Declaring Entry in the Isle of Man TT Races / 1953
In January 1954, HONDA’s Juno K-Type made its debut. This was the most advanced scooter so far, making the most of many innovations in its mechanism. At that time the scooter industry was dominated by Fuji Heavy Industries with its Rabbit and Shin Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with its Silver Pigeon, which had a major market separate from motorcycles and auxiliary engines for bicycles.
An advertisement for the Juno K-Type placed by the Japan Bike Industry Co. in the January 1955 issue of the company public relations newsletter Friends of Honda: "It feels like flying!" The Juno K-Type turned out to be a failure due to its excessive innovation, but it resulted in research on a new material-plastic-that brought a large pay-off later with the Super Cub."
Into that market, a fully prepared Honda placed its Juno K-Type. This product was packed with new features not seen in the scooters offered by the rival manufacturers it was going up against. It had the world’s first self-starter on a two-wheeled vehicle and a large, all-weather windscreen which was further equipped with turn-signal lights, another first. It was practically the scooter version of an automobile. An especially original feature was its FRP body panels. FRP is a plastic reinforced with polyester and glass fiber, and at that time it was a brand-new material. The first vehicle to use it had been the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, of which only about three hundred were produced, and mass-production techniques using this material were still under development, even in the United States.
One member of the team in charge of the FRP body panels was Shozo Tsuchida (now Vice President of TS Tech Co., Ltd.), who had just joined the company a year before. Tsuchida, who had majored in chemistry in college, had suddenly been singled out:
"Of course, it was Mr. Honda who decided to use such a new material. He had had his eye on plastics for a long time. And, of course, this was a first in Japan, and the material had to be imported from the U.S. We partly made up the production engineering ourselves in the process of doing it.
"This involved one difficult job after another. When we removed the material from the mold, it was full of pinholes. It was also pitted and bumpy. When we polished it, the glass fibers would shoot out and stick in our skin. When we tried painting it, the pigments used on steel plate were useless. Mr. Honda would say, ‘Of seeing and listening and trying, the most important is trying.’ We experienced the full impact of his practical philosophy, which he had developed by the sweat of his brow in his efforts at improvement."
In July of the previous year, however, the Korean War had come to a standstill with the signing of a ceasefire accord, and the temporary rush in demand from the war was over. The boom in textiles and in mining and metals gradually turned into a slump by autumn, so that 1954 became a year of all-around recession.
However, Honda had gone public with its stock in January, and over-the-counter trading in Honda began at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Although business everywhere was bad, the company felt that it would continue making good progress this year as well. During the period from February 1953 to February 1954, the books showed that total sales had approximately tripled from the previous fiscal year.
On January 13, 1954, a party of three Japanese staff set off from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, bound for Brazil.
Leading up to the Isle of Man TT Race, the first overseas race challenge taken up by a Japanese rider on a Japanese motorcycle was the São Paulo City fourth centennial celebration international motor race. Mikio Omura (No. 136) rode hard to finish thirteenth. However, there was just too great a performance gap between his modified Dream E-Type racer and the competing machines from Europe.
En route to take part in the international motorcycle race commemorating São Paulo’s fourth centennial were Mikio Omura and Toshiji Baba, a rider and engineer, respectively, for Honda, and Katsuhiro Tashiro, a rider for Meguro. This was the first time ever - either before or since the War - that Japanese motorcycles and Japanese riders had gone to compete overseas. The rider, Omura, had joined Honda in 1949 at the age of sixteen. He worked at the Noguchi Plant on the assembly line and as a test rider. In September of the same year, he had participated in a small race for the company at Noguchi Park in Hamamatsu on a C-Type that he "borrowed without permission." When he won, he was found out by Soichiro Honda, who had come to watch the race, and he was fond of recollecting how President Honda, far from reprimanding him, had actually offered praise.
