Precision Superbikes – Eckert Honda
Kicking this off on a personal slant, I remain in amazement at how the internet has made the world a much smaller place. Even then, it took this writer over twenty-five-years of online stumbling to find and focus on the career of German craftsman Roland Eckert. A national treasure and Included in a list of otherwise famous special framer makers, there’s far more to Eckert and his talented staff than top rank endurance hardware or fast street specials. This all culminating in a catalog of products to support the Honda enthusiast looking to reliability boost performance.
Well aware of its problems and growing censorship issues, credit the aforementioned interwebs for every scrap of material found in this article – best described as a compilation of the Eckert material we’ve collected over the last few years. It’s at best incomplete, but what is here gives some grasp of the reach Eckert Precision enjoyed in the industry. There are no doubt others who know more, so here’s hoping this publishing reaches them. Perhaps, even Roland Eckert himself. Knowing there are many enthusiasts in the US and elsewhere to whom the Eckert name is still unknown, factual content remains our priority and we’re always open to bettering it. Contact me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
1971: SOHC Honda CB750 ’K1’
Several sources say Eckert hung his shingle in 1970 and it makes sense, coinciding with the release of the 750 Four one year before. As with tuners all over the world, Eckert saw the overhead cam four as an exciting new performance platform on which to build. Featured in the German press less than one year later, Eckert’s ‘K1’ sports roadster was littered with special parts, all being available for purchase in his long running catalog. Problem is, it doesn’t fit, for a one year quickstart is nearly impossible for anyone to pull off, even Roland Eckert. Here’s being somewhat certain that Eckert Praezisionsteile, Roland’s precision grinding business in Baden-Württemberg, was fully operational well before that. Perhaps even working on special fittings for the CB750 prior to becoming a Honda agency. As things stand, I have no real info on Eckert prior to 1970.
(Simple in teutonic silver and drawn in period styling, Eckert’s first ‘K1’ four boosted performance with a special 970cc cylinder. Note (steel or alloy) bodywork, brakes, wheels, exhausts, controls…and the original Honda oil tank. Cast engine covers were new from Eckert too. Photos: Nippon-Classic – Gerhard Rudolph)
Dated 1974, this period brochure in blue and white accurately displays how far Eckert’s CB750 had come in three years. Starting from the bottom and working up, note the shouldered alloy front wheel and Eckert’s periphery-drilled rotors, mating to what looks like the standard Honda fork. Gearing options were available for the counter shaft sprocket and final drive, this attaching to what appears to be the standard, chrome plated steel rim. While your eyes are there, note Eckert’s re-engineered side and main stands, the latter just peaking out from under the tuner’s tapered, four-into-four megaphone exhaust. Displacement could be raised to 970cc with Eckert’s special cylinder block and piston kit, which by all accounts results in very closely-spaced cylinder walls. All reports say Eckert’s engines were very durable, and speedy. More guessing says we’re seeing the standard Keihins and airbox in this illustration…all in place to pass Germany’s tight regulation standards.
As previously mentioned, few details of the 970cc tuning were found, but one look tells all you need to know about this motorcycle’s purpose. Drawn in the large radius style that defines early endurance racing, the seven gallon fuel tank was available in aluminum or steel, and a matching seat (one or two up) in matching materials and available in different thicknesses. Here’s betting the engineer worked through the Four’s notoriously wooden fork and rear suspensions, while providing additional options like low or high (upper mount) clip-on handlebars, Eckert’s rear-set brake and shifting controls, custom mono-color paint and the tuner’s name cast onto either aluminum or titanium engine covers. Found also were versions with a color matched half fairing, and the EP catalog listed parts for other makes too…including a 33-liter tank for Guzzi’s V7.
(Perhaps a ‘Super Sports’ version with its half-fairing, only four of these were rumored to be made. Photos: Karl-Heinz Bendix, Motorrad, Marco Verch)
Endurance racing: Eckert SOHC & Eckert/Honda RCB 1000
Although specific details are not yet forthcoming, it’s obvious that Roland Eckert earned a large portion of his success on European endurance racing circuits. Active in long distance competitions and German Superbike racing, Eckert’s strong showing at legendary tracks like Nürburgring, Le Mans, and Bol d’Or in France rapidly expanded and promoted his Honda brand. Sprayed in light blue, this small series are the only photos I could find of an early Eckert SOHC racer, but it is the machine that turned the heads of everyone at Honda. As it was told to me, Honda-Japan had little regard for the swarms of privateers on race-prepped versions of company’s 750 Four. It soon became a different story when Eckert’s speedy SOHC arrived, and Honda’s managers could only watch slack-jawed as it remained on the heels of the company’s double cam, gear-primary 16v RCB works racer. This, far as I can tell, is when Eckert became a household name in Germany, and very well known in Japan too.
(Rare photoset showing an early Eckert racer, this fitting (what look like) stock exhausts. Rider unknown. Photos: Peter Hartenstein, Teuchert Motorsports)
One year later, in 1977, the factory delivered Eckert one of the four factory-prepped RCB works bikes from 1976 to develop further. According to the press written about this machine, another went to France for the team of Christian Léon and Jean-Claude Chemarin, who won the European Endurance Championship in 1976. It is said after the endurance successes of 1976, Honda distributed these to select European dealers in 1977, while of course crafting an uprated version back home. Now kept at the Zweirad Museum (pictured) but under the direction of Eckert for that season, #001 found a new home in Kupferzel, ridden by Peter Hartenstein and Franz-Josef Schermer at Nürburgring’s 8-hour event, then the 24-hours of Le Mans. For the Bol d´Or, the iconic Helmut Dähne made his debut with Eckert, teaming with Egid Schwemmer to achieve 4th place.
