The most famous Japanese engine to have hit the dirt-tracks is the Kyokuto, (roughly translated as "sunrise" or "rising-sun"), is
one of the oldest motorcycle engine firms in Japan. The Kyokuto Motor Industry Co Ltd produced its first engine in the mid thirties, and ironically,
the family name behind the company was Honda, in no way linked to the Honda Company of today.
By the early 1960s, Kyokuto were producing around thirty 350cc and 500cc single cylinder engines every month, and eventually became available in Europe through Jan Meyedress of Breda, Holland during the late sixties whose adverts included Kyokuto motors for "speedway, sand racing and grasstrack".
The KT-1 never made the expected impact in the speedway world, and a modified KT-2 was made available during the early seventies. Former Canterbury rider Jim Crowhurst was using one in Australia during the 1971-72 season and Russ Osbourn, the manager at the Kent track at the time, purchased one as a track spare.
A few modifications were needed to
make it eligible for use in the British league; most importantly, it had
to be converted to run on methanol. A simple form of electronic ignition
was also fitted. The picture (Above)
is from the Speedway Mail of that period. It was tried out by the
Canterbury captain of that era, Ross Gilbertson, who was impressed
with the machine when he won a heat, but then crashed out in the Final.
In 1974, a modified KT-2 engine was being campaigned in Australian short-track racing by Lindsay McBride. The engine had been prepared at the factory to run on methanol and featured a reworked cylinder head. It had been redesigned to run at higher revs and a higher compression ratio, 14:1 opposed to the original 8:1. The experiment never paid off though and the Kyokuto disappeared into obscurity again.
At least two KT-2 engines remain in Britain though, one, fitted in a Rotrax rolling chassis is in a private collection (Right), and the other is in Ian Patterson's wonderful Cinder to Shale collection in Scotland and are pictured (Below)
Kyokuto continued to produce engines for racing in Japan, the Mk2 being a 500cc, single cylinder, 4-valve, double overhead cam engine dating from around 1987, which may well be still in production today.
Kazuo Honda also produced his own speedway engine in the mid-sixties and the story behind this motor can be viewed on the EiCoH Page