Diversification, thy name is Yamaha. Over the course of the Yamaha Motor Company’s 65-year history, none have matched the Japanese manufacturer’s absurdly extensive range of motorcycles, boats, scooters, UTVs, ATVs, golf karts, generators, snow mobiles, and even swimming pools. This is to say nothing of the Yamaha Corporation that split from Yamaha Motor Company in 1955; that Yamaha is one of the leading producers of musical and recording equipment on a global scale.
In the automotive space, Yamaha is a go-to source for high-quality cylinder head designs. It has a long, legendary history of working with Toyota, starting with the 1967 Toyota 2000GT and many later high-performance Toyota engines, including the wild 1LR-GUE V-10 from the Lexus LFA, the range of hi-po V-8s in Lexus’ F lineup, and a range of high-revving four-cylinders found in Celicas, MR2s, and Lotus Elise. Volvo and Ford commissioned a number of Yamaha goodies over the years as well, from the Taurus SHO’s exotic V-6 and V-8 to the neat-o B8444S Volvo V-8 found in the first-gen XC90 and S80.
Despite a rich history of automotive engineering excellence, Yamaha has yet to fasten its tuning-fork logo on the snout of its own production car, though this is very much by choice and not capability. For a moment between 2013 and 2019, it appeared Yamaha was ready to stop playing the bridesmaid with a trio of production-aimed concepts developed in no small part by Gordon Murray Design.
The 2013 Motiv.e, 2015 Sports Ride, and 2017 Cross Hub were a promising collection of affordable and lightweight visions of a city car (Motiv.e), mid-engine sports car (Sports Ride), and subcompact off-road trucklet (Cross Hub). Promising, but doomed—the manufacturer officially poo-poo’d production plans in 2019, a Yamaha spokesman citing that “Cars do not feature in our long-term plans anymore,” and that “we could not see a way to develop either car to stand out from the competition, which is very strong.” For fans of small, simple, lightweight sports cars, Yamaha drove the knife home regarding its views on the sleek Sports Ride. “The sports car in particular had great appeal for us as enthusiasts, but the marketplace is particularly difficult. We now see other opportunities.”
Frustrating, but this was a small mosquito bite on the neck compared to the 25-year heartache caused by the cancellation of Yamaha’s mid-engined V-12 Formula 1-inspired supercar that was just a valve-shim from making it to production in the early 1990s. As was the case with most Japanese manufacturers in the 1980s, Yamaha rode high on Japan’s bubble economy, finding itself flush with piles of cash with not much to spend it on other than extravagant and outlandish engineering vanity projects. Subaru had the SVX, Mitsubishi the 3000GT, Honda the NSX, and if it had reached fruition, Yamaha would have had the wild OX99-11.
The OX99-11’s story certainly starts strong. In 1989, Yamaha tossed its tuning fork into the Formula 1 ring as an engine supplier, partnering with German racing team Zakspeed and fast-tracking the so-called OX88 3.5-liter V-8 into development. Roughly based on Yamaha’s prior OX77 V-8—essentially a reverse-engineered Cosworth DFV for Japan’s Formula 3000—the OX88 was a rare miss for Yamaha. The OX88 proved unreliable and generally uncompetitive, and Yamaha didn’t have a chance to refine the engine before Formula 1 regulations changed.
Yamaha skipped out on the 1990 F1 season, developing its new OX99 3.5-liter V-12 for 1991. This wildly exotic engine was stronger and more competitive than the OX88 it replaced, but not by much. Brabham used the OX99 in its debut year, quickly dumping it the next year for a Judd V-10. Jordan Grand Prix grabbed the OX99 for the 1992 season, but also kicked it to the curb for a Hart V-10 in 1993, but Yamaha wasn’t perturbed; it also abandoned the OX99 that year for its new OX10 V-10 that stuck around in some form until 1997.
With the contemporary McLaren F1 hypercar just entering limited production in 1992 and its coffers still brimming with yen, Yamaha saw an opportunity to apply this very expensive OX99 V-12 beyond Formula 1. Initial consultations with a German contractor for a supercar built around this engine failed to impress, so it tasked U.K.-based International Automotive Design firm to pick up where the Germans left off.
The resulting OX99-11 looked very much like a Group C endurance race car adapted for road use, particularly with the tandem in-line seating arrangement at Yamaha’s insistence that lent a tall, canopy-style cockpit roof to the OX99-11’s profile. It’s a wonderfully curvaceous and swoopy shape, with a wild front fascia that is little more than an open wing that tapers out back into a delicious long-tail lip.
If you think it looks like Yamaha draped a form-fitting body over an open-wheeled chassis, you’d be right on the money. The OX99-11 rode on the carbon fiber chassis sourced directly from Yamaha’s ongoing F1 projects, packing similar inboard pushrod suspension and—most importantly—a detuned version of the Yamaha OX99 V-12, capable of 400 hp and a 10,000 RPM redline in roadgoing trim, with a 0-60 mph somewhere in the high three-second range.
Despite IAD completing three fully-functional prototypes, budgetary disagreements between Yamaha and IAD shifted final development to the manufacturer’s specially formed U.K.-based Ypsilon Technology subsidiary, initially created to build and service the forthcoming supercar. Six months later, Yamaha killed the project, citing fears the market for the $800,000 price tag had deflated alongside Japan’s economy, laying rest to what was sure to be one of the most visceral and incredible supercars to ever hit the street.
Interestingly, Yamaha doesn’t seem particularly burned by the failure of the OX99-11. Most automakers—especially German consortiums like Porsche and BMW—squirrel away failed projects and concepts into their archival vaults, sometimes only revealing these stillborn cars decades after the plug was pulled. Not Yamaha; the three extant OX99-11s are regularly exercised within the confines of Japan, often performing demonstration laps and start-ups for crowds at official events. At least one of the prototypes is on near-perpetual display at Yamaha’s museum in Iwata, Shizuoka, Japan, so if you’re in the area and want to catch an eyeful of this would-be legend, you just might have the chance to get up close and personal with what could have been.
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