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7th July 2006

1964 Honda 250cc Racer

In the early 1960s, Honda sprang to the forefront of the racing world with their high-revving inline fours. Jim Redman rode the 250 racer to take the world titles in 1962 and 1963, and in 1964 he kept the bike. And now it's up for sale...

By the end of the 1964 championship, the four-stroke, four-cylinder 250cc RC164 was struggling against the two-stroke opposition from Yamaha, and it was just about due for replacement. So when Jim Redman finished the 1964 season in second place aboard the new Honda flagship - with its six cylinders - he gained a consolation prize in the shape of the outgoing four-pot RC164. The 250 has been tucked away for years but Jim has now decided to sell this ex-works Honda, and it'll go under the hammer at the Bonhams auction at Stafford in October 2006.

Fighting against the established race teams of Great Britain and Europe throughout the 1950s, Japanese manufacturers came to dominate Grand Prix racing's 1960s Golden Age. Collecting a clutch of titles across all the championships that mattered, Honda's small-capacity lightweights represented the pinnacle of motorcycle engineering in their day. Built for and run by the works team, with only occasional loans to selected privateers, these hand-crafted masterpieces are now seldom seen - the championship-winning 1963 machine, for example, is tucked away in Honda's own collection.

When engines ruled the earth, and frames cowered behind trees.

For 1964, only three complete four-cylinder machines of this particular type were made by Honda, and the one which is up for sale still has matching frame and engine numbers: 'RC164-1'. It is believed to be the only original example of its kind still in existence - Jim remembers one of the team's bikes being crashed and the engine of the other being removed to be put in another machine.

British by birth, Jim Redman emigrated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in his teens. He started motorcycle racing on a Triumph twin before going on to win the South African Championship on an AJS 7R and setting sail for Europe. His big break came in 1960 when he stood in for injured Honda works rider Tom Phillis and was offered a contract for the following season. By the time he retired from racing at the end of 1966, Jim had amassed no fewer than 45 Grand Prix victories and six World Championships for Honda: two in the 250cc class and four in the 350cc category.

The four-cylinder Honda 250s saw their first outings in 1961, designated RC162. The 249cc air-cooled dohc engine used four valves per cylinder to push out in excess of 40bhp at 14,000rpm, although the tacho was calibrated all the way up to 18,000rpm and redline was 15,500. Transmitted by a dry, multi-plate clutch and a six-speed box, this power translated to a straight-line to speed of just shy of 150mph. (In 1961! From a 250! With drum brakes! Eek). The result was the ultimate defeat of MV Agusta, podium finishes for Honda across the board - even a dead heat at the 1961 Race of the Year - and two consecutive 250cc world championships.

The RC162 spawned the RC163, and emerged into 1964 as the lighter and lower but not significantly developed RC164.

Random Honda Stuff on

Looking suspiciously like an airfix kit...RC164-1 was ridden by Jim Redman for almost the entire 1964 season before he switched to the new six-cylinder machine for the final two races of the season. Honda badly needed to replace their 250/4 by then; Yamaha's two-cylinder stroker was flying with Phil Read in the saddle and the RC164, in one form or another, had been around for half a decade and was due to be pensioned off. So Redman finished second to Phil Read on the Yam that year in one of the most hotly contested championships in history.

Read might have repeated the win at the TT but, although he took the fastest lap, the Yamaha failed to finish and so Redman came first in the Isle of Man TT aboard the RC164. Redman repeated the first place on the RC164 in the Dutch TT at Assen, on the latter occasion becoming the first man ever to win three Grand Prix classes in the same day. A further five second places, plus another win and a third place on RC164's six-cylindered successor saw Jim finish with 58 points to Read's 50, the latter taking the title by 46 points to 42 under the 'best six results only' system operating that year.

After the season's end, RC164-1 was given to Redman by Mr Takahashi of Honda. Jim transported the machine to South Africa where it remained in its shipping crate until 1998 when prominent private collector Luke Lawlor persuaded him to bring it to Europe to display and run at various revival events. The machine was cosmetically restored in the late 1990s, while the engine has received a full rebuild which was completed in 2004.

RC164-1 has been seen out this summer, drumming up interest for its sale in the autumn. Bonhams are confident that it'll draw a crowd at Stafford, as their motorcycle specialist, Ben Walker, explained: 'This ex-works Honda is one of the most exciting machines to come onto the market for years and could break all records. It has the potential to make the highest price ever for a motorcycle sold at auction.'

What might that price be? Well, Bonhams think that RC164-1 will fetch over £375,000. And that's for the bike which DIDN'T win a world championship… just imagine how much the 1963 machine is worth!

Wonder if the new owner will be taking it to track days in 2007…?

To register for a catalogue for the Bonhams sale in October, contact:

  • 0870 0273606 or see

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