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

In April 1955, the E-Type's successors were finally coming onto the market. First came the 350 cc Dream SB. The next month, May, saw the 250cc Dream SA. Both of these were new-generation, top-of-the-line models powered by Honda's first OHC engine. The SB had power output of 14.5 PS, and the SA was 10.5 PS. This marked the birth of Honda's first engines that had output above 10 PS.

Around this time, Japan was experiencing a fierce domestic sales war among motorcycle manufacturers that were putting their future existence on the line. Race meetings were proliferating, and all the manufacturers competed in them, because the winners could utilize victory to great effect in their advertising. In July, the recently-debuted SA won its first victory in the Fuji Mountain-Climbing Race, which Honda had never managed to win before.

Then November brought the start of what were popularly known as the Asama Races. A dedicated course was available from the second race on, but the first race used public roads. Honda entered specially tuned machines based on the 250 cc Dream SA in three classes, the 250 cc, 350 cc, and 500 cc. These placed second, first, and first, respectively. However, in the 125 cc class, the Benly JC tasted defeat from Yamaha's 2-stroke YA-1, which swept first through fourth places.

Naturally, Mr. Honda had come to Asama. There he witnessed with his own eyes the defeat of the crucial 250 cc and 125 cc motorcycles.

"I'd never seen the Old Man's face get so red before," said Omura. "It was hard to end up in second place in the 250 cc class, and first place was taken by a Lilac from Marusho Motor Co., Ltd. The president of that company, Mr. Tadashi Ito, had worked under the Old Man back when he was running the Hamamatsu branch of Art Shokai. The winner in the 125 cc class was the very first racer put out by Nippon Gakki YAMAHA, which had just started manufacturing motorcycles that year. So that made him even madder. I won in the 350 cc class, but this was one of those dangerous times, so I slipped away quietly and went back to our lodgings. As an old saying goes, a wise man never courts danger. I don't know what happened to the team chief and mechanics who stayed behind," he added in laughter.

Kawashima recalls that even though they lost the races, they had put themselves in a strong position:

"The motorcycles we entered in the first and second Asama events were tuned-up production models. Up until that time, and this wasn't true only of Honda, motorcycles weren't sports bikes. They were working vehicles. We took this kind of bike and tuned it so it could go faster, doing whatever we could to make it like a sports bike. We'd also incorporate all kinds of new mechanisms and ideas and test them out in the races. We would ride full out in the races, so we would also get an idea of a bike's durability. When we got good results on a machine, we would use it as a production model. Honda had a habit of putting in too many innovative ideas and ending up with a failure, and that happened here, too. Some of them would break down completely during tests, before the main event, and we would totally lose our heads. If instead of doing that kind of thing, we had done just an orthodox tuning job, we might have started winning sooner. To exaggerate a little bit, Honda was going through a streak of losing all the races it entered, and this was true at Asama as well. This was bound to happen whenever the Old Man went to the races, so our luck was pretty bad," he laughed. "Still, the technology and know-how we gained by this certainly helped us raise the level of our production machines. Later, when we had taken up the Formula-One challenge, people would ask why we were putting so much money into what was no more than an adventure, and the Old Man would say, 'That's a racing laboratory on wheels.' The first generation of our 'racing laboratories on wheels' was at Asama."

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