Supervising the Honda Collection Hall: Kuniyoshi Iwata Interview

Honda Collection Hall - NSR500

The Honda Collection Hall at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan houses 350 examples of Honda’s engineering prowess, from motorcycles to automobiles to robots and beyond. Part of Honda’s Mobilityland subsidiary that operates Twin Ring Motegi and the Suzuka Circuit, the Honda Collection Hall opened in 1998 with inspiration provided by Honda founder Soichiro Honda. The head person at the Honda Collection Hall is Kuniyoshi Iwata, and he has a unique perspective on one of the most important motorcycle museums in the world.

Iwata earned his position via success as a Grand Prix mechanic in the 1980s and 1990s. After a career distinguished by working in the GP paddock on the NSR500s ridden by Freddie Spencer (1983 and ’85 500cc GP Champion) and Mick Doohan (1994-8 500cc GP Champion), Iwata now supervises a five-man team that keeps the all machines at the Honda Collection Hall in running order.

“We maintain the machines, so they are ready for running at any time,” Iwata says. “I think it’s a very important job and I’m proud of it. The machines are strong and tough, but maintaining them when they are very old is difficult. Most of the parts we use in the machines are one-off parts. Luckily, we get a lot of support from Honda R&D Center Asaka [for motorcycles] and from Honda Racing Development Sakura [for cars].”

In addition to the NSR500 two-stroke Grand Prix racers, the Honda Collection Hall has Honda racing motorcycle dating back to the 1960s and forward to the RC213V ridden to MotoGP championships by Marc Márquez. Of the wide range of Honda motorcycles, Iwata does have a soft spot for the first-year Honda NSR500 Grand Prix racer. He explains his fondness for the 1984 NSR500 is “because it’s the very first Grand Prix bike I worked on as a mechanic.”

Honda Collection Hall - Honda Cub

The Honda Collection Hall isn’t only for racing motorcycles. It has Monkey bikes, scooters, the first CB750, and many other crucial motorcycles in Honda’s history. It all starts with a generator-engine powered Honda motorcycle from 1948 that began Soichiro Honda’s fabled career.

Honda Collection Hall - Formula 1

Automobiles are also an essential part of the museum, and it all starts with the 1963 Honda T360 pick-up truck. It also happens to be Iwata’s favorite four-wheeler on display. “I like the T360 because it was the first Honda four-wheeler on sale. I remember seeing a T360 delivering rice when I was a kid,” Iwata recalls, “and I understand the philosophy that Soichiro Honda used in the development of the car.” There are plenty of four-wheeled machines on display, for the modest T360 to a throng of championship cars from Formula 1.

One of the reasons all of the vehicles at the Honda Collection Hall run is for events such as Honda Racing Thanks Day at Twin Ring Motegi. Last November, 17,000 people cheered as Eddie Lawson’s 1989 500cc GP Championship motorcycle went out on the track—piloted by retired MotoGP legend Dani Pedrosa. Another crowd favorite was Ayrton Senna’s 1998 Formula 1 World Championship winning McLaren-Honda MP4/4.

Honda Collection Hall - Twin Ring Motegi
Kuniyoshi Iwata with Dani Pedrosa

“I feel very happy when I see the machines we maintain being ridden and driven,” Iwata admits. “Also, it makes me very happy when I see people enjoying watching the historic machines. Our machines run at events in many countries, but the Honda Racing Thanks Day is always very special for us because it happens so close to the Collection Hall, and it gives us the chance to run many of our historic machines.”

In case you were wondering, Kuniyoshi Iwata does get to ride some of the motorcycles at the Honda Collection Hall. While he doesn’t put in hot laps on the NSR500, he does do low-speed shakedown runs to make sure they perform as expected at events.