Honda was actively competing in the races that were beginning to be revived in the postwar period. Soichiro Honda himself took part in local amateur races here and there on an A-Type during the days of the Honda Technical Research Institute. He only stopped entering races after becoming president of Honda Motor Co., when he started having his young employees race instead.
Kiyoshi Kawashima also liked to ride in the races, and recalled:
"There was a time when I was the rider and Omura was the mechanic."
He would travel as far as Nagoya and Shizuoka to compete in races in those cities.
Omura is still impressed by his experience of the time:
"The way it came about that I went all the way to São Paulo to race on the other side of the world, was through Chojiro Kuriyama, Chairman of the All-Japan Small Motor Vehicle Federation. In October 1953, he happened to visit the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and found an invitation from the Federacáo Paulista De Motociclismo there in the Automobile Division. It asked if Japan would like to take part in the São Paulo City fourth centennial celebration races, and said they would cover the expenses. However, the letter was still in the division head’s pending box, and the deadline for entering was near. Kuriyama rushed to talk to all the manufacturers, of which five wanted to participate, but when they got in touch with Brazil, they discovered that the scheduled ten riders and two mechanics couldn’t be invited because the deadline had passed. They could only pay for one person, said the reply. In the end, just Honda and Meguro decided to go, sharing the balance of expenses. The air fare for each person at that time was 800,000 yen. This was a huge amount of money. Around then I was a Honda employee who rode for Honda, and sometimes I also took part in public motorcycle races for money. (At that time, enthusiasts often held dirt track races that the public would come and place bets on, much like horse and bicycle racing.) The company built a special Honda machine for me to ride in this motor race. The Old Man must have chosen me because he thought I was used to racing. I was twenty-one years old. Baba, the mechanic, was just two years out of university and twenty-three years old. The company really had a lot of guts to send a couple of youngsters like us all the way to Brazil."
It was time to prepare their machine for the race, but they had almost no information. All they knew was that the 125 cc class would take eight laps around a course 8 km long. They shortened the stroke on a 150 cc Dream E-Type to make it 125 cc, and since the three-speed transmission was still so new, they stayed with the reliable two-speed. The frame was a special pipe job. The result was more like a dirt track racer than a road racing machine.
"We went to the Old Man’s house to pay our respects the day before we left. He told us, ‘Don’t expect to win. But do finish the race, whatever it takes. That’s all I ask.’ I figured that winning would be a problem, sure, but finishing the race seemed like a pretty tall order, too," Omura recalled, laughing.
There was no time to ship the machine by sea, but air freight was prohibitively expensive. The drastic method they used in the end was to take the two motorcycles apart and carry the pieces in their luggage. This was in the age of propeller-driven airplanes, and it took them six long days to reach São Paulo. There, a great welcome awaited them, as Omura recollects:
"We were interviewed by the local Japanese-language newspapers, and invited to parties by the Japanese-Brazilians, but what I really appreciated most of all was that one of them loaned me a 250 cc AJS (an English motorcycle) to practice on. I didn’t want to use my own bike for practice. After all, if it broke down that would be the end of everything. I did ride the Dream sometimes, but its frame didn’t have much rigidity, and I would ride along telling myself not to push it too hard, just finish the run, finish the run. At night I would go over the map of the race course and practice by visualizing the race. All the while I was thinking of the Old Man. The circuit was the Interlagos, which is still famous today for its F-1 Grand Prix. Watching the people who had come from Europe to race, it was obvious they were in a different class from us. So many of the machines and the riders were top-rank. Doing ready-set-go with those guys, there was no way I could match up. The result was obvious before the race. But we had a running start, and I’m a fast racer. I did my best to make a good impression in that, at least. I was faster than everyone else, while we were running to our bikes," he said, laughing. "So at first, I was up toward the front. I didn’t have a chance on the straightaways, but tight curves were my specialty. I was the fastest there, too, and the way that I kept one foot on the ground, it was like I was running in dirt track style."
