Yamaha Corporation is most known for producing motorcycles, but the Japanese conglomerate is also known as the world’s biggest piano maker. Currently the motorized vehicle-producing department produces motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, boats, marine engines, automobile engines, personal watercraft and snowmobiles. Inspired by their Formula One debut, the company wanted to built a supercar. And they did, but this car never made it into production. Instead, the only Yamaha supercar was forgotten.
The history starts more than a century ago. Yamaha was established in 1887 as a piano and reed organ manufacturer. The origin of the company as a musical instrument manufacturer is still reflected today in the group’s logo—a trio of interlocking tuning forks. In 1921 Yamaha began to produce propellers and internal combustion engines for warplanes, which became the foundation of its motorcycle and motorboat production.
During the Second World War the factories of the Japanese conglomerate were heavily damaged, but this provided the company an unique opportunity to modernize their production facilities. Together with company’s expertise in metallurgical technologies the converted factories were used to manufacture motorcycles. Yamaha’s first motorcycle was launched in February 1955 and won immediately it first race.
In 1967 Yamaha also entered the automobile market by manufacturing engines for Toyota. The limited-production and perhaps even revolutionary Toyota 2000GT was widely regarded as the first Japanese supercar. Although this car was dubbed Toyota, most work was done by Yamaha. In 1984, the Yamaha started developing and producing engines for the Ford Motor Company. Additionally, the Japanese also began competing in Formula One in 1989.
Yamaha’s F1 involvement was not quite successful in terms of results. For example, the 1989 season was so bad that the Yamaha powered West Zakspeed team qualified only twice in the sixteen races. Due to the lack of results, sponsor West withdrew at the end of the year, Zakspeed left the F1 and Yamaha found itself out of F1 for the duration of the 1990 season. This gave the Japanese some time to reorganize their engine program. A new 3.5-liter V12 was developed for the 1991 season and this engine – the OX99 – would lay the foundation of the Yamaha sports car.
To support the F1 project, the Japanese had set up a special company named Ypsilon Technology, where the engines would be serviced. This company was based in the UK and the factory was specially selected to be big enough to produce a supercar.
Yamaha had conceived the supercar some years earlier, but failed to find a partner who could help them realize their ambition. Initially a German company had designed and produced a initial version of the car, but failed to impress Yamaha. The Japanese wanted a car which was not similar to the sport cars of that time. So Yamaha contacted British company IAD, a design and engineering consultancy for the motor industry. Quite surprising IAD found out that it was Yamaha’s sporting goods division with products ranging from archery to yachts and squash rackets, rather than the motorcycle arm, that was leading the project.
Just under 12 months after starting to work on the project, IAD came with an initial version of the car. The car was initially conceived as a single seater, but since Yamaha wanted a two-seater a radical approach was suggested – the passenger would sit behind the driver in a tandem seating arrangement. This would fit perfectly in Yamaha’s motorcycle expertise.
The Yamaha OX99-11 was born in 1992. The whole concept of the Yamaha OX99-11 was based on the philosophy to provide the experience of a pure racing car, which becomes quite clear when looking at the specifications and design. Interesting specs include the carbon fiber chassis with the engine mounted directly to rear bulkhead. The 3.5 liter V12 engine with five valves per cylinder was derived from their F1 project and produced 400 horsepower (300 kW) at 10,000rpm.
The OX99-11 was able to accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds. The top speed was approximately 350km/h. Power would be transferred to the rear wheels via a six-manual transmission. The body was entirely made out of hand made aluminium panels. The cockpit-looking roof could be opened via a door in ‘gullwing’ style.
A total of three cars have been built, one un-painted for testing and two (one black and one red) for the press launch. Also a rolling chassis was built to show off the Formula 1 inspired design. By the time the press was able to see and drive the car, Yamaha and IAD were involved in a disagreement over the budget. The project was taken away from IAD and handed over to be completed by Yamaha’s own team at Ypsilon Technology. But Ypsilon only got about 6 months to further develop the car, which was not enough. In the same time, the Japanese economy was entering a recession so Yamaha finally concluded they would not find enough customers for their $ 800,000 super car.
Eventually the project was delayed until 1994, Yamaha promised to come back when the economy would allow it, but this never happened and the OX99-11 was finally being cancelled. One of the most most outrageous cars ever made would never hit the roads. The first automobile made by Yamaha was also it last.