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A history of Honda in MotoGP | From 1956 to 1998

This brilliant selection of classic black and white racing photos now decorate the Repsol Honda hospitality unit that caused quite a stir in the MotoGP paddock when first revealed. 

The photos cover much of Honda’s remarkable history in motorcycle Grand Prix racing, focusing on some of the fabulously hi-tech machinery which established Honda as the foremost force in the sport. This stretches from the 1961 RC144 pictured, through to the 1998 NSR500.

The naming of the RC race machinery itself stems from entering motorcycle Grand Prix competition, with works racing machinery manufactured by Honda Racing Corporation a subsidiary of Honda. The RC refers to Racing Corporation, which makes more sense when you consider the models prefixed by the Honda brand name.

This tradition continues to today, with the current MotoGP machine designated the RC213V.

A declaration from Sochiro Honda in 1954 to employees of Honda Motor Co.
A declaration from Sochiro Honda in 1954 to employees of Honda Motor Co.

The letter begins:

“Some five years have passed since the founding of our Honda Motor Co, and I never cease to rejoice that the efforts of all our employees have taken form in the achievement of our epochmaking advances. Since I was a small child my dreams has been to compete in motor vehicle racers all over the world, with a vehicle of my own making, and to win…”

1961 Honda RC144
1961 Honda RC144

The 1961 Honda RC144, ridden as pictured by Mike Hailwood, and was a 125cc twin-cylinder and Hailwood would win the IoM TT on board this machine.

1961 Honda RC162
1961 Honda RC162

Honda’s RC162, ridden by Kunimitsu Takahashi, and was an in-line four-cylinder delivering 40PS. Takahashi would ride the machine to a West German GP victory, taking Honda’s first 250cc win and making him the first Japanese rider to win a grand prix.

1965 Honda RC115
1965 Honda RC115

Luigi Taveri was a successfull grand prix racer for Honda in the 1960’s, racing on board smaller 50-125cc machinery. The RC115 was a 50cc machine producing 13hp and revving to 20,000rpm.

1965 Honda RC166
1965 Honda RC166

Mike Hailwood makes another appearance, this time on the Honda RC 166, a 250cc in-line six-cylinder. Power was 65hp and Hailwood would take the machine on to win the 250cc World Title in the same year (1965), with Honda winning the manufacturer’s title to boot.  

1966 Honda RC149
1966 Honda RC149

Mike Hailwood riding the Honda RC149, a machine that Luigi Taveri won the 1966 125cc world championship title on.

1967 Honda RC181
1967 Honda RC181

In 1967 Mile Hailwood finished second in the 500cc World Championship on the RC181, on equal points with MV Agusta’s Giacomo Agostini, while the previous year saw him take three GP wins with Honda taking the manufacturer’s title.

1979 Honda NR500
1979 Honda NR500

Mick Grant road the NR500 for it’s debut race in 1979 at the British GP, alongside fellow NR500 rider Takazumi Katayama. Neither rider would finish the race, with the NR500 featuring some amazing technology but still unable to compete with the two-strokes. The NR500 was essentially a V8, featuring oval cylinders, four pairs of linked combustion chambers, eight spark plugs and a monocoque body. 

1983 Honda NS500
1983 Honda NS500

1983 was the year that Freddie Spencer would take the 500cc world championship title on board the NS500, a two-stroke V3 machine that replaced the NR500.

1998 Honda NSR500
1998 Honda NSR500

Mick Doohan on board the NSR500 in 1998, the final year of his domination of the 500cc World Championship. He won the title five-years in a row, from 1994 through to 1998.