Lost Cause: Yamaha 0W60

Just as the square-four Yamaha 0W60 racer was reaching perfection, the company changed its course.

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by Phil Aynsley

Just when Yamaha’s square-four 0W60 racer was nearing perfection in 1982, the company changed direction entirely, putting its star rider onto an untried V4. It would be another two years before Yamaha won the 500cc Grand Prix world championship. Here we look at the motorcycle that could have been a world-beater.

The 1982 season was a watershed moment in the 500cc Grand Prix world championship. This was the final year all four Japanese manufacturers went head-to-head in the championship, pushing the envelope with new or revised designs. Yamaha was perhaps the most committed, and perhaps also the one with the most to lose. Its star rider, Kenny Roberts, had rewritten the history books way back in 1978 by becoming the first American to win the ultimate motorcycle title, as well as delivering Yamaha its first world crown since Giacomo Agostini’s amazing effort in 1975.

Proving he and Yamaha were no one-hit wonder, Roberts had repeated the effort in 1979 and 1980. For 1981, Yamaha had introduced what some observers cynically describe as a copy of Suzuki’s RG500, the bike that Barry Sheene had taken to victory in 1976 and 1977. But it was surely no surprise that Yamaha would build a square-four replacement for its aging piston-port, inline four-cylinder as the similar RG500 was the equivalent of the 1950s-1960s Manx Norton. Although getting long in the tooth by racing standards, it filled most of the grid and even privateers were still winning rounds on it.

Despite the change of engine configuration, Yamaha’s rotary-valve, square-four 0W54 still lost out to Suzuki’s revised and lighter 1981 RG500, so the factory went all-out for the 1982 season. It was determined to make amends for Roberts’ disappointing third place in the points table behind Suzuki riders Randy Mamola and season champion Marco Lucchinelli.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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