Back 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 FZ750 – All Go … No Show?
Bit of a ‘Marmite’ machine, well that’s how my biking circle saw the FZ when it arrived in 1986. It went against the fashion which had swung toward fully clothed sports bikes, featuring a half-faired presentation that, like a fine wine has improved with age. Those that appreciated Yamaha pursuing their integration of man & machine known as ‘Genesis’ also understood the contrasts this machine offered; old style steel frame when the competition all looked to alloys, with a state of the art 20 valve motor that the cynics said would not work. The package not only worked but turned into one of the best bikes of our era and still it went largely unnoticed.
Cologne, September 1984 enjoyed the worlds largest motorcycle show and Yamaha threw the kitchen sink at promoting their first four-stroke super sport machine code name 1FN. When the factory announced the previous year it had designed a sports bike engine with 20 valves, it was derided as a complex gimmick that offered no benefit over the previous 16 valve option. Critics were soon silenced as road testers waxed lyrical over the performance figures combined with a handling package not seen on any machine without an alloy frame. The all new FZ750 appeared on showroom floors in 1985 and sold steadily in good numbers but not as Yamaha hoped; never topping the sales charts throughout its long production run. The model would feature updates annually and in 86 it enjoyed updated clutch, reworked passenger grab handle and belly pan. In its third year the model code changed to 2KK, with it much of the early originality was dismissed as the fully faired option appeared, falling more in-line with the competition of the day. Lightened pistons plus a four into one exhaust concluded the mechanical upgrades, whilst a new colour range was announced to compliment the all enclosed look.
The factory marketing men explained the half-faired appearance at launch by stating ‘this design was uniquely Yamaha in that it did not cater to any market trends at the time’ in other words it’s our choice and we like it. In glossy magazine terms Yamaha explained their development for the FZ750 centred on a thoroughgoing dedication to integrating man and machine. Their ‘latest technologies were brought together, and overall performance was further polished’ the statement continued. The bike incorporated the world’s first 5-valve dual cam engine. Five valves were employed to maximize the engine’s potential. The intake area was expanded by using a large number of intake valves; lightweight valves were adopted, and a high compression ratio was achieved by using a compact combustion chamber. With three intake valves and two exhaust valves, Yamaha created the ideal combustion-chamber design: compact and nearly spherical, valves arranged at a sharp angle, and plenty of room around the spark plugs.
The convex shape of the combustion chamber provided robust output and torque while at the same time offering excellent fuel economy. Output and torque were better across a wide range of engine speeds compared with conventional 4-valve engines, with overall power 10% higher and fuel efficiency 5% better (Source: Yamaha engine tests). In reality the five-valve head was just part of the story, and by producing a slanting parallel four no wider than a V4 those 45 degrees gained moved the bikes centre of gravity both backwards and lower. This allowed more space for its Mikuni carbs to fill the void normally occupied by the cylinder head, with the airbox now located by the steering head allowing for an improved handling package from the ‘old skool’ chassis. This philosophy would spread to future models and I personally joined the five-valve revolution with their Super Tenere in 1989 but as for the company, they considered … ‘their FZ750 design concept should be incorporated into the FZ250, FZX750, FZR400, and other bikes, giving rise to the Genesis series’.
Road Testers View
One journo described the style of the 86 version as ‘smart but conservative’ from this point his report concentrated on the engine, not mentioning the appearance again. Such was the impression the new 5-valve motor left on magazine test pilots at the time, it took total priority. ‘It’s hard to conceive of this level of power from an over-the-counter 750 engine,’ Cycle’s editors said, adding, ‘yet the FZ delivers the goods so eagerly it makes other 750s seem as if they belong in a race for freight elevators.’ And it wasn’t all top end power. ‘The engine is remarkably tractable, too, considering its high specific output, and that’s largely due to the copious midrange. Usable power comes on at 3,000rpm and builds smoothly to the 11,000rpm redline,’ Cycle Guide said. Rider magazine featured the 1988 model ‘This FZ750 really was a superb show of astute engineering, and the predecessor XJ750 was an instant dinosaur.
