2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Honda’s presence at the Isle of Man TT, and to date, Honda is the most successful manufacturer ever on the island. In total, the company has taken an amazing 183 wins across all classes. Of course, nowadays it’s easy to take Honda’s ability to win races for granted. It wasn’t that way back in 1959, the first year that Honda raced—and lost—at the TT.
Soichiro Honda was a man who believed that failure had as much to teach as success, however, and he wasn’t going to let a loss get in the way of Honda’s domination of motorsports. The good news is, whatever Honda had learned from those first couple of races apparently worked. Just two years after their initial team TT failure, Honda confidently swept the top five places in every 1961 class in which it competed. Honda also brought a film crew along to the races that year, and luckily for us that footage is still around.
Honda riders Sadao Shimazaki, Jim Redman, Tom Phillis, Luigi Taveri, and Mike Hailwood dominated the top five places in the 1961 Lightweight TT 125cc. Honda’s Naomi Taniguchi, Kunimitsu Takahashi, Jim Redman, Tom Phillis, and Mike Hailwood swept the top five places in the 250cc class, as well. For Taniguchi, this first taste of team victory must have been especially sweet, since he was the only one of Honda’s original riders from 1959 who was still on the team.
Honda’s seemingly rapid rate of TT success actually followed several quiet years of preparation. Long before Honda was a household name, the Old Man was hard at work. Did he always plan to build an empire, or was it merely the inevitable result of all his actions? It’s hard to say for sure. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a man who, when faced with the task of dumping a suitcase full of racing motorcycle parts he’d gathered for R&D, allegedly decided instead to dump his suitcase of clothes before flying home from Rome. Clearly, he was a man on a mission—and 60 years later, the motorcycling world owes him a debt of gratitude.