Steve’s Stunning Seca: 1982 Yamaha XJ550 Seca

This low-mile, original Yamaha XJ550 Seca will take you back in time.

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by Joe Berk
Yamaha had the café racer set in mind when it designed the new-for-1981 Yamaha XJ550 Seca.

Steve Seidner, a motorcycle industry trendsetter and classic bike collector who has appeared on these pages before (The Magnificent Mustangs, Motorcycle Classics, January/February 2013), designs, manufactures, imports and sells motorcycles for a living, and he occasionally encounters interesting vintage bikes for sale. One such motorcycle is the brilliant red 1982 Yamaha Seca featured here. With only 1,776 miles on the odometer, as Steve tells it he couldn’t get his wallet out fast enough when this opportunity appeared.

Yamaha introduced the XJ550 Seca in 1981, with technology, performance and aesthetics that went way beyond the bike’s $2,529 sticker price. Before diving into the specifics of Steve’s Seca, it might be useful to understand the U.S. motorcycle market’s evolution in the years leading up to the 1980s. Business schools focus on the beer, aviation and automotive industries, but the great motorcycle marketing wars of the last century are far more interesting.

Way back

In the early 1900s there were more than 100 motorcycle manufacturers in the United States. To make a long story a little less long, the Depression and the marketplace shook things out, and going into World War II only two were left: Harley-Davidson and Indian. When the War Department told both to devote their full production to the war effort, Indian did as the Army directed and Harley told the War Department to pound sand. When the war ended, Harley picked up where they left off in the civilian marketplace and Indian went bankrupt a few years later. Tastes had evolved, too. Returning U.S. servicemen wanted lighter, better performing motorcycles and the British invasion began. Not the Beatles (they would come later), but marques like Triumph, BSA, Norton and Royal Enfield.

Across the Pacific, Japan needed cheap transportation. A guy named Soichiro Honda had an idea, and you know the rest. Honda brought small bikes to the U.S. in the early 1960s, and we met a lot of the nicest people riding them. Three more Japanese companies (Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha) piled on to form what would become the Big Four and the race (both literally and figuratively) was on. At first, it was all small bikes. Harley and the Brits (that almost sounds like a rock band) dismissed the Asian imports, a classic marketing blunder if ever there was one. Then, in 1969, Honda unleashed the nuclear option (the 750 Four) and the world hasn’t been the same since. The Honda 750 was a technology tour de force: A hydraulic disc brake, four cylinders, four carburetors, an overhead cam, electric starting, five speeds, a performance paradigm shift, and a sound more Offenhauser than John Deere. It was the beginning of the end for the British motorcycle industry as we knew it, and nearly the end of Harley-Davidson.

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