HRC History: Honda Explains The Photos On Display In The Paddock

As a journalist, one of the less glamorous parts of the weekend is spent waiting around to talk to riders. Less glamorous, maybe, but certainly not unpleasant: the time is usually spent standing around in the hospitality units of the teams or manufacturers, picking at snacks especially laid on for us and being served refreshments by the friendly and charming staff that crew the hospitality units.

In the HRC hospitality unit, where the press get all those quotes from Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner you will read in various media outlets around the world, the waiting has been very much eased by a magnificent series of photos putting Honda's rich history in Grand Prix racing on display. The photos have been met with universal interest and appreciation by the press, and as a result, Honda have decided to make them available to the general public.

HRC today issued a press release containing the photos and a brief explanation of each. It's reproduced below, along with the photos, courteously provided by (and copyright of) Honda Racing Corporation. We hope you enjoy the photos as much as we have been doing, and remember to click on the link for larger versions of the photos, as you can do for all of the photos on the site:

The story behind Honda's classic racing photos

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

The photos cover pretty much the whole of Honda's remarkable 62 years in motorcycle Grand Prix racing, focusing on some of the fabulously hi-tech machinery which established Honda as the foremost force in the sport.

Starting with Soichiro Honda's original declaration to compete in motor racing, the photos cover the company's early racing four-strokes to its pre-MotoGP era two-strokes, the collection includes many of the genius riders who have helped make Honda such a renowned name, all the way from Mike Hailwood to Mick Doohan.

RC144, Mike Hailwood, 1961

This is the 125cc twin on which multiple World Champion Hailwood won his first Isle of Man TT in June 1961. Later the same week Hailwood also won the Junior TT on an RC162 four-cylinder 250, aboard which he would later claim Honda's first World Championship.

Mike Hailwood, RC144, 1961

RC162, Kunimitsu Takahashi, 1961

When Takahashi beat team-mate Jim Redman – also riding a four-cylinder RC162 – to win the 1961 West German 250 Grand Prix at Hockenheim he became Japan's first GP winner. Christened Tak-san by his fans, Takahashi also won three 125 GPs, aboard RC143 and RC145 twins.

Kunimitsu Takahashi, RC162, 1961

RC115, Luigi Taveri, 1965

Swiss ace Luigi Taveri was Honda's strongest rider in the smaller 50cc and 125cc classes during the 1960s, winning 26 GP victories and a hat-trick of 125 world titles. This is Taveri on the 50cc twin, which made 13 horsepower at 20,000rpm, equivalent to 260 horsepower per litre!

Luigi Taveri, RC115, 1965

RC166, Mike Hailwood, 1966

Hailwood joined Honda as a factory rider at the end of 1965 and enjoyed a dazzling time, winning two 250 and two 350 world titles aboard Honda's legendary six-cylinder machines. The RC166 250 revved to 18,000rpm and is arguably the greatest-sounding GP bike of all time.

Mike Hailwood, RC166, 1965

RC149, Mike Hailwood 1966

The five-cylinder 125 was one of Honda's most fabulous creations. Built to defeat the two-strokes, the five revved to 21,500rpm and won the 1966 125 World Championship in the hands of Luigi Taveri. Mike Hailwood had a one-off ride on the bike at that year's Isle of Man TT.

Mike Hailwood, RC149, 1966

RC181, Mike Hailwood, 1967

Hailwood rode Honda's first 500 GP bike – the mighty four-cylinder RC181 – in 1966 and 1967. Although he narrowly failed to take the title, his race wins did help Honda score a unique clean sweep of the 50, 125, 250, 350 and 500cc Constructors' World Championships in 1966.

Mike Hailwood, RC181, 1967

NR500, Mick Grant, 1979

Once two-strokes had become dominant, Honda returned to GP racing after a decade's absence with the NR500 four-stroke. The bike was a rolling test bed, featuring oval-shaped pistons, eight valves per cylinder and a radical monocoque frame. It also featured the first slipper clutch.

Mick Grant, NR500, 1979

NS500, Freddie Spencer, 1983

The NS500 was Honda's first two-stroke GP bike and became hugely successful, most of all in the hands of Freddie Spencer who won Honda's first 500 title on the NS in 1983. The three-cylinder machine was renowned for its fine handling and rider-friendly character.

Freddie Spencer, NS500, 1983

NSR500, Mick Doohan, 1998

Mick Doohan and the NSR500 ruled GP racing during the late 1990s, winning five consecutive premier-class World Championships. The NSR became Honda's most successful Grand Prix bike, winning races in the hands of many riders and further world titles with Alex Criville and Valentino Rossi.

Mick Doohan, NSR500, 1998

Soichiro Honda's declaration to compete in motor racing

Soichiro Honda's original declaration to compete in motor racing


Back to top


.... of old school racing bikes. Some people mock the old bikes, but with out them, we would not have the bikes we do today.

Very enjoyable viewing & reading.

Am I the only one who feels like Honda and Yamaha are ignoring the legacy of Rossi now that he doesn't ride for them? Not that I don't understand but it sucks on both ends to have such great eras fade because Rossi went elsewhere.
Otherwise, fantastic photos. I love the look of the 60s-70s era bikes.

