Yamaha XS1100

Yamaha 1.1 Martini – Classic rides of the Pre-Pensioner

Yamaha XS1100Back with another series where Classic-Motorbikes.net looks at the machines once enjoyed by those of us now in our 50s. What made them memorable and why we loathed or lusted after them?

Yamaha 1.1 Martini

Stranger than fiction … Motorcycling history is littered with odd ball moments and the Isle of Man enjoys its share; new models emanate from the TT’s aura, but few could be so opportune. Combining Yamaha’s XS1100 with motorsports coolest 70’s sponsor and a returning legend, marketing genius and Yamaha just needed to add some exclusivity with limited numbers; 500 in total with just 65 heading to the UK. Each bike was numbered and came with its own certificate, naming the first owner and the date it left the Iwata factory; also disclosed the technician that carried out the final inspection.

Let’s be honest, your average bike fan considers excessive hype an occupational hazard and this era was rife with lifestyle promises from manufacturers of both two and four wheels. Was one of the most expensive bikes available in Britain the first real ‘super tourer’ or just a case of ‘mutton dressed as lamb’?


Yamaha XS1100 Martini Rosso bikeThe XS1100, Yamaha’s first four cylinder, a brute weighing in at 600Lbs offering 95bhp @ 8000rpm and 132 mph with enough torque to climb walls. At first glance certainly not a racer but the XS would clean up in its first season of endurance races in the southern hemisphere, including the Castrol Six Hours in 1978. Its huge tank ensured less pit stops whilst the shaft drive allowed a rear tyre change to be completed in around 60 seconds; Honda’s CBX 1000 would require another 3 minutes for fresh rubber. Nicknamed the ‘Excess Eleven’ this Yamaha would become feature writers gold and make test pilots nervous Which Bike told of a machine that enjoyed ‘a bullet proof engine with tea trolley handling’ and another tester explained ‘cornering at high speeds was done at your own risk’. Its power and weight overwhelmed the basic twin down tube steel frame with box section swing arm but only when being pushed hard and primarily on slow speed corners.

Mike Hailwood's Martini jacketWhere the XS struggled in town, it excelled through longer curves and found a following in the wide-open expanses of the States. But it was magazines from the US that were more enthralled with the XS drag strip potential. When Cycle magazine took an XS1100 to the local drag strip for its January 1978 issue, the Yamaha laid down speed’s unseen by a Superbike of the period. Nineteen runs were made, with every trip of the lights coming in under 12 seconds. Their best run was 11.82, a time unmatched by any bike prior to the XS. Could this ‘muscle bike’ also offer the touring potential lacking from Yamaha’s range?

Official View

Summer 78 and Mike Hailwood returns to the island after his 11-year sabbatical, his mount the NCR Ducati 860 for the Formula One race. Such was the media storm, Yamaha saw an opportunity to grab headlines and via their European Headquarters in Amsterdam supplied three additional steeds including a TZ250 for the ‘Lightweight’ an OW20 four cylinder 500 (ex-Agostini) to take on the ‘Senior’ plus a TZ750 for the Unlimited TT. The deal orchestrated by Hailwood’s manager Ted Macauley saw Martini Rosso bring their branding to the party; already spreading the cash within Le Mans, rallying and Formula 1. The Yamaha riders/team were decked out in Martini colours, as would a rather special XS1100 that Mike Hailwood would use to familiarise himself with the TT course after over a decade absent. The publicity gained proved immense with thousands of bike fans around the island catching sight of this unique mobile advert, fully aware a TT hero was aboard. The chance to display the XS touring abilities to a captive audience with timing that couldn’t be better, knowing their bespoke fairing would be warmly greeted at all points across the 37 mile circuit.

Yamaha present the 1.1 Martini sponsored bikeDesigned by MCN illustrator/cartoonist (Sprocket) John Mockett, the initial programme began in 1977. ‘As a result of an illustrated feature in Bike magazine, Mockett was offered a research project by Yamaha Amsterdam to develop a touring fairing for the XS1100 concentrating on wind tunnel work. Put into production and selling as a Martini Limited Edition’.  John later explained. ‘The aim, to provide outstanding protection for the rider while generating welcome front-end downforce at speed’. Radical yet thoroughly practical, Mockett’s design incorporated luggage compartments, while the top section pivoted with the handlebars the bottom part was mounted to the frame. The top part had guards to protect the rider’s hands and there were a pair of spotlights made into the lower fairing and visually it was considered unique, if not controversial. Yamaha’s own monthly journal for dealers extolled the virtues of their stand at the 66th Paris Motor Show in 1979; alongside the all-new RD350 sat their ‘Limited 1.1 Martini Edition’.

