Suzuki Wins at the 1963 Isle of Man Races

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Mitsuo Itoh after winning the 50cc class at the 1963 Isle of Man TT, the first and only Japanese rider to win a TT.
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Hugh Anderson heads for a 125cc win at the 1963 Isle of Man TT.

In 1960, Suzuki made its first appearance at the June Isle of Man races. Suzuki was there only because company president Shunzo Suzuki had been persuaded by Soichiro Honda to race abroad, despite the fact Shunzo was under pressure from the Suzuki board not to put money into racing at all!

The bike that made Suzuki’s island debut was a newly constructed machine dubbed the Suzuki RT60, with 13 horsepower and a 6-speed gearbox. Suzuki misread the entry forms and the TT program listed the bikes entered as Colledas (Suzuki’s domestic model designation), not Suzukis.

In 1961, MZ rider Ernst Degner famously defected from East Germany, going to Suzuki. And while Suzuki got a world class rider, it was the MZ secrets Degner brought them that transformed their products. Degner denied he had broken his contract, but Walter Kaaden, MZ’s 2-stroke genius, never forgave him.

With Degner’s knowledge and help, Suzuki produced a 50cc machine for the 1962 races, the Suzuki RM62, with an 8-speed gearbox to keep close to a 10,500rpm limit to extract all 8 horsepower. The 125cc RT62 was an enlarged version of the 50, but with a rearward-facing exhaust the same as the MZ.

The 50cc Suzuki RM63 for 1963 was just an update on the previous year’s machine, but the 125cc RT63 was all new, with lots of work having been done on heat dissipation to help prevent seizures.

It worked, with New Zealander Hugh Anderson taking the win and lap record in the 125cc class. But it was in the 50cc race that the real history was made, when eighth-placed starter Mitsuo Itoh took the checkered flag on the RM63 to become the first, and to date the only, Japanese rider ever to win a TT race. MC

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