Still not even 21, the young Japanese had secured one of leading BMW Rennsport privateer Ernst Hiller’s ‘last year’ racers with the help of a BMW dealer in Japan. It wasn’t even Ito’s first foray abroad; that had come in 1958 when he’d raced a Yamaha to an impressive sixth place in the Catalina GP, California, USA.
By 1958 Ito (born in October 1939) was already a star at home, having claimed his first major victory (in the 1955 Asama Highlands Race) at just 16. In 1956, he joined Yamaha’s works team and raced at home and abroad, winning the 250cc race at Daytona in 1963 as well as bringing Yamaha its first grand prix win, in the 1963 Belgian GP at Spa. That year, he was also second at the Dutch GP at Assen, and in the Isle of Man TT, on his way to third in the 250cc championship chase.
Coming into the 1964 GP season, Ito was widely regarded as the 250cc title favourite, but a pre-season crash in the non-championship Malaysian GP meant he was to race only twice more at the top level, recording non-finishes in both America and Japan, while Yamaha’s new recruit Phil Read took the firm’s first world title. Living his later years in the US, Ito died, aged just 52, in 1991.Enjoy more The Classic MotorCycle reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.