Road testers View

Motor Cycle Weekly tested the Martini 1.1 extensively, their brief was to explain if the Martini handled better than the standard version but they concluded … The original XS1100 was absolutely rock steady in a straight line but on cornering it would do its damndest to remain upright, when it finally condescended to corner it was only with the inclusion of side to side rocking. The Martini 1.1 enjoyed much improved road manners once the rear suspension was adjusted for rider weight. Fast motorway curves could be taken at speed without the machine tying itself in knots and even the tighter bends felt easier to swing through. No doubt Yamaha had ensured this press bike was thoroughly prepared with only the sharpest bumps prompting any complaints of harsh suspension. At an indicated 100mph the motor offered 6300rpm, way short of the 8500 red line and the rider noted ‘behind the fairing it feels like 30mph’.

Yamaha XS1100 engineAll those hours John Mockett tested in the wind tunnel paid dividends, comments included ‘It was ugly, but it worked and with an open faced helmet you could smoke up to the ton if you wanted; and most of us did’. What the wind tunnel also achieved was to remove the lighter front end which arrives when bikes are overloaded with panniers and pillion; Mockett able to incorporate ‘down-force’ within the fairing design, increasing stability with protection. The penalty… an additional 25kg but testers confirmed a vastly improved ride and concluded; as a whole the Martini 1.1 is a thoroughly co-ordinated motorcycle and well equipped for its role as a high-speed tourer. Following the luke-warm reception for the first XS1100 the 1.1 had recovered some of its lost prestige. No wonder so many motor cyclists are anxious to sample the taste of Martini.

Looking Back – Riders View

70s tearaway Gary James, bike shop worker in-period, either owned, borrowed or blagged all of the era’s two wheelers…He always shares an opinion, whether we like it or not! He thinks… looked bloody awful. You could have just added decals to the standard bike with some Martini logos and it would have been job done; but to add your nans coal scuttle just ruins everything.


The early 80s was a heady period in motorcycle manufacture, a classic seemed to be launched every month and the big four struggled to compete with each other. The XS was replaced by the similar XJ1100 Maxim, which seemed to lack the appeal of its predecessor although it shared much in common. Within 18 months of the final XS reaching the showroom a new breed of machines were leaving the production lines. The GPZ750 brought speed in a less brutal package and when Honda retaliated with the VF750, Kawasaki installed a Turbo on their option; as did Suzuki with the XN85. Honda stuck to the big beasts and brought in the CB1100F whilst Yamaha offered the alternate XJ900 as the ‘chicken salad’ option to the Maxims full Sunday Roast….  The XS may have been deleted from the brochures but it could never be wiped from the memories of ex-owners; a beast that just didn’t play by the rules.


Yamaha 1.1 Martini advertThe hysteria created during 1978 TT fortnight was capitalised by both Yamaha and Martini. Hailwood toured the island stopping at most spectator vantage points where he was mobbed and the strategically placed XS constantly photographed. Subtle advertising from a sledge-hammer bike whilst the racing brought a Ducati win in the Formula 1 TT cementing Hailwood’s God like status, for the Yamaha Martini team it wasn’t all glory; 12th in the lightweight with failure to finish in both the Unlimited and Senior wasn’t the results expected. The star of TT week became the XS 1.1 and within weeks Yamaha announced its limited run of 500; all would find eager buyers. 

A quarter of a century on, a test by Editor Rod Gibson Classic Motorcycle Mechanics magazine (October 2006 issue) found that the Mockett-faired XS fully lived up to its reputation as a superlative touring motorcycle. Its legacy, an early lesson in market placement certainly, plus the importance of wind tunnel technology which according to those who tested the Martini 1.1 captured an unruly drag bike then injected the DNA of a interstate tourer.

Yamaha XS1100 Technical Specification

  • Engine: 1102cc /air-cooled/ DOHC, 8 valves
  • Bore & stroke: 71.5 mm x 68.6 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 9.2:1
  • Carburation: 4 – Mikuni BS34SS
  • Max Power: 95 bhp @ 8500rpm
  • Torque: 66.5 ft-lb @ 6500 rpm
  • Ignition: TCI
  • Transmission: five-speed, wet clutch
  • Suspension: Fr: telescopic fork 3 position preload
  • Rr: Twin shock/ adjustable 5 position preload
  • Tyres: Fr: 3.5 x 19, Rr: 4.5 x 17
  • Brakes: Fr: twin 298mm disc
  • Rr: Single 298mm disc 
  • Fuel Consumption 35.5 mpg
  • Weight (full wet) 639Lbs
  • Fuel capacity: 5.3 gallons
  • Top speed: 132 mph