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  Honda RA271

  Article Image gallery (7) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Japan
Produced in:1964
Numbers built:3
Successor:Honda RA272
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:March 20, 2006
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Click here to download printer friendly versionBy the 1960s Honda had established themself as a very successful motorcycle manufacturer and now wanted to try their luck on four wheels. The first car, the S500, was introduced at the 1962 Tokyo Motorshow. It still relied heavenly on motorcycle technology with a 500 cc overhead camshaft engine. The racing motorcycles racked up victory after victory so it was only logical for Honda to enter in motorsport as well. What better platform to showcase their abilities than F1?

Yet the first Formula 1 programme did not go altogether according to plan. In the 1960s designer Tadashi Kume had an engine ready but no car. Colin Chapman talked of designing a Lotus with a Honda engine for Jim Clark to drive, but the plans came to nothing. Honda needed a starting-point from which to set out its own design and since Cooper had just won two world championships, a Formula 1 Cooper-Climax was bought and shipped to Japan.

The Kume designed engine was not suited for the Cooper chassis so Honda decided to built their own chassis. The car Honda built was more radical than the Cooper-Climax it had bought to study. Instead of the bent-tube frame with the 4-cylinder engine in-line at the rear, the little Honda had a 60-degree V12 engine mounted transversely behind the driver.

In 1964, V8s from BRM and Coventry-Climax were seasoned campaigners. The V6s, V8s, and flat-12s from Ferrari, and Porsche with its air-cooled flat-8 were reaching maturity. The Honda was a radical little V12, with needle roller crankshaft bearings, revving to 11,500rpm, in a semi-monocoque chassis with tubular rear sub-frames and inboard springs.

After lenghty tests on the Japanese Suzuka and Dutch Zandvoort tracks, the Honda team debuted the RA271 in the 1964 German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring. Being the most difficult track on the calender, it was not the most logical place to debut a completely new car. American Ronnie Bucknum fought his way up from 22nd to 11th before his steering failed.

The experimental car was used for another two races that season and over the winter many of the lessons learned were put to good use in designing the RA272 for 1965. After several point finishes new driver Richie Ginther finished the season off at a high with a win in the Mexico Grand Prix. Extensive rule changes meant Honda could go back to the drawing boards to design a completely new car for 1966.

Celebrating Honda's return to Formula 1 as an independent manufacturer, the surviving RA271 is seen here at the 2006 Geneva Motorshow. It was joined by a RA272 and the new RA106.

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  Article Image gallery (7) Specifications