It’s been strongly suggested that Eckert wasn’t entirely pleased with the RCB’s handling manners, and it’s antiquated kick-starter proved a disadvantage compared to the competition’s electric leg. Judging by Roland’s next move, some favor was found with the RCB’s 16v, gear primary DOHC engine, which could clearly be tuned to a higher degree while maintaining reliability. It is worth noting the manner in which Honda Inc reacted to Eckert’s challenge, and more than one client, acquaintance, or interviewer noted the German tuner was sent special works racing parts for his personal use. It does seem safe to assume the favors traveled both ways, as Eckert became an important asset to Honda in Japan.
1982: Eckert-Honda RE-1
“A motorcycle is a complex and extremely complicated device,” said Roland Eckert to Motorrad magazine, circa 1982. “As long as every detail is not perfectly designed and manufactured, no machine leaves my workshop.” Forwarded by Jens Schultze (“Superlatives on two wheels – Eckert Honda RE-1”) it seems the editors at Germany’s biggest motorcycle magazine were impatiently awaiting the arrival of Eckert’s Honda RE-1; his new, built in-house superbike. Roland’s response to the hurrying is duly noted, but an introduction of Eckert was not needed to Motorrad’s readership. A well known fact by then, the engineer’s perfectionism contributed to his appeal, yet such precision never goes uncompensated. Time and materials combined to push the cost of Eckert’s masterpiece to $20,000 USD – a hefty sum in the early 80s. Still not certain, I had read repeatedly that only five or ten were built. Perhaps the high cost was why, or did interest in the new V4 play a part in its short production run?
(Simply among the most beautiful special frame models ever, Eckert’s RE-1 was a blazing – if expensive – performer. Note logo sliders and (as researched by Bill Ross) what appear to be 2p, Brembo P108 calipers; the replacement part for Scarab/Lockheed components. Photos: Motorrad, Wolfgang Fuchs)
I’m not sure the term ‘aggressive elegance’ exists, but it describes the RE-1 accurately. Its flowing Bol d’Or lines and graphics put it in a styling class of one, but naturally, there’s more. Beautiful as it is, what’s under Eckert’s steel, aluminum or fiberglass bodywork that steals the show, and it starts with a perimeter shape in CoMo tube that uses the engine as a stressed member. Rejecting the monoshock in favor of a twinshock swingarm in boxed steel, eccentrics mount on each side for chain adjustment. Cast with the maker’s logo, magnesium sliders fit 38mm tubes, while Brembo P109s replace the 2p Lockheeds. All share space on 18” PVM cast alloy rims. Please note that the bike from Wolfgang Fuchs wears Comstar wheels, which possibly were an alternative. There’s lots more to see, like the RE’s elegant dash, jewel-line controls and visceral balance.
None of the information I have gives specific details of the RE-1’s tuning, but all used Roland’s preferred 970cc displacement. Thanks to Motorrad and Fuchs.com we learn the 16v, DOHC four was “Tuned with top-class parts from the Honda racing department,” to produce a wailing 130 hp @ 9500 rpm. Motorrad’s test also reveals the engine used recalibrated Keihin racing carbs and a “meticulously balanced crank mechanism, special connecting rods, larger valves and machined intake ducts”. There’s no speculation on the RE-1’s black ‘endurance bend’ 4-into-1 exhaust system, as it was also available as a catalog item. By now, it’ll surprise nobody to read Motorrad’s editors ranked the RE-1 among the very best open-class, street motorcycles on the planet, and it’s interesting that Eckert didn’t make the switch to the factory 1100cc variant. Indeed, at least one uses the old SOHC four!
1984: Eckert-Honda V4s
There’s much, much more to say about Eckert’s products, all continuing through the 80s, 90s and beyond. Very obviously done alongside RE-1 development and production were tuned variants of the new V45/V4, both for street and track. One such endeavor was Eckert’s involvement with the RS 750 R – yet another factory works machine based on the V45 Interceptor. Ridden again by Helmut Dähne/Peter Rubatto in the 1984 World Endurance Championship, Team Eckert finished 5th at Nürburgring. Eventually using a 1000 cc engine built by Roland, the team achieved 5th place in the overall standings for 1984. Sadly, any coverage of Eckert’s professional racing career is forced to include the motorcycling-related death of his son, with many concluding that Eckert wrapped up the motorcycling business in response. Following this link of a somewhat recent open house at the Eckert facility causes one to seriously question those conclusions, and later info did come along to shed some light on reality.
(In blue and white is the Works RS 750 R; made from the V45 Interceptor and redone by Eckert. Black ‘REV 840’ racer is yet another V4 remake)
Other than some basic specifications of every machine featured in this article, there’s little left for me but hearsay at this point. Hoping contact with current or former Eckert employees or customers will allow updated or more in-depth specifications in the future, we’ll finish this off for now with a forum post made in 1998 by Eckert customer, Thomas Krimmer. “After the death of his son – whom he and his longtime master mechanic K.H. Rum had handed over management of the racing team, the competition came to an end. Too bad, as Eckert was coming on again in the Endurance World Championship and in the German Superbike Championship. This, without much or any support from Honda Germany. Roland still has his precision parts factory and also the Honda agency. Two or three times a year I drop by to visit master tuner K.H. Rum. Street fighters and other industry fads or phases didn’t sway Eckert, who always worked to eliminate problems – not create new ones.” Nolan Woodbury
Eckert catalog samples
(Early-to-later catalog pages start with Eckert’s ‘K1’ and SOHC motoparts, followed by items for the DOHC ‘Bol’dOr 750/900/1100 models. Twin headlight fairing looks similar to RE-1, later rear-sets look very close to the ‘Control Kit’ sold through Honda dealers worldwide)