First thing to be admired on the FZ was the narrowness of the grossly oversquare engine, with 68mm bores, 51.mm strokes, hard to achieve when the cylinder liners needed coolant. The easy part was tucking the alternator and starter behind the cylinders, the innovative bit was using wet-liners only at the hottest part of the cylinders, the middle. The skinny engine was only a shade over 16 inches wide, with a narrow crank, the whole thing sitting lower in the frame and keeping the weight down where it belonged.’ Finally, MCN still rate this Yam as a bargain buy 30 years later … ‘the original FZ750 chassis showed that all the development cash had gone into the engine … a generous spread of power and torque that’s impressive even now and is incredibly tough. Yamaha campaigned it very successfully in endurance racing … A wonderful piece of engineering.’
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… Ugly, surely the engine was never meant to be seen and although this Yamaha showed a total compromise of styling it was a great bike with superior handling. Ultimately, it rather slipped under the radar.
The FZ never really took off and its demise was equally unspectacular. Looking back from its launch until the enclosed model (2KK) arrived in 87, this Yamaha held its own in the showroom wars of the late 80’s. The competition never rested and by trying to compete the FZ lost its identity in the sports bike section. It was a time when the GSX-R, VFR, ZXR and FZ all looked as if they were born from the same mother and whilst the Yam offered an amazing engine and flexibility it was lost in the sea of plastic packaging. I went for the Suzuki and never regretted it but must confess I never really noticed the FZ until 1987 when it joined the ‘fully enclosed’ crowd. In 88 the livery changed with a white, blue and yellow combination, then in 1989 it became more aggressive and enjoyed a second revamp in five years. Out went the 16inch front wheel and increased to 17, plus somewhat overdue the front brakes received more bite, four pots from the FZR 1000. A brief revival before the grey colour schemes matched the mood into the 90s and the final year saw an all new and rather attractive blue and white combination with a few minor alterations. Production of the FZ had slowed along with sales and time was called in 91.
Underrated certainly, but most influential as sports bikes progressed into the 1990’s, many believe the YZF-R1 owes much to the FZ. Those that still bestowed nothing but praise on the model generally prefer the unique appearance of the initial 86-87 machines; not following the fashion trends set by the other ‘big three’ and particularly Suzuki’s GSX-R. On the track the FZ enjoyed some success when Eddie Lawson put the Yamaha on pole for the 1986 Daytona 200 ahead of Fred Merkel (Honda) and Kevin Schwantz (Suzuki). In the race Steady Eddie commanded from start to finish as the podium replicating the battle for pole, 4th was Wayne Rainey whilst the fifth-place finisher showed the flexibility of the FZ750. Jay Springsteen a flat track rider was drafted into the Super Team Yamaha squad, giving novice super bike pilots a chance on the big stage.
The following year the FZ tasted glory in the British Superstock championship, the rider one Keith Huewen whilst in the Endurance world the Yam took Castrol Six Hour wins in both 85 and 86. The FZ also held the World Endurance record in 1986 when 3 Italians (Norberto Naummi, Maurizio and Roberto Foppiani Ghillani) covered 30370 km with no stops in 560 hours, a demonstration of reliability, that was finally brought to a halt by a blown fuse. These victories failed to impress much of the bike buying public and looking back most of us may have missed out. Reliable and fast with handling to match any other ‘crutch rocket’ of the period, 140mph performance from your everyday transport, its virtues were many. Initially, the FZ failed to follow the trend but when it did, it was too late but the bike remains recognisable, somehow unique and still packs a strong following. The FZ750 put Yamaha on the sports map with engineering excellence that guided them to the summit of the superbike sales charts within a decade; not a bad legacy.
Engine and transmission
- Inline 4-cylinder 749cc DOHC 5-valve
- Power: 106BHP @ 10500rpm
- Compression: 11.2:1
- Cylinder bore & stroke: 68×51.6mm
- Fuel 4 x Mikuni BS34 (36MM) carbs
- Ignition: Electronic
- Transmission: 6 speed
- Final drive: Chain
- Clutch: Hydraulic multi-disc
- Length: 2225 mm
- Width: 755 mm
- Height: 1165 mm
- Height of seat: 790 mm
- Ground clearance: 155 mm
- Step: 1490 mm
- Dry weight: 220 Kg
- Tank: 21 litre
- Chassis; double cradle of steel tubes
- Front suspension: Air-assisted telescopic forks (39 mm)
- Rear suspension: Vertical mono-shock
- Front tyre: 120/80-HR16
- Rear tyre: 130/80-HR18
- Wheels: 3-spokes light alloy
- Front brake: 2 discs (diameter 270 mm)
- Rear brake: 1 disc (diameter 220 mm)