Competing for the First Time in the Isle of Man TT Race / 1958

Competing for the First Time in the Isle of Man TT Race / 1958

Tanaka talked about his impression of the first trial run on the Isle of Man:

"I had never once before raced on a paved road. Asama was a dirt track, you know. In those days, even the national highways in Japan were mostly gravel roads. When we got to the Isle of Man and saw how different the conditions there were from Japan, I felt like shivering. there were sidewalks and stone walls on both sides of the road, and there was a semicylindrical ridge down the center. So this public road is where we ride the Isle of Man TT Race, I thought. We've finally made it all the way here. The only thing left now is to go ahead on sheer determination. That was my first reaction. I rode around the course several times to memorize it, but it was such a difficult course that I almost panicked. I stopped along the way to take a break, and the islanders came up curiously to talk to me. 'Are you Japanese? Where is your motorcycle from?' I told them it was a Honda from Japan, but they seemed to have the idea that the Japanese weren't able to make motorcycles. They looked at my Benly very suspiciously," he added, laughing.

Tanaka repeatedly told the local people, "Made in Japan, made by Honda," but he says they would not believe him.

The Benly engine was running very well. However, the tires lost their blocks, and the chains soon stretched out so the rollers flew off. These things had to be replaced daily. The spark plugs lost their electrodes, holes opened up in the pistons, and the team found out beyond any doubt that the made-in-Japan parts were still far from world standards. The helmets they had brought from Japan failed to pass the sponsoring Auto Cycle Union's inspection, so they were directed to use Cromwell helmets, made in England.

"We came a month ahead of time, so we were the first to show up on the Isle of Man," said Kawashima. "The other teams didn't arrive that early. Then I realized, almost as an afterthought, that of course, the Isle of Man TT Race wasn't the only World Grand Prix races. Then the others started to show up and begin training, and sure enough, they were very fast. It was a bigger shock for me than it had been for the Old Man. After all, I was going to be competing with them any day."

Kawashima wondered what instructions to give the riders. The engine aside, the bottom-link front suspension looked out of date and he was concerned about both frame rigidity and brake performance. Honda's test course, built along the Arakawa River, was a simple arrangement of two flat, straight runs. The data from testing there simply were not relevant to this course, which had many ascending and descending slopes and seventy-four different curves. Kawashima says:

"The riders and the mechanics of other teams were on such a different level from us that at first I was seriously discouraged. I soon recovered, though. I started feeling very competitive, and I thought, all right, if we don't win this year, then just you wait until next year! All of us were eager to compete again the following year, including me. Whether you call it youth or stupidity, I don't know," he added, laughing. "There is something very distinctively Honda about this."

The four-valve cylinder heads, which had not been ready in time to be sent by ship, arrived by air freight. Only three of the machines would have their cylinder heads replaced in time for racing. Hirota, one of the team mechanics, smiled wryly as he remembered:

"When we got to the Isle of Man, things were just as they had been in Japan. All of us, from the team leader on down, worked till late. The way we saw it, it was easier working at night, when we didn't have spectators. Then it appeared in the newspaper that the Japanese were like mice in the attic. You could hear them scurrying around at night, it said."

Newspapers also reported that the Japanese worked Saturdays and Sundays, too, so their performance must be low and their efficiency probably won't improve.

Gichi Suzuki and Junzo Suzuki on the RC142.

On June 3, it was time for the finals. Taniguchi recalled:

"As we were lining up at the starting line, team leader Kawashima simply said, 'Don't overdo it.' That calmed me right down. All of a sudden, I said to myself, then I'll just race the best way I know how. If he had told me to do my best, I might have tensed up. The team leader really knew how to guide us. "

As Tanaka remembers it:

"When he said that to me, right into my ear, my knees stopped trembling. But to be honest, I just raced without any conscious awareness of it. It's no easy matter to figure out the braking points and the course lines by watching the other riders. I nearly went over on the corners any number of times, and just left it all up to my good luck. It was thanks to the machine that I managed to finish the race."

As Kawashima recalled:

"What I told them was to finish the race. If the machine broke down partway through, then we wouldn't get any data. We were aiming toward competition two or three years later, so we absolutely had to have at least one bike make it all the way. So I told all of them not to do it, and walked away. And then all four machines finished the race. That was more than we had expected."

Hirota's recollection follows:

"Bill Hunt fell on the RC141 and retired from the race, but everyone was doing great and the pit actually wasn't busy. On the seventh lap, the rear brake rod pin on Junzo's bike broke and fell out. We were used to that sort of thing from Asama, so we could make an emergency repair with a quick pit stop and send him back out. The engine gave no trouble at all. In ten laps, it went 173.6 km."

First place went to Provini on an M.V. Agusta. Taveri came second on an M.Z., and Hailwood third on a Ducati. On the Honda team, Taniguchi came in sixth, Giichi Suzuki seventh, Tanaka eighth, and Junzo Suzuki tenth. Taniguchi won a Silver Replica, while Giichi Suzuki and Tanaka received Bronze Replicas. The team also took the Constructor's Prize.

Photo

Naomi Taniguchi, who placed sixth, with the Honda RC142. Giichi Suzuki came in afer him in seventh place, and Teisuke Tanaka in eighth. Honda was awarded the Prize.

Iida remembers this:

"The team leader telephoned the Old Man to report. The Old Man reportedly said, 'Congratulations on the Constructor's Prize. You did well.' The next day, the world looked very different. The Honda team was on the front page of a newspaper. There wasn't any writing about mice or anything, and though I couldn't read the article very well, the story seemed to be saying good things about us. What made me smile, though, was when I saw the Japanese logo for 'Honda Benly' printed upside down. The people over there could read even less than I could, it seems," Iida added laughing.

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