The Honda NR1/NR500 was another V8 that didn’t go as well as hoped, even if everyone agreed to call it a V4. Issue 11 of Benzina told the full story of (to my mind) the most interesting MotoGP/grand prix racer of all time. I’m fortunate enough to know Gerald Davison (who ran Honda UK and the race teams, and his story was backed up by Ivar de Gier’s interview with the R&D chief Shoichiro Irimajiri. Basically most of what you thought you knew was wild guesses by journalists frustrated at Honda’s secrecy. This was in part to hide the naivety of the young aeronautical engineers drafted into the project, existing engineers kept at arm’s length in the hope of a blue-sky revolution. One example of the problems this called was a late night call from Japan telling the British mechanics to remove oil from the NR500 Ron Haslam was due to race, having discovered an extra 3bhp was produced if the crank didn’t have so much oil to spin through at 23,000 rpm. What they hadn’t thought about was what would happen when Ron leaned the bike over: the feed was now above the oil level, and the NR blew up. Again.
To Gerald Davison’s frustration this was all done in public, and fed many journalists’ desire to see Honda fail, seen as successful simply because they were the richest and biggest of the Japanese factories (which isn’t even true if you look at the mighty corporate giant that is Kawasaki). If the early years had passed in secrecy how different the story would have been. By the time the Spam-tin pistons found their way into the NR750 it set world speed records and could easily overtake Honda’s own conventional RVF V4 in endurance racing.
But with two-stroke (and water cooling) hater Old Man Soichiro retired, Honda top brass could revert to the NS500 triple (which pre-dated the NR) and start winning again. Meanwhile looking at the NR750 the FIM quietly banned anything other than circular pistons, followed by the Formula 1 car people doing the same. Meanwhile the Japanese involved with the project were promoted to the very top of Honda, and the NR500 became about the first thing you see on entering their museum. I’d like to fail like that.
And the final images are of Hiro’s £450 model kit!
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