The Italians were competing with each other for first place, and Pagani won riding a F.B. Mondial. Omura was one and a half laps behind, and finished the race thirteenth out of 25 racing motorcycles. His average speed was about 115 km/h. Omura remembers:
"The F.B. Mondial was going over 130 km/h. My bike had about 6 PS, and that one had easily twice as much power. The heat was terrible, and in the end, I was glad just to finish the race as I’d promised. I could relax and look at the Old Man in the eye. I expected he would be happy about it."
However, the hard part was yet to come. Tashiro, the Meguro rider who was entered in the 250 cc class race, fell while he was practicing and seriously injured his left arm. He was unable to ride in the main race, and he was disqualified from receiving the 75,000 yen starting money that each rider was given. Omura recalls this:
"This was a time when the amount of foreign currency you could take out of Japan was very strictly regulated, so we only had a little bit of money. Our expectations were completely thrown off, and we were in a terrible fix. The local Japanese-Brazilians really helped us out. They held fund-raising parties, and invited us to eat with them. When we telephoned Japan to report that we had finished the race, we also asked them to send us money, but they only sent 40,000 yen, which wasn’t enough. We had no choice but to sell the machines locally, and use the proceeds to pay our expenses in Brazil."
The journey back was a series of connecting flights via the United States that took them five days. Omura remembers their return:
"We went straight to the company head office in Yaesu, Tokyo. From way back, Mr. Honda didn’t have a president’s office. The president was sitting on a couch at the rear of the entryway reading a newspaper. When we told him, ‘We just got back, sir,’ he replied, ‘Oh, you’re back, are you? You must have had a pretty hard time of it.’ He didn’t even raise his eyes from the newspaper, and that was it. I was disappointed, but when I got back to Hamamatsu, I heard that he had been walking all over the place telling everyone, ‘Omura finished the international race in Brazil!’ In front of me, he was too embarrassed to give me any praise."
The Declaration of Entry in the Isle of Man TT Race was made public on March 20, 1954. It is uncertain when Honda and Fujisawa had started talking over the plan with each other.
In the past, the two got together to share their ideas and dreams in sessions that went on day after day and all through the night. That was after they had first met, and it may be that President Honda had told him about his dream of someday competing in this race.
The declaration that Honda would compete in the Isle of Man TT Race was issued in March 1954. Fujisawa composed the letter himself after determining what President Honda wanted to say. Two were written: the in-house announcement (top) and the public letter (bottom) with President Hondas signature and seal.
The declaration is written in impassioned prose filled with intensity. Fujisawa, having fully absorbed Honda’s intentions, composed the declaration himself. He wrote it after Baba and Omura returned to Japan.
The declaration says:
"I had thought that I was seeing the world with a fair degree of realism, without being caught up in fixed ideas, but now I realize that, after all, I have been blinded by my excessive feeling for Japan in its present situation."
The excursion to São Paulo showed Honda that he had been thinking "like a frog in a well that knows nothing of the sea," and his desire to take on new challenges flamed up brightly. There wasn’t a moment to lose in entering the competition to overtake the world, and he needed a venue. It was still too soon for a struggle in the marketplace. Honda had no products to export to the advanced countries. Racing, however, offered an opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.
Apart from the declaration for in-house use, there was also a public announcement that was distributed to agents, dealers, affiliated manufacturers, and the mass media. The content was mostly the same, but the announcement text was longer. The announcement contained this passage:
"If this becomes an opportunity for the motor vehicle industry to begin exporting."
These words are deeply significant.
So long as Honda remained caught up in its reliance on the Japanese domestic market, it could not hope to achieve true growth. Honda and Fujisawa had glimpsed a great goal in the further distance, and it is given clear expression in this passage.
Even Kiyoshi Kawashima, who was accustomed to Honda’s ambitious manner of speaking, was amazed by this plan:
"All of a sudden, there was this declaration. I hadn’t heard anything about it until then, so it came as a great shock. In Japan, we had been competing in all the races, like the Fuji Mountain-Climbing Race, the Nagoya TT, and so on. But this was a whole different matter. At that time, I at least knew that the Isle of Man TT Races were the major races in the world, but I’d never ever dreamed of taking up a challenge like that."
