|In a Drawer, a Piece of a Dream
The 3X engine was developed in 1983 as the last of the (oval piston) competition series. The 3X certainly had sufficient potential to win the World GP race, with an impressive 130-hp/19,500-rpm output. However, the remarkable results of the NS500 machines kept the 3X machines on the sidelines, shelved away in the pits. Finally, Honda decided to take the 3X off its roster of race machines without ever giving the engine a chance of competing.
"Although it couldn't win a race," said Yoshimura, "the 3X was very close to the complete form of an oval-piston engine, achieving more than 95-percent maturity."
The development staff could, after all, achieve the engineering target it had set at the beginning. The experience, however, had left them with a deep sense of frustration.
"The engine was designed for racing," Yoshimura said, "so we wanted it to be a winning design. If we had won at Laguna Seca, we could have been content with that and put a more peaceful end to the engine's racing history."
In reference to that, the engine did indeed have a chance of winning at Laguna Seca in July 1981. It was not a World Grand Prix race, but it was nevertheless an important event. During the race Freddy Spencer, riding his 2X, led Yamaha's Kenny Roberts for quite some time. Although Spencer ultimately retired with an electrical problem, it was a race that amply demonstrated the 2X engine's potential. Spencer's brief but powerful domination had assured the development staff of the NR500's potential, and despite all the hardships it was a lasting reminder of their effort and its ultimate value.
The NR500 concept was succeeded by the NR750, a commercial bike released in 1992. In fact, the back-torque limiter and other technologies evolving from the NR500 development saw their way into many mass-production Honda machines. The most precious outcome of the experience, though, was the spirit of challenge that was kindled by the original development staff and passed on to a new generation.
Reminders of the many trials involved in NR500 development have found a place in the hearts and memories of everyone involved. Until recently, in fact, a drawer in Yoshimura's desk contained damaged connecting rods and broken valves, which came from assemblies that fell apart during early bench tests.
"Every time I saw those parts," Yoshimura recalled, "they reminded me of the enthusiasm we had during development. They reminded me of a hotel in Nasu in the dead of winter, where we wrapped ourselves in blankets as we drew layouts because the heater wasn't working. I remember our excitement at finally having completed the drawings. Of course, they also brought back bitter memories from those races."
From its comeback in World Grand Prix with four-stroke engines to the creation of oval piston engines, Honda continued setting high goals and fostering the spirit of challenge in every aspect of development. The wealth of new technologies now possessed by the company is in no small part a result of these efforts.
"To create anything, you must put your heart and soul to it," said Yoshimura, in nostalgic reflection on those days. "The development of oval piston engines impressed that upon me, as well as on the other young engineers."
The parts are now gone from Yoshimura's desk drawer. They were given to young development staff for use as reference materials in future endeavors. Yet, those parts are pieces of a dream that Yoshimura hopes will grow in the hearts of his successors and again drive them to new innovations.
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