Ginther Spa 1965

Richie Ginther in search of the La Source Hairpin apex, with photographers’ assistance, Honda RA272, Belgian GP, Spa 1965…

Soichiro Honda was a talented engineer who created the largest motorcycle manufacturing company in the world, it could be said that he helped mobilise the masses in many ‘Third World countries’.

He was a passionate racer himself and in the early 1960’s started to challenge the dominance of the European motorcycle marques, notably MV Agusta on the circuits of the world.

Tom Phillis

Aussie Tom Phillis broke thru for Hondas’ maiden GP win in the 1961 Spanish 125cc GP. Honda entered all the 125/250cc events from 1960, Honda won both titles that year. Honda entered 500cc racing in 1966, and took 138 wins in its ‘first sortie’ to the World Championships, before taking a break in 1967 (unattributed)

By that time Honda R&D already had a Cooper T53 Climax, a 2.5 litre F1 car to tinker with and study, they announced their entry into Grand Prix Racing in 1964, a sensational 1.5 litre transversely mounted V12 stressed-skin chassis car their weapon of choice.

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Honda had started building road cars, the S600 and S800 sports cars and by 1972 built their first Civic, a car which didn’t revolutionise the class but bought amazing standards of refinement and performance into the market for the time. It was the first of many outstanding mass market cars which would define the marque as the ‘Japanese BMW’ in the eyes of many.

Honda were on a climb and motor racing was a part of the plan to develop innovative technology, resilient engineers and promote and build the Honda brand.

Soichiro Honda

Soichiro Honda watching the performance of one of his ‘bikes, at close quarters! during the 1960 Isle of Man TT (unattributed)

Honda RA271…

The chief engineer of the project was Yoshio Nakamura, later to become the CEO of Honda.

The initial prototype, the RA270F was a space frame car, derivative of the Cooper, and was tested extensively at Arakawa on 6 February 1964 and then Suzuka, by many including Jack Brabham. Brabham and his partner Ron Tauranac were to race Honda 1 litre, 4 cylinder engines in their F2 Brabhams, winning the European F2 Championship in 1966.

In fact Honda had decided to be an F1 engine manufacturer, not the builder of their own chassis and had entered into a partnership with Lotus, but problems with Lotus’ existing Ford agreements precluded contract execution by Lotus…so Honda built the chassis after all.

Honda RA270F prototype

Soichiro Honda with the RA270F prototype spaceframe F1 car in 1964, he was one of many who tested the car. (Honda International)

The definitive RA271 used a stressed skin monocoque chassis which ended at the rear of the cockpit to which was mounted the transverse 60 degree 1495cc V12.

A tubular subframe picked up the rear suspension assembly which could be unbolted and wheeled away.

The engine used DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder and was fed initially by 6 Keihin carburettors mounted across the frame behind the cockpit. Fuel injection was being developed and was soon adapted to the engine. Power takeoff was by spur gears from the centre of the crankshaft driving directly into a transverse shaft 6 speed transaxle.

Honda RA271 Monza 1964

Honda RA271, Monza 1964, the fuel injected version of the engine appeared for the first time. The engine developed circa 220bhp@11000rpm in 1964, more than was claimed for the BRM and Coventry Climax V8’s and about what Ferrari claimed for their championship winning V8 that season. (unattributed)

Front suspension was by top rocker operating inboard mounted coil spring damper units and lower wishbone. Rear was by reversed lower wishbone, single top link with outboard mounted coil spring damper units and two radius rods providing lateral location. Sway bars were adjustable front and rear.

Dunlop disc brakes were used and Goodyear tyres, Honda and Brabham the first users of Goodyear in F1.

RA271 rear

‘Things Go Better With Coke’… cheap oil catch tank! RA271 rear end showing upper and lower wishbones, coil spring damper units. Rear mounted battery and alloy casing of the 6 speed Honda transaxle mounted aft of the engine where it was parallel with and driven from the centre of the crankshaft. Rear Dunlop discs inboard. (unattributed)

Ronnie Bucknum…

Bucknum and mechanics Monza 1964

A Honda mechanic, Yoshio Nakamura and Ronnie Bucknum working things out upon the RA271 race debut…Nurburgring pit apron 1964. None of the ‘flash surroundings’ for mechanics of the modern era. (Bernard Cahier)

Somewhat bizarrely the Japanese, as if to emphasise the experimental nature of the car chose Bucknum, a little known American sports car driver to pilot the car, his family owned a Honda dealership in the US and he raced an S600 at home. These days a ‘Superlicence’ would not have been issued!

He tested the car extensively in Japan before the cars first race in the German GP, at the Nurburgring, what a baptism of fire for car and driver in August 1964!

Bucknum qualified the RA271 slowest, no disgrace and then drove a steady race in the wet, the power curve of the engine somewhat peaky, and was in 11th place when a steering problem caused him to crash out of the race.

Bucknum German GP 1964

Ronnie Bucknum during the 1964 German GP upon Hondas debut. He drove the RA271 sensibly in difficult, wet conditions, crashing out after steering problems (Honda International)

The team missed the Austrian GP but returned with the definitive fuel injected version of the engine at Monza, qualifying mid grid and racing in fifth before overheating problems intervened.

In the US he retired with a blown head gasket to finish the teams truncated first season.

1965, Final Year of the 1.5 Litre Formula…

Ginther Spa 1965 RA272

Ginther in the RA272, wet Spa 1965, not for the faint hearted!

Honda were more serious about its 1965 campaign building a new car, the RA272 and signing Richie Ginther ex-BRM and Ferrari, and a noted test and development driver to lead the team, retaining Bucknum for a second year.

The team were based in Amsterdam, the centre of their distribution operation in Europe.

