Note: Comments below are all conjecture, and open for your own interpretation, but the letters to and fro in the old files sure seem to indicate the conclusion offered.
I’ve been digging through bales of correspondence tonight, trying to sort out what was going on back then. It seems the original UK importer and distributor was Maico UK, which was reorganized into ‘Hondis’ in 1962. They got the bikes from European Honda Motor Trading G.m.b.H. in Hamburg.
Seems there was a good bit of rivalry between them, with the European outfit playing tricks with spares supplies and making their own back-room deals with British retailers, plus leaking details of upcoming models to one of the English motoring papers in advance of Hondis getting the info.
Any customer complaints that were sent to Honda Europe went directly to head office in Japan, even though the majority of them that I can see in the files were the result of the German bunch messing up spares supplies or leaking info to the press. Looks very much like they were trying to discredit ‘Hondis’ so they could take the territory for themselves. This is all conjecture on my part, of course, but the letters to and fro in the old files sure seem to indicate friction.
The attempts by Hondis to secure contracts with Gary Hocking, Minter etc, are interesting reading as well. It seems Hocking had been let go by Castrol, and about to sign with Shell when approached by Hondis. Honda however were contracted to use only Castrol Oil in their race bikes, so it meant Hocking couldn’t ride for them if he signed with Shell.
The rivalry I’m talking about was not between the Japanese and Europeans. It was between Honda Europe, based in Hamburg, and Hondis (the UK distributors). The guys in the German office seemed to be deliberately trying to screw things up for the English distributors by withholding spares that were badly needed, denying access to race bikes that they had on hand until it was very nearly too late for the race, and generally trying to raise trouble for the British outfit with the Japanese head office.
Seemed odd to me, as the head lad at Hondis was a George von Lowenstein or some such Germanic handle. The bikes all seemed to have to go through Honda Europe, then get shipped on from there to Britain.
While Hondis were supposed to have exclusive distribution rights in the UK, there are letters of complaint on file from the managing directors of Kings of Oxford. They were of course the largest motorcycle dealers in Britain at the time; Mike Hailwoods’ fathers’ outfit. Old Stanley Hailwood had just stepped down as managing director then.
Apparently Kings’ were a chain operation with huge sales, and they had no information about the new Honda 50 models at all until one of their much smaller competitors in Cheshire started selling the things.
The Cheshire outfit had been supplied directly from Hamburg, while Hondis, the UK distributors were unable to supply the same machines to their main network of retail outlets. Needless to say the folks at Kings were less than pleased, and making unpleasant noises about abandonning the line.
At the same time, someone at the European Honda outfit in Hamburg leaked details of the next model years’ racing bikes to one of the weekly bike papers. That infuriated all the other papers, of course, which jeopardized Hondis’ relationship with the motoring press, and also detered a number of customers who had placed orders for the current model years’ bikes. Several opted to cancel those standing orders and wait until the new models were released, leaving Hondis holding the bag for the current years’ models on hand and embarassing all concerned.
While all this was going on, large back-orders of spare parts for Hondis in the UK were ignored and left unfilled for weeks by European Honda in Hamburg. When the retail customers wrote letters of complaint directly to European Honda because they thought the delay was the fault of Hondis in England, the Euro. mob were only too happy to forward the letters of complaint directly to head office in Japan, creating a bad situation for the folks at Hondis.
Reading through the correspondence back and forth between Hondis, European Honda and Japan it looks very much like the folks in Hamburg were deliberately trying to discredit Hondis in order to gain the British market for themselves. Seems a normal business technique.
Interestingly enough, we’ve just come across a Christmas card sent to Jon in 1957 by Mr. Neuchi, the chap who later ran European Honda Motor Trading. This pre-dates the initial contact between Honda in Japan and Maico G.B. in 1959, so Jonathan must have been in correspondence with the firm long before the establishment of the UK dealer network.
Left . Here’s the ad Honda put in Motor Cycling on Sept. 17, 1959, looking for a local distributor.
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