By: Henny Ray Abrams
Officially, it’s called the “Honda Collection Hall”, but everyone knows it as the Motegi museum.
Situated on the sprawling grounds of the Twin Ring Motegi racing circuit complex in the rural Haga District of the Tochigi prefecture a few hours north of Tokyo, the museum houses a number of collections on the upper floors. The second floor for street-legal machinery is split into two wings; one side is motor-cycles, the other side autos and power products.
It’s the third floor everyone comes for. Half the floor is dedicated to Honda race cars, which includes the iconic models from Honda’s long history in Formula One. The other side houses not only Honda’s legendary race bikes, but also many of the landmark race bikes of all time. In all, there are 246 motor-cycles in the collection, with each holding a unique place in the history of motorcycling.
The attention to detail in the restoration work is exquisite—and not only on the older machinery. Dani Pedrosa’s 2008 Rep-sol Honda RC212V is displayed with the canister of compressed air that pressurizes the pneumatic valve system.
This year the museum added a special display to celebrate Honda’s 50th anniversary in Grand Prix racing. And, in keeping with the harsh economic times, they had only a modest celebration on the Friday of the Japanese MotoGP weekend.
All of current Honda MotoGP riders, including Repsol Honda’s Pedrosa and teammate Andrea Dovizioso, attended. But interestingly, only three non-current riders were invited. Naomi Taniguchi, the now 73-year-old who earned Honda’s first point in GP racing on the Isle of Man in 1959, looked fit enough to race. He was joined by Kunimitsu Takahashi, Honda’s first Japanese-born GP winner on the 250cc RC162 in West Germany in 1961. And the rider who represented Honda from the modern era wasn’t five-time 500cc World Champion Mick Doohan; it was a champion whose talent burned brightly but briefly.
Freddie Spencer holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Honda Motor Company. It was Spencer—then a shy, baby-faced 20-year-old kid from Shreveport, Louisiana—whom Honda chose to represent the world’s largest motorcycle company when it returned to GP racing in 1982 after a 15-year absence. Spencer was re-teamed with Erv Kanemoto, the legendary tuner who’d paved the way by spending the 1981 season working with Barry Sheene, then on a Yamaha.
It didn’t take long to validate Honda’s decision; Spencer became the youngest ever premier class winner when he won in his seventh outing on the nimble NS500 triple at Spa-Francor-champs in 1982. That machine, which wore the number 40, is one of several on show in Spencer’s corner display, the largest by far dedicated to any rider.
“I was very fortunate to have great engineers, (Satoru) Horiike and (Suguru) Kanazawa and Erv Kanemoto, so we were kind of the genesis, the beginning. And learning,” Spencer said. “We believed keeping a bike flat with a very steep steering head angle, not much rake and trail, was the best way, or they believed. And I had to learn how to ride it.
“So in some ways it was really difficult, but in other ways it taught me how to work around things. For instance, between ’82 and ’83 I knew which part of the corner I was going to have to improve to run with Kenny [Roberts] and the four-cylinder [Yamaha]. So, I feel fortunate that I got to be there at the beginning, even though it was very hard, and also the fact that I won the first 500cc championship [for Honda].” When Spencer won the 1983 500cc World Championship at Imola in 1983, he became the youngest-ever premier class world champion. The honor remains to this day.
Spencer’s favorite race bike is the NSR250R-W that he rode alongside the four-cylinder NSR500 to the historic double 250cc/500cc world titles in 1985. Spencer said Horiike built it in three months. “I set a lap record at Suzuka the first minute I rode it.”
Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Sport Rider