There’s no argument the Japanese have led the motorcycling world in terms of producing efficient, reliable machines as far back as the 1960s. What they have been less good at is making bikes which stand out as being totally original instead of developments of already existing concepts. That was until the Yamaha V-Max arrived in 1985.
Everything about the V-Max was, and is, original. Every element of the bike, from the first sketches through to the finished product, is 100% Japanese, even if it was conceived and drawn in America.
The first seeds of the V-Max project were sown when Yamaha‘s Project Leader, Mr. Araki, saw American teenagers drag racing over a quarter-mile bridge span over the Mississippi River. He was immediately taken with the concept of developing a motorcycling version of an American V-8 hot-rod. The bike would have huge torque, huge power and dramatic acceleration. It would also take its visual cues from the low roof lines and immense tires of 1950s Funny Cars.
The design team locked itself away in a Yamaha satellite office in Santa Monica, Calif., and a month later the V-Max appeared as a collection of detailed sketches and a full-size paper rendering of the bike.
The core of the V-Max is its 1200cc, liquid cooled V-4 engine. It was sourced from Yamaha’s 90-hp Venture touring bike, but the V-Max team turned the cuddly cruiser lump into a snarling monster of an engine with 145 hp on tap. Some of the power increase is thanks to the clever V-Boost system which allows both carburetors to feed each individual cylinder above 6000 rpm via servo-controlled butterfly valves.
The styling is pure V-Max – low, aggressive and beautifully finished. Love it or hate it, the V-Max is one of a kind.
The handling is also uniquely V-Max. Sportbike riders sneer at the ungainly appearance, but the V-Max gets round corners surprisingly well for a 1985 design. And there was no sportbike on earth that could live with a V-Max in a straight line for many years after its launch.
The great joy of the V-Max is certainly that incredible engine. Roll along gently and it burbles just like the big-block V-8 it was intended to emulate. Wind the throttle open and that 145 hp almost leaps from beneath a rider’s legs and the world becomes a blur. It’ll run the quarter-mile in less than 11 seconds, unheard of at the time it was introduced, and a brave rider can top a true 150 mph if he dares. Nothing on two wheels can get near to the experience.
Incredibly, these motorcycling icons remain in Yamaha’s 2004 lineup ($10,899), remarkably unchanged some 19 years after it was first offered for sale. That’s got to be some kind of record.
Price: Expect to pay about $9000 for a late-model edition while a rougher, older V-Maxs can be had for around $4000.
Thanks to Colin Wilkinson for the loan of the bike.