Sixty years ago this summer – at Kristianstad in Sweden – Honda won its very first World Championship. The rider was Mike Hailwood, who wasn’t even an official Honda rider at the time. His millionaire dad Stan ‘The Wallet’ Hailwood had rented a Honda four-cylinder RC144 for the 11-round 250cc grand prix series. Hailwood’s remarkable natural talent did the rest.
Company founder Soichiro Honda rarely made visits to Europe because he was too busy working in Japan, but he was at Kristianstad that day to see history made, after flying from Tokyo to Stockholm via Hong Kong, Mumbai, Karachi, Cairo and Rome.
Honda-san’s desire for world domination had his riders and engineers take control of grand prix racing with stunning speed in the early 1960s. This followed his 1954 declaration that his nascent motorcycle business would tackle the Isle of Man TT, the world’s most challenging and prestigious motorcycle races. However, a fact-finding visit to the following summer’s TT didn’t go well. “There is no way we can win,” he said after watching MV Agusta and Gilera dominate the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc races. “What a big mistake I’ve made.”