Yamaha's history goes back over a hundred years to 1887 when Torakusu
Yamaha founded the company, which began producing reed organs. The Yamaha Corporation in Japan (then Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd.) has grown to become the world's largest manufacturer of a full line of musical
instruments, and a leading producer of audio/visual products, semiconductors and other computer related products, sporting goods, home appliances and furniture, specialty metals, machine tools, and industrial robots.
The Yamaha Motor Corporation, Ltd., begun on July 1, 1955,
is a major part of the entire Yamaha group, but is a separately managed business entity from the Yamaha Corporation. The Yamaha Motor Corporation is the second largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
Yamaha Motor Corporation owns its wholly-owned subsidiary in the U.S. called Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA, that is handling not only motorcycles, but also snow mobiles, golf carts, outboard engines, and water
vehicles, under the brand name of Yamaha as well.
In 1954 production of the first motorcycles began, a simple
125cc single-cylinder two-stroke. It was a copy of the German DKW design, which the British BSA Company had also copied in the post-war era and manufactured as the Bantam.
The first Yamaha, the YAI, known to Japanese enthusiasts as
Akatombo, the "Red Dragonfly", established a reputation as a well-built and reliable machine. Racing successes helped boost its popularity and a second machine, the 175cc YCI was soon in production.
The first Yamaha-designed motorcycle was the twin-cylinder
YDI produced in 1957. The racing version, producing 20bhp, won the Mount Asama race that year. Production was still modest at 15,811 motorcycle, far less than Honda or Suzuki.
The company grew rapidly over the next three years and in
1959 introduced the first sports model to be offered by a Japanese factory, the twin-cylinder YDSI with five-speed gearbox. Owners who wanted to compete in road racing or motocross could buy kits to convert the
machine for both road and motocross racing.
By 1960 production had increased 600% to 138,000
motorcycles. In Japan a period of recession followed during which Yamaha, and the other major Japanese manufacturers, increased their exports so that they would not be so dependent on the home market.
To help boost export sales, Yamaha sent a team to the
European Grand Prix in 1961, but it was not until the 1963 season that results were achieved.
After the Korean War the American economy was booming and
Japanese exports were increasing. In 1962 Yamaha exported 12,000 motorcycles. The next year it was 36,000 and in 1964 production rose to 87,000.
In 1963 Yamaha had produced a small batch of 250CC road
racing motorcycles for sale, the air-cooled, twin-cylinder TDI. Ever since then Yamaha has built and sold motorcycles that could be raced successfully "straight out of the crate", and as a consequence
Yamaha machines have won more road races than any other make, exposing Yamaha to a good deal of publicity.
By 1965 production was 244,000 units, split about 50/50
between home and export sales. One of the biggest drawbacks to the sales of two-strokes was that the rider had to mix oil with their gas. Yamaha technicians accomplished a major technical feat by the development and
introduction of a new Autolube system.
Basically an oil tank that fed lubricant to a pump that
metered oil to the big ends, main bearings and cylinder barrels. It proved very reliable and did away with mixing oil and gas at every fill up.
The first overseas factory was opened in Siam in 1966 to
supply Southeast Asia. In 1967 Yamaha production surpassed that of Suzuki by 4,000 at 406,000 units. Yamaha established a lead with the introduction of the first true trail bike "the 250cc single-cylinder
DTI". The company also developed a two-liter, six-cylinder, double overhead-camshaft sports car unit for Toyota Motor. Which proved helpful when Yamaha produced their own high-performance four-stroke
In 1969 Yamaha build a full size road racing circuit near
their main factory at Iwata.
By 1970 the number of models had expanded to 20 ranging
from 50cc to 350cc, with production up to 574,000 machines, 60% of which were for export. That year Yamaha broke their two-stroke tradition by launching their first four-stroke motorcycle, the 650cc XSI vertical
twin modeled on the famous Triumph twins.
Yamaha realized the long-term potential of the two-stroke
engine and continued to develop two-stroke bikes, concentrating on engines 400cc and under.
In 1973 production topped one million (1,000,000)
motorcycles per year for the first time, leaving Suzuki way behind at 642,000 and catching up on Honda's 1,836,000. During the 1970's Yamaha technicians concentrated on development of four-stroke models that were
designed to pass the ever-increasing exhaust emission laws and to be more economical than the two-strokes that had made Yamaha's fortune.
Over the years Yamaha produced some less successful motorcycles:
- The TX750 twin of 1972.
- The TX500 double overhead-camshaft, four-valve per cylinder, twin of 1973.
- The XS750 shaft-drive, double overhead-camshaft, three cylinder of 1976.
- And the XS Eleven, four-cylinder of 1977, was at the time the
biggest bike produced by a Japanese manufacturer.
- Other four-strokes were more successful, notably.
- The XT500 single-cylinder trail bike of 1976.
- And the XS350 single overhead-camshaft, twin.
In the 70's the RD twin cylinder sports models were a big
success as well as the RD250LC and RD350LC water-cooled versions that replaced them in the eighties which were based on the famous TZ race bikes.
Production in 1980 was 2,214,000, with export sales of
1,383,000. In the 1980's the company introduced the compact XJ four cylinder models, ranging from 550cc to 1100cc. Not wanting to miss anything the company also introduced the 750cc and 1000cc air-cooled V-twin
models followed by the XZ550 water-cooled, mid-weight sports bike.