The First "Racing Laboratory on Wheels" Ran in the Mount Asama Volcano Race / 1955

The First "Racing Laboratory on Wheels" Ran in the Mount Asama Volcano Race / 1955

Mr. Honda set off on his trip to Europe on June 9, 1954. His primary objective was to observe the Isle of Man TT Races with his own eyes. He arrived at this Mecca of motorcycle racing, once only a distant object of desire, on June 13. The first thing he did was to inspect the race courses. These were not circuits built exclusively for racing, but literal road courses, sections of ordinary roadway closed off for the races. One was the Mountain course, 60.725 km long, and the other was the 17.36-km long Clyps course. Both appeared even more demanding than he had heard. His first sight of the assembled Grand Prix machines from all those different countries also overwhelmed Honda. He examined them in minute detail, squatting down in his usual way.

Photo

A famous race, whose name still lives in Japanese motorcycle racing history, began up in the Asama highlands in 1955. It is officially called the All Japan Motorcycle Endurance Road Race. Generally held every other year, the first race in 1955 was named the Asama Highland Race, and the second and third races in 1957 and 1959 were called the Mount Asama Volcano Race. Honda continued to taste bitter defeat in these competitions until the third, when it won an overwhelming victory.
This photo shows Soichiro Honda (fourth from the left) posing with Honda riders as Mt. Asama looms in the background.

The shock he received when the race began was even greater. Years later, a motor journalist named Shotaro Kobayashi asked him:

"What made you happiest as an engineer?"

This was Honda's response:

"To start with, I'll tell you what most disappointed me.

"It was when I first went to see the Isle of Man TT Races in 1954. What amazed me was seeing machines running with about three times greater power than we had been considering. From Italy, Germany and England, they all came together to the Isle of Man and I watched them shoot off like arrows. Not only were these machines unlike any we'd ever seen before, we'd never even dreamed of such a sight. When I went and saw that, my first reaction was a shock of disappointment. I had gone there after spreading talk all over Japan about how Honda would enter the TT Races, so this was a terrible shock to me. What did I say, I wondered, and what am I going to do? Then I pulled myself together and took another look. After a good night's sleep, I went back and looked at the racecourse again the next morning. Then it came to me. These people here have a history, and that's why they can make machines like these. We don't have that history, but we've seen these machines, and that can have the same effect for us as history." [Excerpts from Honda F-1 1964-1968, Nigensha Publishing]

The declaration had said that Honda would enter a 250 cc racer with an engine that put out 100 PS per liter. In other words, 25 PS. It asserted that if this were achieved, this would undeniably place Honda at the world's highest levels of engineering. Journalists came to Honda to cover this story of a Japanese who planned to compete in the following year's TT Races, however, and talk associated with them revealed that the 250 cc class winner in the race that year, a German NSU Rennmax, had power output of nearly 150 PS per liter. Honda's picture of the world level was far off the mark.

A short letter that Honda wrote to Fujisawa has been preserved, which said in part: "I saw the race for the first time on June 14, and it was terrific. I learned a lot about various things, and now I'm glad to have my confidence back. I'm sure things are harder back at the company, but please keep up with it."

Having had the wind taken right out of his sails, Honda had now regained his competitive spirit, and he continued his tour, visiting England, Germany and Italy, where he energetically toured motorcycle manufacturers, automobile makers, parts fabricators, machine tool makers, and so on. He also purchased racing parts that were not available in Japan. In England, he purchased racing tires and rims from Avon, chain from Reynold, and plugs from KLG. In Italy, he bought wheels from Borrani and carburetors from Dellorto. Carrying as many parts as he could manage, he returned to Japan.

Honda had secretly been worrying about the major problem of the company's cash reserves, but the instant he saw the smiling face of Fujisawa, who had come to meet him at Haneda Airport, he realized that they had made it through the crisis. The management situation, however, was still as risky as a tightrope walk.

Nevertheless, a TT Race Headquarters was established in October, and Kiyoshi Kawashima was directed to develop a racing engine.

"I asked if we really were going to compete, and the reply I got was, 'No matter what happens, we're entering the race," he remembered. "If we dillydally now, we'll get left farther and farther behind. Then, 'And you know, everyone is having a very hard time now. This is just the kind of time when people want to have a dream. To have flowers bloom tomorrow, we have to go ahead and plant seeds now.' That's what the Old Man told me. So I started designing a racing engine, figuring it out as I went along."

Meanwhile, the Dream E series had been selling for so long that it was beginning to get outdated. Before it lost its market competitiveness, Honda had to proceed with development of a successor machine.

In December, the first power product in two years made its appearance, the 4-stroke T-Type general-purpose engine. This product was the starting point for a series of 4-stroke general-purpose engines that continues to the present day.

However, it seemed hardly possible that the public promise of "Participation in Next Year's Isle of Man TT Races" could be kept.

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