After winning the 1966 250 and 350cc world championships on Honda sixes, Hailwood took bot
Most associate Mike Hailwood with Ducati, where he began and ended his motorcycle racing career, or MV Agusta, where he won four consecutive 500cc world championships (1962-’65). But the man many consider the most talented racer ever earned five of his nine world titles and most of his 76 Grand Prix wins on Hondas. Of all the revolutionary machines Honda put under Hailwood, none was more magnificent than the shrieking RC166 six he rode to the 1966 250cc world title.
Michael Stanley Bailey Hailwood had won seven British national titles and a handful of GPs when he signed with Honda in ’61. Originally contracted for the Isle of Man TT, he won the 125 and 250cc classes ahead of factory Honda riders Jim Redman, Tom Phillis and Luigi Taveri, earning a full factory ride. Hailwood won his and Honda’s first world title that year before leaving for MV.
Honda’s radical 250cc six appeared in mid-1965 as a direct response to Phil Read’s blistering Yamaha two-stroke that seized the 250cc title in ’64 and ’65. Engineer Soichiro Irimajiri’s cast-magnesium masterpiece used six 22mm Keihin carburetors, 24 tiny valves and a seven-speed transmission. It revved to over 18,000 rpm and produced 60 horsepower—enough to propel the 260-lb. machine past 150 mph, producing an exhaust note that was like ripping sheet metal. Righteously fast, the 250/6 was also remarkably ill-handling. Honda hired Hailwood to tame it.
Under Hailwood’s guidance, the RC166 got a longer, stiffer frame to correct its handling. The effect was immediate: He won the first GP in Barcelona and swept the ’66 250cc world championship with 10 victories in 10 starts. Hailwood also won that season’s 350cc world title on a 297cc version of the 250/6, including a satisfying victory over Giacomo Agostini and MV.
Honda withdrew from motorcycle competition in ’68 to concentrate resources on Formula 1 car racing, and paid Hailwood a £50,000 retainer (equivalent to $1.1 million today) not to ride for another team. He didn’t race motorcycles again until his legendary comeback win aboard a Ducati 900SS at the 1978 Isle of Man TT.
On March 23, 1981, Hailwood was driving to dinner with his children, Michelle and David, when a delivery truck illegally turned in front of his car. Michelle, age 9, was killed instantly; David survived, but “Mike the Bike” succumbed to his injuries the next day. He was 40 years old.