Yamaha YX30

Car of the Day #98: 1961 Yamaha YX30

Yamaha YX30
via yamaha-global.com

When you consider Yamaha’s cars, the term “forbidden fruit” seems most apt. Take comfort, then, that this company has at least remained consistent in its pursuit of building cars just ’cause.

That’s harsh, sure, and it’s not just Yamaha who builds prototypes and proofs of concept…I’m simply bitter that Yamaha’s talented engineers and design staff seem so good at creating flights of fantasy. 

To give you an indication of just how quickly Yamaha taught itself how to build a GT car, the YX30 began testing in 1961…and only six years later, its next four-wheeled project was to build the 2000GT for Toyota.

Because Japan was still under import restrictions in the late '50s, when the YX30 project began, Yamaha engineers began their sports car assignment after the kei-class was announced, and quickly snapped up examples of low-margin, mainstream designs from Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Honda, and others.


via automobiles-japonaises.com

According to the always-excellent 2000gt.net and automobiles-japonaises.com, in late 1959 two Yamaha engineers were sent abroad to gather inspiration for a different market for the company to enter. Stops at notable manufacturers, including Porsche and Pininfarina, convinced the engineers that Yamaha could become, in some ways, Japan's low-volume carrozzeria for the production of sports, luxury, and GT cars.

With import restrictions in place, however — and no automotive manufacturing experience — the small team was forced to use a competitor for inspiration, and this led them to buy, drive, analyze, and dismantle a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder MGA. 

via yamaha-global.com

Then, I love this part, the team did the same to a Facel Vega Facellia, with a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine, the very same motor that contributed a great deal to Facel Vega's demise. 

While we'll never know if the engine in the YX30 was more MGA or Facellia, as a result of this process Yamaha came up with its first four-stroke engine: an all-aluminum 4-cylinder at 1,580-cc of displacement. 

Output was a decent (for the time) 88 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.

Now, all the company needed was a car to test the motor with, so a fiberglass body was created to sit on a tubular steel frame chassis. The only problem? Japan didn't have race tracks or facilities to really test a car like the YX30 to its limit in 1961. 


Using an unopened stretch of highway, however, engineers let their creation roar and achieved a top speed number high enough to convince bosses to green light a second YX30, this time a 2+2 with steel bodywork (and rear styling quite close to a Facel Vega of that time.

The top speed? A strong 144 km/h (90 mph). Not bad for a 4-cylinder sports car in the late '50s, though about 20 horsepower and 37 km/h (23 mph) down on what a twin-cam MGA would do.

These prototypes led directly to Yamaha working as a consultant with two competing manufacturers, Nissan and Toyota, until 1967 when the workforce focused itself on completing Toyota's 2000GT. After that wrapped up, Yamaha made more cars, sure…but very few of those became ones that you or I could buy.

It’s not as if Yamaha is hiding this, to its credit — these early cars are indeed impressive for their time.

(If you’re checking out the fascinating official Yamaha blog below, try the ‘reader’ view built into your browser to save yourself from its wild font styling…if you ask me, a script font is a bold — but fitting — choice:)

“Even now, once every year, the former members of the Yasukawa Research Lab get together to reminisce about those days, of the youthful enthusiasm and energy we put into our work, the way everything looked and felt back then, and our unforgettable pride in building Japan’s first DOHC car engine (they are much more common today in Japanese high-performance cars) and Japan’s first true sports car.” – via yamaha-motor.com

Read next: global.yamaha-motor.com, 2000gt.net (French), automobiles-japonaises.com (French)


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