Rossi being a contracted Ducati rider, it's more than likely that they own the exclusive right to exploit his image in MotoGP/motorcycle racing context.
It's not far fetched to think that because of contracts, neither Yamaha nor Honda could display their Rossi years these days, even if they wanted to.
I don't really know, we should ask Davide Brivio (Carlo Pernat surely knows as well).

It might be due to contracts as frenchie stated but it also might be deliberately.

Honda seems to not only got their bike sorted this year, they're also showing a unique PR philosophy this year. While Ducati tried (and failed) to make a PR puppet out of Stoner, HRC issues tech talk with Stoner, Pedrosa and Dovizioso, and it works (at least for me). They also provide technical insight into HRC's develpment via Nakamoto. And now they reacted quickly to the interest shown from journalists in this interesting time journey of Honda's racing legacy.

My conclusion is that not only does HRC want to be successful with their bikes and the riders, also the PR department stepped up their game and tries to make the most out of their options.

HRC realized (the hard way) that they could be independent of Rossi's riding genius, now they're also trying to challenge him in the competition of public recognition.

I doubt he will get a role in their publicity while he's actively competing against them... which is completely normal. Notice that Kenny Roberts has been welcomed back into the Yamaha PR machine now he is no longer racing the Proton/Modenas?

The reason Rossi isn't included isn't because they're ignoring him, but because this series of photos is about HONDA. The shots are all of bikes that were pivotal in their racing history. That's why Fast Freddie is there on the three cylinder 500. Then for a shot of the four cylinder 500 Doohan is the obvious choice as he did more on it than anyone, including Rossi. And Rossi's bike was just Doohan's previous 500 anyway, with minor upgrades each year. There's also no shots of Gardner or Lawson or anyone else, so why would you assume they are ignoring Rossi?

In the history of HRC, there are many far more important players than Rossi, as much as it pains some of you to hear that.

Can we stop with the "it's all about Rossi" garbage?

It is so utterly tiresome.

It's not that it's all about Rossi. He did win them their first two titles in the four stroke era. That seems kind of important.

What made me think of it was I heard Conan O'Brien say once that he thought it was sad that Letterman had lost any control over his legacy at NBC because he left under bad circumstances and went to a rival. This seemed like it was analogous, I wasn't whining that Rossi is being ignored.

Anyway, Rossi will always be considered an important part of motorcycle racing. This despite whether one cares for him or not.

Jeez, does every subject of discussion about MotoGP need to involve the anti #46 club griping?

I'm sure Honda have not forgotten nor marginalize Rossi's contribution to their heritage. He was on board their first 4 stroke GP machine of the modern era and won the championship with it. In a complete retrospective that image would be present but understandably it isn't here. It make perfect sense though to not decorate HRC's paddock presence with a rider who is currently riding (not effectively at the moment) against the factory riders. I'm sure once #46 is retired and an affable quote making machine around the paddock the love fest from the various concerns he raced for will ensue.

WoW ... Look at the size of the front tire in that third picture :)

Great pictures and descriptions. Seeing Soichiro Honda's declaration, which I've read so much about, is amazing. I wish I could have seen and heard some of those small 6 cylinder bikes race, they must have had pistons the size of a thimble! Such a shame the modern rules don't allow exotic machinery like that.

Gracious thanks for the clips - made my day :D Gotta love Japanese TV - and that beautiful sounding RC166. It's enough to inspire a whole new generation of small bike racers!

Now, how do I make a ringtone out of it...? :)

Tiny bikes, fantastic engines, ridiculous tyres, big balls ... and definitly great website :)

Soiichiro Honda is exactly what the world (especially the racing world) needs more of. Almost any time I hear something new about him it's something that makes me like him even more.

I wonder what the great man would have thought of today's rules surrounding MotoGP?

I'd like to think he would find them highly offensive and sack (or, in an ideal world, "drop into Tokyo Harbour" as one MGP writer would once have said) any Honda staff who were complicit in turning the pinnacle of world motorcycle racing into an economy run.

Anyhow, thanks Honda for the history, the wonderful bikes, and now the images thereof. And thanks David for bringing them to us.

I'd never read Soichiro Honda's mission statement before. Magnificently written.

I was lucky enough to be crewing for a mate racing a Honda at the 1998 I.O.M (Honda's 50th anniversary) when Honda Motor Corp shipped over a number of these beautiful to look at and even better to listen to jewels. Just to watch and listen as their Japanese custodians tended to them. Magical.

To understand the present you must know the past.

Wow, what a treat to collect those pics here. As 5 of the 7 grown up street bikes I've owned have had Honda wings I'm a big Honda fan. Absolutely in love with the sound of the RC166. Would count myself lucky to be able to hear it in person somewhere, someday.

what they had for head protection back in the day.

You can only wonder if some of the "legendary" race wins racked up by the rider(s) of the only remaining factory team (MV Agusta) might have been shared around a bit more if Honda and co. hadn't spat the dummy and left the game for 10 years.