Yamaha Jumps Into the Sports Coupe Game With Both Feet
If Yamaha’s appearance at the 2015 Tokyo Auto Show was any indication, the renown Japanese motorcycle and musical instrument company appears to be getting a bit bored with sports bikes and pianos. Clearly, it’s no longer enough.
With the unveiling of its new concept car at Japan’s 43rd annual international automotive event, it’s all but certain that Yamaha is looking to expand its product offerings, and hopefully moving back into the world of automobiles. Because though it’s often gone unrecognized, this isn’t the first time Yamaha has strayed from its two-wheel comfort zone. Yamaha has been building high-performance engines for automotive manufacturers since 1967 when it partnered with Toyota to build the first Japanese supercar — the 2000GT.
By utilizing dual overhead camshafts, Yamaha was able to transform Toyota’s capable 2.0-liter inline six-cylinder into a seriously potent powerplant. With 150 horsepower, the 1967 2000GT was capable of reaching speeds of up to 140 miles per hour – a world-class top speed for the era.
In the 1980s, Yamaha also worked with Ford to develop an engine for its GN34 concept — a mid-engine sports car designed to compete against the Chevrolet Corvette and Pontiac Fiero. However, the project was put on the back burner as Ford shifted its attention toward the production of its new Explorer and the first SUV boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The GN34 was eventually scrapped, but Ford was still obligated to uphold its contract with Yamaha and find a home for the high-revving 3.0-liter dual overhead cam V6. Eventually, it found a home under the hood of the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO, introducing the world to the first true American sport sedan.
Amazingly, the Sports Ride isn’t even the Yamaha’s first concept car. That title belongs to the 1992 Yamaha OX99-11, which featured a 400 horsepower V12 engine and lightweight carbon fiber chassis. But with a projected cost of $800,000, and the Japanese economy in free-fall, Yamaha’s supercar was going to be a hard sell to customers, and the project was eventually cancelled in 1994. Fortunately, it looks like the Sports Ride concept probably wouldn’t be so prohibitively expensive should it ever see production.
Like the OX99-11 that came before it, the Sports Ride’s compact and lightweight focus is front and center. Tipping the scales at only 1654 pounds, it’s even lighter than a Smart car in a package that’s four-feet longer – while still being roughly the size of a Mazda Miata. Without a doubt, that’s a testament to the engineering masterminds at Yamaha who left no stone unturned when asked to save weight. The structure of the car is built using McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray’s iStream Carbon Chassis, with a honeycomb core sandwiched between two carbon fiber skins. And in a nod to what Yamaha does best, motorcycle-style disc brake calipers and rotors can be seen peaking behind its 18-inch wheels.
The exterior design of the Sports Ride features styling cues borrowed from both Lotus and Alfa Romeo, with a little OX99-11 thrown in for good measure. Its luxurious interior is equally as striking with its use of carbon fiber, suede covered surfaces and contrasting colors. Even the cockpit of Lamborghini looks tame in comparison.
If the Sports Ride concept defies the odds and becomes a production model, it will certainly have a tremendous advantage over its competition – whatever that competition is. Though they all share similar dimensions, the Sports Ride weighs and 400 pounds less than a Lotus Elise and 700 pounds less than a Mazda Miata MX-5, a big enough advantage to blow the doors off both.
Though Yamaha has yet to announce what lurks beneath its hood, we’re guessing the OX99-11’s V12 isn’t on the short list of options — however unfortunate that may be. Most likely, it will be one of their high-revving, high-performance motorcycle mills destined to receive a big promotion. After all, Yamaha claims the Sports Ride is designed so drivers can experience the feeling of riding a motorcycle from behind the wheel of a sports car. We just hope that Yamaha actually builds a few so we can figure out what that feels like.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.