How Honda Created the Baja 1000 | Baja Beginnings

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bud & Dave Ekins Collection

It started as a publicity stunt: A 950-mile timed run down Mexico’s remote Baja Peninsula, to display the durability of Honda’s first “off-road” bike, the CL72 Scrambler. What began as a one-off exhibition, however, has since morphed into one of the most celebrated racing events in the world—the Baja 1000.

Two riders were selected for that first record-setting attempt. One was Dave Ekins—a multi-time Catalina GP winner and, later, the editor of Motorcyclist and the founder of Dirt Rider—who was already racing a prototype Honda off-road bike around Los Angeles. Ekins’ brother, Bud, was supposed to be the second rider, but his contract as a Triumph dealer and sponsored racer prevented his participation. Bill Robertson Jr., co-owner of Honda of Hollywood, piloted the second Scrambler instead.

This was 12 years before Carretera Federal 1 was completed, and much of their route along the Pacific coast was rugged and rutted two-track. Fuel was another problem: without a single Pemex station between Ensenada and La Paz, the team had to organize gas stops—with the aid of an airplane—every 80 miles. Each rider also carried an extra fuel can strapped to the tank.

Guided by 30-year-old Auto Club maps and assisted by a spotting plane, the duo set off at midnight on March 17, 1962. Almost immediately, the 32-hour time goal was abandoned. Crashes on the first morning left both riders bruised, and Robertson’s bike badly damaged. Fog the second night made celestial navigation impossible, and just past San Ignacio Ekins recognized his own tire tracks and realized they were riding in circles.

Despite these hardships, Ekins arrived at the La Paz telegraph office 39 hours, 56 minutes after departure, just beating the revised 40-hour goal. Robertson, riding on one cylinder by this point, followed him in a few hours later.

This successful first run inspired countless record-breaking attempts (both on two wheels and four) that eventually grew into the organized Baja 1000 off-road race. Perhaps more importantly, Honda sold a remarkable 89,000 CL72/77 Scramblers in America between 1962–1968. No doubt many of those buyers sought to emulate the adventurous off-road spirit that characterized this first “Dash South.”

The Petersen Automotive Museum in downtown LA currently features the exhibition “Braving Baja: 1000 Miles to Glory,” running through Sept. 2. The display includes an ex-Bud Ekins Honda CL72 Scrambler.

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