The announcement text expressed the decision to enter the races in June of the following year, and also contained this sentence:
"I am scheduled to go to Europe at the end of April, to visit the United Kingdom, where I will conduct on-the-spot study of various kinds before returning to Japan in June."
March 20, 1954
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 epoch-making advances.
Since I was a small child, one of my dreams has been to compete in motor vehicle races all over the world with a vehicle of my own making, and to win. However, before I can become victor over the whole world, I must first, of course, assure the security of the business, obtain precision machinery and equipment, and create superior designs. I have, therefore, been devoting myself entirely to these points, and working to present superior practical vehicles to our customers in this country. Consequently, I have not had any free time for turning my energy to motorcycle racing until today.
Now, however, reports on the recent international motorcycle race held in São Paulo have provided me with detailed information on the situation in the countries of Europe and America. I had thought that I was seeing the world with a fair degree of realism, without being caught up in fixed ideas, but now I realize that, after all, I have been blinded by my excessive feeling for Japan in its present situation. Even now, the world is advancing at tremendous speed.
Conversely, however, as I have always felt, I am filled with an abundant, unshakable confidence that I can win. The fighting spirit that is my nature will no longer allow me to continue turning away.
Now that we are equipped with a production system in which I have absolute confidence, the time of opportunity has arrived. I have reached the firm decision to enter the TT Races next year.
Never before has a Japanese entered this race with a motorcycle made in Japan. It goes without saying that the winner of this race will be known across the globe, but the same is also true for any vehicle that completes the entire race safely. It is said, therefore, that the fame of such an achievement will assure a certain volume of exports, and that is why every major manufacturer in Germany, England, Italy, and France is concentrating on preparations with all its might.
I will fabricate a 250 cc (medium class) racer for this race, and as the representative of our Honda Motor Co., I will send it out into the spotlight of the world. I am confident that this vehicle can reach speeds exceeding 180 km/h.
Even a superior aircraft engine has a power output of about 0.55 PS per liter, but this racer will have nearly double that power, at 1.00 PS per liter. When this engine is completed on the basis of our company’s creativity, it will be no exaggeration whatsoever to say that it will rank at the worlds highest levels of engineering.
Since the motorcycle, a shining star of modern heavy industry, is a comprehensive business, it will require the highest engineering level not only of the engine but also of tires, chains, carbwatos and other parts. To achieve this, it must be supported by meticulous attention to detail and unremitting effort.
I address all employees!
Let us bring together the full strength of Honda Motor Co. to win through to this glorious achievement. The future of Honda Motor Co. depends on this, and the burden rests on your shoulders. I want you to turn your surging enthusiasm to this task, endure every trial, and press through with all the minute demands of work and research, making this your own chosen path. The advances made by Honda Motor Co. are the growth you achieve as human beings, and your growth is what assures our Honda Motor Co. its future.
The scrupulous care that is required when tightening a single screw, and the commitment that refuses to waste a single sheet of paper: these are what will open the way before you, and prepare a route for Honda Motor Co.
Fortunately, our outside contractors, our agents, and our banks have given us their generous cooperation. I am, moreover, blessed with customers who join us as well to help concentrate our entire power on this point.
I see that Germany, though like us defeated in the war, has many industries that are reviving, and feel more than ever that our Honda Motor Co. must, above all, enter this race and complete it.
We must gauge the true worth of the Japanese machine industry, and raise it to a point where we can display it proudly to the entire world. The mission of our Honda Motor Co. is to enlighten Japanese industry.
With this, I announce my determination, and pledge with you that I will put my entire heart and soul, and turn all my creativity and skills to the task of entering the TT Races and winning them.
This I affirm.
Honda Motor Co., Ltd.