The power of the engine was increased from circa 220bhp@11000rpm to 230bhp@12000rpm with chassis weight reduced by 30kg.

Minimising heat build up became key as the engines lost power significantly as the races wore on, Ginthers ‘bonzai’ starts came to nought as the engines lost grunt.

The cars appeared at Monaco, qualifying up the back and both dropped out, Richie with a UJ failure and Ronnie with gear change maladies.

Ginther RA272 Monaco 1965

Ginthers’ RA272 Monaco 1965. Ginther DNF with a driveshaft failure in the race won by Hills’ BRM P261. Note the evolution of the cars rear suspension compared with the RA271 above. Much neater and ‘conventional’ single top link and inverted lower wishbone. (unattributed)

The Belgian GP was typically wet, Ginther qualified fourth and finished sixth, Bucknums’ transaxle failed. Both cars failed to finish at the French GP with ignition problems although Richie qualified 7th.

Spa 1965 Belgian GP start

The sheer majesty of Spa…treacherous wet ’65 GP won by Clarks’ Lotus 33 Climax. From the start its Hill and Stewart in BRM P261’s, Ginther, Honda RA272, Siffert, Brabham BT11 BRM, Surtees, Ferrari 158, Dan Gurney, Brabham BT11 Climax, Bruce McLaren, Cooper T77 Climax, Jo Bonnier, Brabham BT7 Climax and the rest…(unattributed sensational shot)

The Honda was well suited to the wide open spaces of ex-RAF airfield Silverstone, one car was entered for Ginther, he duly qualified 3rd and lead from the start, the Honda yowling its way out front, he ran third for much of the race but again ignition problems ended his race.

British GP 1965

British GP, Silverstone start 1965. Ginther is 3rd on the grid. Clark is on pole in his Lotus 33 Climax, Hill alongside in BRM P261, then Ginther RA272 and on the outside Jackie Stewart in the other #4 BRM P261. Ferrari 1512 #1 is John Surtees. (unattributed)

He again qualified 3rd at Zandvoort and lead the race but then spun twice and finished 6th.

Honda missed the Nurburgring but reappeared at Monza with engines mounted lower and using sleeker bodywork, Bucknum qualified 6th and Richie 17th after various dramas but both ‘popped engines’ again failing to finish.

Both cars finished for the first time at Watkins Glen in the US Grand Prix, Bucknum an uninspired 13th and Richie 7th having again qualified 3rd.

And so onto the last race of the season and of the 1.5 litre formula. The Magdalena Mixhuca circuit at Mexico City was the venue for the Mexican Grand Prix, famous for the difficulties caused for engines at a height 7500 feet above sea level.

Ginther again! qualified 3rd and Bucknum tenth. At the drop of the flag Richie simply took the lead and ran off into the distance, the little jewel of an engine never missing a beat scoring Hondas’, Goodyears’ and Ginthers’ first Grand Prix victories.

Bucknum was a strong 5th. Hondas fuel injection system, problematic at times was one of the reasons for the Mexican success, thriving at the higher altitude.

And so Honda won a famous and well deserved win and would be back late in 1966 with a heavy but powerful 3 litre V12 engined car, the RA273…

Ginther Mexican GP 1965

Richie Ginther lead the Mexican GP in 1965 from start to finish, heat and altitude notwithstanding. He is swinging his RA272 into Horquila Corner, the hairpin. (Bernard Cahier)

As an enthusiast i love those marques which have racing as part of their DNA, for that Honda have their founder to thank.

Soichiro Honda gave the following press conference speech after the Mexico win, i love the insights it provides into his thinking about how ‘racing improves the breed’.

He said, ‘Ever since we first decided to build cars we have worked hard and been willing to take the most difficult path. Now we must study the reasons why we lose, and do the same when we win, so that we can use that knowledge to improve the quality of our cars and make them safer for our customers. Thats our duty. Once we had established our goal, we decided to choose the most difficult path to get there. This is why we entered the Grand Prix series. We will therefore not be content with this victory alone. We will study why we won and aggressively apply those technologies to new cars’.

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Honda RA272 cutaway

Honda RA272 cutaway drawing by Yoshiro Inomoto

Etcetera…

Honda Team Nurburgring 1964

Honda unload their RA271 at the Nurburgring upon their GP debut, German GP 1964. (unattributed)

Ginther and Hill Zandvoort 1965

Graham Hill and Richie Ginther dicing at Zandvoort, Dutch GP 1965. Hill 4th in his BRM P261 and Richie 6th in his Honda RA272 in the race won by Clarks’ Lotus 33 Climax, Clark the ’65 Champ. (unattributed)

Honda RA272 engine

Honda RA272 engine; 1495cc 60degree, transversely mounted DOHC, 4 valve, fuel injected V12. Circa 230bhp@13000rpm in 1965. (Bernard Cahier)

Honda RA272 cockpit

Honda RA272 cockpit. (unattributed)

Ginther celebrating his Mexico victory 1965

Ginther and engineer Nakamura celebrate their 1965 Mexican GP victory. (unattributed)

Sources…

Doug Nye ‘The History of The Grand Prix Car 1945-65’, Honda International

Bernard Cahier, Yoshiro Inomoto

Finito…

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Comments
  1. […] “The engine dimensions of the 1965 48-valve V12 were 58.1 x 47.0 mm, 1,495.28 cc. Power output of 230 bhp (170 kW) @ 13,000 rpm was quoted — this was the most powerful F1 engine of 1965. The engine was safe to 14,000 rpm. … It used 12 Keihin carburetors, one for each cylinder, later to be replaced by low pressure fuel injection before entry into the Italian GP.” (Wikipedia)and“Power takeoff was by spur gears from the centre of the crankshaft driving directly into a transverse shaft 6 speed transaxle.” (primotipo) […]

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