In 1965 the top-secret RC165 debuted mid-season at Monza, entered as a “3RC164” to suggest it was just an evolution of the four-cylinder machine. Honda even shipped it to Italy with only four exhaust pipes in place, to further conceal its identity. No one paid attention to the new bike until Jim Redman fired it up for the first practice. As soon as everyone heard the ear-splitting six-cylinder shriek, they knew it was something special!
With a top speed over 150 mph, Honda’s six easily outpaced Yamaha’s two-stroke twins, but reliability was a problem. It handled poorly, too. The RC165 won its second race, the Japanese GP at Honda’s own Suzuka circuit, but by then Yamaha had already locked up the championship. Real success wouldn’t come until 1966, when Mike Hailwood returned to Honda (after a four-year stint at MV) and tamed the six’s unruly handling. After his first ride on the RC165, Hailwood asked mechanics to remove the Honda-made rear shocks so he could inspect them. Once in his hands, he reportedly threw the shocks into a nearby pond and demanded they be replaced with Girlings! Hailwood also ordered the frame totally redesigned with stiffer tubing and the wheelbase lengthened 3.5 inches. Additional cooling came via an oil-cooler, extra finning and head cutouts.
Refining the second-generation RC166 proved worthwhile. Hailwood blazed to victory at the first GP of the year in Barcelona and maintained his pace throughout the season, winning the 1966 world championship with 10 victories in 10 starts. He repeated again in ’67, his domination nearly as complete. Hailwood might have gone three-for-three in ’68 had Honda not announced in February of that year that it would withdraw from GP racing completely, to concentrate resources on Formula 1 auto racing.
© Motor Cyclist 2012