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

Kiyoshi Kawashima was put in charge of the great project of entering the Isle of Man TT competition.


In Honda's first Isle of Man challenge, everyone worked on maintaining the machines, including the team leader, the riders, and the manager. From left: riders Junzo Suzuki and Giichi Suzuki, team leader Kiyoshi Kawashima, team manager Yoshitaka Iida, mechanic Shunji Hirota, rider Teisuke Tanaka, chief of maintenance Hisakazu Sekiguchi, and rider Naomi Taniguchi.

"When that declaration was made, I was wondering who would handle such a huge job," he said. "Then, it was given to me. We immediately started working on a prototype engine, which was finished by the end of the year. However, the Old Man was being troublesome, people all around us were being troublesome, everybody was telling us what to do, and the situation was a mess. I told them, please make us into a specialized unit or I won't go on with this, and the response was the simple, 'Do it!' We started what was called the Number 2 Research Section and brought in engine design men, body design men, assembly men, riders, and a team manager. We were attached directly to the top, with only the Old Man above us. this was after the second Asama race. The engine was handled by Tadashi Kume and Kimio Shinmura, and the body by Toshiji Baba, who had been on the verge of starvation in Scõo Paulo. The riders were members of the Honda Speed Club, an in-house organization created when we entered at Asama. In those days, we could decide things by asking a question and getting a show of hands, so I don't remember if we ever had any directives. So all of us, from the engine men on out, were nonconformists in one way or another," he added, laughing. "Anyone who was a respectable engineer wouldn't have considered getting into anything so reckless as competing in the Isle of Man TT Race. As for us, from the Old Man on down, none of us were respectable."

Kawashima added:

"Around that time, there were a lot of engineers who were in their thirties and forties, but the company went ahead and gave the job to a bunch of young guys instead. I wasn't thirty yet. We were all in our twenties. Although we were given a lot of responsibility, we were so young that it didn't scare us."

In September 1958, as the team was moving forward through repeated trials and errors, they acquired an Italian production racing machine. It was a 125 cc F.B. Mondial. Kawashima remembers:

"It was a 1956 model, and that was the first time we'd seen an actual racer from over there. We learned a lot from it. I could say that we were able to build our first Isle of Man TT competition racer thanks to that machine. The F.B. Mondial was a single-cylinder machine, but we decided on a 2-cylinder design. In January 1959, we completed a bike called the RC141. However, its power output was 15.3 PS, so it still hadn't caught up with the 16.5 PS of the F.B. Mondial, which was three years older. Soon after that, the four-valve RC142 came out, and it had an output of 17.4 PS. We sent both of these machines to the Isle of Man."

On May 5, 1959, the members of the Honda team arrived on the Isle of Man, holding passports indicating they were temporary employees of Okura Trading Co. The group of nine included the team leader Kawashima, the riders Giichi Suzuki, Naomi Taniguchi, Junzo Suzuki, and Teisuke Tanaka, the mechanics Hisaichi Sekiguchi and Shunji Hirota, the manager Yoshitaka Iida, and an American, Bill Hunt, who was a rider and their interpreter. Why, though, did they disguise themselves as temporary employees of Okura Trading Co.?

Iida recalled:

"We thought that if we applied to go to a motorcycle race as members of a company that didn't even do any exporting, we wouldn't receive either exit visas or permission to take out foreign currency from the Japanese Government. Therefore, we borrowed the name of Okura Trading Co., which had helped us out with machinery imports. Our executives turned a blind eye and allowed us to do it. Any time that somebody in the company went overseas, there was inevitably some problem about it, so I was relieved. Still, our funding was tight, though not as bad as the Scõo Paulo trip. We stayed at an inexpensive lodging called the Nursery Hotel and we even cut our own hair, but at least we did have regular meals. You can't go into battle on an empty stomach. Before we left, the Old Man told us, 'You're going as representatives of Japan, so don't embarrass us,' and he made us study table manners. So we ate bad food with good manners. (Laughs) The meat was always mutton. We'd use hand gestures to ask the waitress what the meat was, and the answer was inevitably, 'Baa.'"

Iida, who was in charge of the team's funds, collected all the dollars allowed the team members for personal export, and that was the team's operating fund. The rice and bean paste they shipped by sea with the machines arrived covered with mold, so it was inedible. Their first job on the Isle of Man was removing rust from the machines.

That year's Isle of Man TT Races were held on the short Clyps course rather than the long Mountain course. The 125 cc class would do ten laps of 17.36 km each.

The team began its training. The training bikes were Benly CB92s, which had just gone on sale in February.

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