Invoking The Honda Motor Company and Grand Prix racing is nothing unusual. The Japanese automaker may be going through rough times with its current Formula 1 engine for McLaren, but there was time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a Honda F1 engine was a sure winner, bringing championships to both drivers and constructors.
Throw in Honda’s wins in IndyCars and you have a very long, open-wheel winner’s list. At its top is the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix, California driver Richie Ginther and the Honda RA272 F1 car.
The upcoming Mexican Grand Prix is the 50th anniversary of Ginther’s win and Honda’s initial Grand Prix victory.
While much of Honda’s Grand Prix history is as an engine supplier, the RA272 was all Honda, both engine and chassis.
In a year when the Brits were cleaning up in F1, Ginther and his Honda led the race in Mexico from flag to flag. They won the season finale at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, second place going to another U.S. driver, Dan Gurney driving a Brabham-Climax.
Ginther’s reputation as both a top-line race driver and a brilliant technical advisor matched Honda’s innovative approach to F1. The RA272 was its second Grand Prix machine and remembered mainly for its engine. This was back when F1 teams were given free hand with engine layout as long as they had the correct displacement, which in 1965 was 1.5 liters.
With its motorcycle history, Honda went with a V-12 slung transversely behind the driver. The engine had a 60-degree vee between banks, 48 valves and a bore and stroke that measured just 2.29 x 1.85 inches. Horsepower was said to be 230 at 13,000 rpm. And the sound it makes is stunning.
While much of Honda’s GP history is as an engine supplier, the RA272 was all Honda, engine and chassis.
I’ve had the pleasure of being around Ginther’s RA272 on two track occasions, once with Phil Hill, the other with Dario Franchitti. If you enjoy automotive exhaust sounds, to hear the V-12 in all its glory is worth the hearing loss.