Honda RC181: Mike Hailwood’s “could-have-been” world-beater

Check out the story of the ex-Mike Hailwood RC181 which Mike had built with a Ken Sprayson designed frame.

| November/December 2020


Imagine if today’s MotoGP champion Marc Marquez was so unhappy with his Honda’s handling that he hired a local frame-builder to improve it. That was what Mike “The Bike” Hailwood did back in the 1960s.

Mike Hailwood is widely known today as one of the top five Grand Prix racers of all time. He is also widely known as being capable of riding any type of machine in any condition. He was a naturally gifted rider, but his colossal skills didn’t involve being a development rider. He simply rode and won on what was provided, making minor adjustments and never complaining about the deficiencies any of his machines might have had. One motorcycle was the exception: Honda’s 1967 500cc 4-cylinder RC181. This was a crucial time for the Japanese giant. From 1959 to 1966 it had gone from a tentative GP entry to dominating the sport. That year it won the manufacturer’s title in all five classes, along with riders’ championships in three of those.

Honda also had Mike Hailwood on its payroll. In 1966 he won the 250cc class with half a season of races to spare and beat MV Agusta’s Giacomo Agostini to the 350cc title, but had to play second fiddle in the 500cc championship to the only rider considered his true equal. Ago’s MV and Hailwood’s Honda were the pinnacle of 1960s 500cc multi-cylinder 4-stroke design. The world’s two best riders took their MV-Honda duel in the 500cc class to new heights in 1967. Their Isle of Man TT battle that year was a classic. Hailwood’s narrow win over Ago was also accompanied by a lap record that would stand well into the next decade.

The four-leading-shoe front drum brake.

The rest of the season was no less exciting with the pair ending on equal points and the same number of race victories (five each). With more minor podium placings, Ago was declared the champion.

11/30/2020 10:19:40 AM

For the record- The MotoGP champ this year is Joan Mir.

11/13/2020 11:36:29 PM

Just a amazing story - many thanks for sharing this !! I have heard such great things about the Solvang museum but have yet to visit it. I was so close a little while back when in the area picking up a bike, but had so little time. I WILL get there someday..!!

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter