AGO V HAILWOOD 1967
NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE PICS: Relive an amazing race that wowed the world
Even now, half a century after the event, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect scenario for a motorcycle race.
Britain’s Mike Hailwood and the suave Italian Giacomo Agostini were by far and away the finest motorcycle racers of their era and, with hindsight, are now acknowledged as two of the greatest of all time. Their machines, the Honda 500-4 and MV Agusta 500-3, were the fastest and most advanced in the world in their day and have become two of the most revered motorcycles in history.
In 1967, the Senior TT was the single greatest motorcycle race on the calendar and it counted as the British round of the 500cc Grand Prix world championship – the forerunner of today’s Motogp. The weather on June 16 was absolutely scorching and over 100,000 fans had flocked to the Isle of Man to witness this clash of the titans. Everything was in place for what proved to be not only the greatest TT of all time, but also one of the most thrilling motorcycle races ever seen.
By 1967, Hailwood had already won 11 TT races and was an eight-time world champion across three classes (250cc, 350cc and 500cc). He was 27 years old. Agostini made his TT debut in 1965 and had, as yet, only scored a single victory; in the 1966 Junior race. But he was the reigning 500cc champion of the world, having taken the title from Hailwood, and represented the coming force in international motorcycle racing. On the day he would square up against Hailwood over six laps and 226 miles of the brutally punishing TT Mountain Course in the Diamond Jubilee Senior TT, he would turn 25 years old. Among all other things, Senior race day was Agostini’s birthday.
Ago’s gloriously exotic three-cylinder 500cc MV Agusta was renowned for its sublime handling – a major advantage through the 300-plus corners that make up the notoriously bumpy TT course. Hailwood’s Honda was faster, considerably faster, but it handled, in Mike’s own words, ‘like a camel.’ As much as anything else, the 1967 Senior TT would be a contest between brute speed and silky-smooth handling.
Agostini would go on to win a staggering 15 world championships and become the most successful motor-
cycle racer of all time (to put that in perspective, the great Valentino Rossi ‘only’ has nine titles) but he doesn’t hesitate when asked what was the most important race of his long and illustrious career. In his 2004 autobiography, Fifteentimes, the Italian wrote: “There have been plenty of important races in my career. But there is one into which I put body and soul, one where I performed to the limit. Even now, I sometimes dream about it. It was one of the most difficult circuits against one of the toughest opponents in the world. It was the 1967 Tourist Trophy.”
The calm before the storm
The stage was set for a clash of epic proportions and Hailwood had no fingernails left to chew as he sat in his hotel room, an hour before the
race was due to start. He had polished his goggles until the glass was almost worn through, seeking any way to divert his thoughts and pass the last few agonising moments before heading up to the start line on Glencrutchery Road for his 1.30pm appointment with destiny. “Look at me,” he said to his friend and Dailymirror journalist, Ted Macauley, as he gazed in the mirror. “I look a hundred years old. That’s what racing does to you.”
A poor sleeper at the best of times, Hailwood had spent much of the previous night reading and listening to music on the little portable radio that went everywhere with him. Now, as he readied himself for action, he yawned constantly and made endless trips to the bathroom. It wasn’t fear for his life that made Hailwood so nervous – although that would have been perfectly understandable as he was about to tackle the world’s most dangerous race track – it was fear of losing. Agostini had won the opening round of the 500cc world championship at Hockenheim in Germany while Hailwood failed to score due to a broken crankshaft, so the Italian was leading
‘I look a hundred years old. That’s what racing does to you’ MIKE HAILWOOD
Hailwood’s Honda had the speed but it handled like a camel
Glorious throwback to the era of suits and ties at the Isle of Man TT races
Hailwood and Ago: great friends, fierce rivals