape to a win by a mere 54 minutes, a “narrow margin” by Paris-Dakar standards.
Honda’s record of four consecutive victories stood in line with Peugeot’s world record of four consecutive automobile wins until Yamaha also claimed four consecutive victories from 1995 to 1998. After its fourth victory, Honda concluded its factory team activities in the Paris-Dakar.
While changing how machines were made for the Paris-Dakar, the undefeated NXR carved its place in history as an “unsinkable battleship,” like the RCB racer active in endurance races in the 1970’s.
The NXR V twin engine continued to be used and was hardly changed from its initial design. We are proud of this engine for revolutionizing the racing world along with the RS750D dirt track machine engine.
The Africa Twin NXR replica model was released for sale directly after this and used by privateers in many rally raids including the Paris-Dakar. This is how the “Desert Revolution,” that occurred 23 years ago, came to fruition.