1976 Honda RC125M Type II
The RC125M Type II is without a doubt one of the best looking motocross bikes ever made and it performed as good as it looked. Just ask Marty Smith and Warren Reid.
The 1976 AMA 125 National Championship series (see here) will go down as one of the most dramatic series in motocross history. The invincible Mary Smith backed by the mighty factory Honda motocross team found themselves at the mercy of a relentless upstart named Bob Hannah. Hannah a rookie Yamaha factory rider was competing on the all new water cooled works Yamaha OW27. From the season opener at Hangtown where Hannah came from last place to win, Honda and Smith were doing everything possible to retain the 125 National Championship that they had owned for the past two years. Along with the spectacular "win at all cost" riding ability of Hannah, Honda was also out classed in the bike department. The super lightweight long travel water cooled monoshock OW27 was too much for the RC125 Honda that was based on the prior years works bike. By the mid point of the season (four races) Marty had tried three completely different bikes including an hybrid RC/FMF/Dave Arnold special (where Marty did win the USGP) and all fell short of the OW27. It appeared that nothing could stop Hannah and his factory OW27. But with four races down and four to go all that was about to change. On July 31st 1976 at the Holiday Inn parking lot in Toledo Ohio, Marty's mechanics Dave Arnold and Jon R uncrated Honda's latest top secret weapon. The all new RC125M Type2. Two bikes were uncrated that day with one being serial number 08. The bike was so advanced that upon seeing it for the first time, Hannah's mechanic Bill Buchka thought their lead in the championship was in serious jeopardy. I can tell you as someone who competed that day and saw this bike when it was debuted, it looked so sleek and advanced when you compared it to anything else including Hannah's exotic water-cooled OW27. It just seemed like a completely different approach to building the ultimate 125. Watching Marty on the bike in practice was incredible. It was way different than before. He looked as one with the machine and on top of the incredible acceleration the bike had, Marty's corner speeds were nothing short of phenomenal. Marty actually looked like the machine was built just for him and yet this was the first time he ever rode the bike! - Terry Good
Marty Smith on the all new Honda RC125M Type II at Delta Ohio. It doesn't get any prettier than this. Marty's riding was flawless that day with corner speeds that were unbelievable and this was the first time he ever rode the bike!
For decades the RC125 sat near a window in Japan all but forgotten and the right side of the bike was faded by the sun so badly that we felt it would do the bike more harm than good to leave it in this condition. The only other option was to take the bike apart, respray it and put it back together leaving everything else as original as possible. The following photo gallery documents this process. We kept in constant contact with the original mechanic Dave Arnold and called him with any and all questions no matter how big or small and we are very grateful we have access to him regarding this. Once we solve the kick start issue we will do an extensive feature on the bike. Even though it had a grand total of only 3 races in the US, the bike was so high tech and advanced for it's time, it will for sure be one of the highlights of our museum. Check back for updated photos.
1976 Honda RC125M Restoration Photos
Bill Buchka reflects:
"The day before the Delta Ohio National, I was walking through the parking lot at the race headquarters Hotel and there it was. Dave and Jon R. were uncrating the much rumored works Honda. That red just jumped out at you. When I saw that motorcycle I can tell you “I got scared.” That bike was going fast in the crate. I really got worried. Honda had just dropped a psychological bomb on everybody. I didn’t in anyway want to upset Bob. I thought I would let him make his own judgment. He was the guy that had to throw his leg over his motorcycle and compete with Marty on that bike. I really tried to find a positive in competing with that and came to the conclusion, “Hey, Marty has only had that bike for a week or so, so maybe it’s not that well developed yet.” I had to refer back to our strategic plan, one race at a time. Luck went our way again and Marty had a mishap as a lapper took him out while maintaining a huge lead. It was really unfortunate for Marty as his new works bike really looked good. To have a lead of over fourteen seconds and have a misfortune like that must have had a negative psychological impact on him."
Dave Arnold reflects:
"The Type 2 arrived in the typical Honda R&D overbuilt perfectly packaged wooden crate. I believe Jon R and I uncrated it in the Delta hotel parking lot. It was not a warmed over Type 1 at all, it was a totally new bike from the ground up. The engine, frame construction & geometry, suspension components, tank shape and ride position looked very cutting edge. It even smelled good (something to do with titanium and magnesium fermenting in a mahogany wooden crate that usually translates into fast) The bike was awesome! Marty really liked the new bike in every way. He looked fast and was very happy and confident in general. We finally had a bike that could respectfully go up against Yamaha's OW27 with confidence."
After almost losing the Type2 to a privateer who filed a claim on the bike at Delta (see here), it was pulled for the following race in San Antonio and then Marty used it at Houston and then again for the finale at New Orleans. After the 125 National series both bikes were shipped back to Japan. Marty competed on one of them for the last time in Japan late1976 and then the whereabouts of both bikes was unknown until 2007 when they were both discovered. One went to the Honda museum in Japan and the other (serial number 08) was purchased by MXworksbike.com. It is ironic that the serial number sequence of Marty Smith's Type2 (08) is the same as Hannah's championship winning OW27 (08).
When we received the bike we noticed that a few parts had been changed out and a few components were missing. After five years of searching, we found the original parts and the restoration is now underway! Dave Arnold will be assisting us every step of the way making sure we get it right and I'm sure Marty will be chiming in too. Follow along as we reassemble this historical treasure. We will be adding to this page as we make progress.
Dave Arnold looks on as Marty fires up the Type ll. The bike was at least on par with Hannah's OW27 but it showed up too late. It only saw 3 races in the US and was then sent back to Japan.
While your checking out the restoration progress, we thought we would share a little trivia about the bike.
- For over thirty years now many have wondered where the super cool looking number 1's on the number plates came from. They only appeared on this bike and the hybrid Elsinore Marty rode at Midland Michigan. Did Honda in Japan make them? We asked Marty's mechanic Dave Arnold who wrenched on this bike. "I just bought some black contact paper, the real thin stuff, from a hardware store while on the road and cut them out by hand. Super cool for under a dollar!"
- The entire engine without oil for the bike weigh's in at 28lbs. Everything is hand machined, the gears, the clutch basket, the shift linkage, the crankshaft and so on. The cases (crank and side) are sand cast magnesium coated with a material to prevent corrosion and the crankcases are a different color red than the cylinder and the side cases. Check out the offset cylinder bolt pattern. Also note how wide the bolt pattern is at the rear to support the new transfer design. The crankcases are even trenched at the rear for a more direct flow. Honda once again, way ahead of the curve in engine design.
- The engine sports a 5 speed transmission. Reason; The motor made so much more power (top and mid-range) compared to anything else that the Honda engineers decided 5 gears was enough and they could save weight and reduce rotating mass by eliminating a gear. The bike was a rocket ship. Next year's 1977 model ridden by Warren Reid went to back to a conventional six speed transmission as well as other mods.
- Why is it called a Type 2? The new engine design with a massive transfer port area, required holes through the cylinder fins to access the cylinder mounting studs. Type 1 bikes had a much more conventional (for the time) transfer design. The 1977 works Honda's were also the Type 2 design.