From its inception in 1977 the Honda Britain racing team was the dominant force not only in British domestic racing but also in the old TT Formula 1 world championship. Sporting its iconic red, white and blue livery, the early Honda Britain team ran such riders as Phil Read, Joey Dunlop, Ron Haslam and Wayne Gardner until the team format changed in 1987. So what became of the squad?
Honda Britain? I’m no expert but aren’t Honda from Japan?
The Honda factory in Japan had officially withdrawn from racing following the 1967 season, leaving local-market dealer and importer teams to keep the race flag flying, mainly in production-based racing.
Then in 1977 Honda UK announced it was going to produce a factory-prepared 820cc version of its CB750F2 machine for Phil Read to make his Isle of Man return in the new TT Formula 1 race (which also, rather shallowly, counted as a one-round world championship). Read won the race, and the ‘world title’ in the classic Honda Britain colours and started an incredible run of success for the team.
Was Phil Read the only Honda Britain rider in 1977?
No. After Read won the TT, Honda signed a 21-year-old rider with a reputation for being a bit of a tearaway. His name was Ron Haslam and he would go on to win the TT Formula 1 world championship, a TT, and every major British championship title for Honda Britain over the next five years.
Wasn’t the Honda Britain team involved in the infamous ‘Black Protest’ at the TT?
Yes. Ron Haslam had been declared the winner of the Formula 1 TT in 1981 but was then stripped of the win when Suzuki’s Graeme Crosby had his race time adjusted to account for him starting further down the field after making adjustments to his bike.
Honda were furious – claiming that the decision was in clear breach of the rules – and came close to pulling out of the TT but instead opted to show their displeasure in another way, as then team boss Barry Symmons explains. “We felt that, since the organisation of the TT was so out of date we should turn the clocks back and make the bikes and riders (Ron Haslam, Alex George and Joey Dunlop) look like something from the 1907 TT! We asked the riders if they minded and they had no problems with it so we got Manx Leathers to make black leather suits and we painted the bikes black. Shell Oils even loaned us some black overalls for the mechanics.”
Wasn’t Honda Britain the first to sign up a young Joey Dunlop?
Not quite. He briefly rode for the Texaco Heron Suzuki team before Honda snatched him out from under their noses. Joey would be a Honda man for the rest of his career. He won five consecutive TT Formula 1 world championships for the team between 1982 and 1986. He also won six consecutive Formula 1 TT races for Honda between 1983 and 1988 but the last two were not in Honda Britain colours as the team folded in 1986.
Why did the Honda Britain team fold after the 1986 season?
“Basically it just became too expensive for Honda UK,” Symmons says. “Bike sales were down and while the amount of support we got from Japan for the Formula One world championship was very good, we didn’t get that level of support for our other racing. We had sponsorship from Rothmans but Honda UK still had to contribute a lot of money and in the end it was just too much.”
So was that the end of the team?
Not really. Neil Tuxworth, who has been boss of Honda’s road racing efforts in the UK since the late 1980s, explains: “The team just changed its name. It was still the same team but it ran under different names due to various title sponsors coming on board. In 1990 we picked up sponsorship from Silkolene so it became Silkolene Honda. Following that we became Castrol Honda then HM Plant Honda and Samsung Honda, so the team never actually got disbanded. We’re Honda Racing now so Honda Britain is a term that’s disappeared – although people still refer to us by that name on occasion.”