Once upon a time, 35 years ago, the world thought that the future lay in turbo technology, every major manufacturer built such a beast, even James Bond rode one, but the idea didn’t catch on. Within a few short seasons the word turbo was consigned to the history books.
Cheltenham based, Mike Baker isn’t your usual Japanese classic owner, even more so when the bike in question is a turbo powered Yam four. 68-year-old Mike, now a retired sales director, is a true biker though, having started riding in 1956, having owned a host of Brit Iron through the 60’s before discovering the delights of BMW machinery in 1982. His past restoration projects include a 1956 Velocette Venom based Thruxton replica, and a 1931 Velocette KTT racer.
So, why the Turbo Yam? “I hankered after a turbo back when they were new” Mike explained, “My local Yam dealer, Ian Mansfield motorcycles, had one on demo and I got to ride it on a few occasions. It was superb but, with a young family to support, far too expensive for me to consider buying. Many years later, in June 2005, I was looking for another restoration project, so started the hunt for a Yam turbo, which, with so few actually sold when they were new proved to be some task. Eventually, and after a couple of false starts, a 1982 model was unearthed, 25k’s on the clock and in need of some love, but most importantly it was all complete, albeit with some corrosion around the metal parts and some damage to the fairing. Once home, I changed the oil and spark plugs, before cleaning the carburettors, and trying to get it started, it ran eventually and I decided to run it through that summer before starting a full nut and bolt rebuild during the winter.
After a few more runs it soon became clear that the turbo wasn’t functioning correctly, and it started to leak oil on the garage floor. A decision was made to park the bike before any damage could occur and with that move, the restoration started there and then. Universal Turbos in Ringwood not only refurbished the turbo, but they improved the design at the same time, using far higher specification parts than had been fitted originally. The end result cost £499.37, expensive, but well worth it for the peace of mind it gave.
The rest of the bike was totally stripped down to every last component, all consumables, bearings etc, were replaced with new items whenever possible but, with the whole bike in pieces and spread out across my workshop, I did start to feel the project was out of my league and far greater than I was actually capable of. The two Velocettes had been tiny projects by comparison and this complex Yam was giving me sleepless nights as the restoration rolled on, and on. Much of the work I did myself but the really big jobs had to be farmed out, the frame was powder coated in nearby Bristol, while the bodywork was attended to by JBS in Yeovil using graphics expertly made and supplied by Classic transfers. The end result of this outside work was, and still is, stunning, leaving me to beaver away with the smaller stuff in my garage, thankfully with the big bits now complete it did soon start to come together.
Luckily some parts were still available new from Yamaha, while auto jumbles proved to be a handy source of parts that weren’t. a chance conversation with independent parts supplier Motolink revealed he had a lot of turbo parts back at his base so a visit to deepest darkest Lincolnshire proved he had and a deal was struck. In this lot was some valuable, and hard to source, parts including brake discs, wheels and many of the smaller parts that often take up so much time trying to find them. I couldn’t, locate everything needed however, in the absence of a genuine item, a new seat was fashioned by RD Designs, they, like all of the firms who helped out, did a superb job.
A major problem was the left hand silencer, despite having two exhausts, in normal operation it is only the left hand side that actually operates as an exhaust, the right being largely redundant, only acting as an exit for the turbo waste gate if it builds up too much pressure. This meant the left pipe was in a sorry state and needed replacing, apparently when hens are looking for teeth they say they are rarer than XJ turbo exhausts. Gov’nors bridge M/Cs came up trumps after many hours of searching, they found some pipes stateside, but they needed refurbishing, the original finish being a shiny black chrome, so I didn’t hold much hope of ever replicating it. Eventually I did find a metal plater, Colonnade metal finishers in Wembley who, after many conversations to the contrary, did finally give in and agree to put my used pipes in his precious chemicals for the process to take place. Getting the used pipes clean enough to go in the baths was a tough task but, after several attempts, they did say they were clean enough and the end finish was as good, if not better than, new.
The bike was completed in October 2006 just in time for the last of the big classic shows for that season, where it took the award for the best 80’s machine. Since then it has scooped several other awards but, it isn’t why I did the restoration, as showing isn’t really my scene. I prefer to ride the bike, I get a great deal of pleasure when on the XJ, when that turbo kicks in it never fails to produce such a wide grin, of course it only gets an airing if the sun is shining and the sky is blue.”
Universal Turbos – Tel01425 656 900
Gov’nors Bridge Motorcycles – Tel 01827 715 148
Colonnade metal finishers – Tel 0208 9027 722
Yamaha classic club– firstname.lastname@example.org
Classic Transfers – Tel 01454 260 596
RD Designs custom motorcycle seats – Tel 01429 863 618
JBS paintwork – Tel 01935 863 676
RPA powder coating centre – Tel 0117 9541 002
Motolink – Tel 01526 344 443
1980 Yamaha XJ650 Turbo Specifications
- Price: £1200
- Value now (est): £6000-8000
- Power: 90bhp
- Torque: 60ft-lb
- Top speed: 147mph
- Dry weight: 235kg
- Colours: Silver
- Fuel: 19.5litres
- Rake/trail: 26deg/105mm
- Seat height: 775mm
- Wheelbase: 1440mm
- Engine: air-cooled 653cc (63 x 52.4mm), inline four, DOHC, turbocharged, four-stroke. 4 x 30mm Mikuni carbs. 5-gears. shaft final drive
- Chassis: Tubular steel dual cradle frame, 36mm air-assisted telescopic forks, twin Showa oil/air-damped rear shocks with adjustable preload and rebound damping
- Brakes: 266mm front discs with single-piston caliper, 200mm single-leading-shoe drum rear brake
- Tyres: 3.25 x 19 front, 120/90 x 18 rear
- Make sure you buy a complete bike to begin with, often parts can be a long time coming around, and some might never surface in time
- Label and mark everything, there is a lot of potentially unrecognisable parts in a classic jap machine, especially a four cylinder one.
- Join a club, the help and support can prove invaluable
- Try to do as much as you can yourself, it’s more rewarding and cost effective
Yamaha XJ650 Turbo Gallery
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