First Year, First Model Project – 1955 Yamaha YA-1

In Japan, Vintage by Tim HuberLeave a Comment

Post Listing Update: This YA-1 was pulled off of eBay, final sale price unknown.

The company we all know today as Yamaha began as Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd in 1887 (incorporated in 1897), producing musical instruments. Founded by Torakusu Yamaha, the company would remain in operation for nearly seven decades before it produced its first motorized two-wheeler. Following the Second World War, several of the tuning fork company’s production facilities — which were setup at the time to produce military vehicle components — were damaged or destroyed. So when it came time to rebuild, it was suggested Yamaha could pivot to the production of motorcycles.

Yamaha wasn’t alone in its moto production pursuit, and was reportedly one of around 100 motorcycle companies on the island during that time. The post-war era saw a huge boom in the Japanese motorcycle industry, with the country churning out three-quarter million units in 1954 — a far cry from the 10,000 units produced in 1950. Yamaha’s first foray into the world of motorcycle production resulted in the YA-1, also known as the Aka-tombo (赤トンボ) or “Red Dragonfly”.

In 1954 (some say ’55) 125 examples were produced of the air-cooled, two-stroke, 125cc single. With a weight of just 207lbs, the YA-1’s 5.5 horsepower (at 5,000rpm) and 6.9ft-lbs of torque (at 3,300rpm) made it an impressive offering in its day. Thanks to the early success of the YA-1, Yamaha felt justified in founding the Yamaha Motor Company the following year. The company’s staff of 275 employees built around 200 units per month in ’55, though that number quickly grew. By the time production ceased in ’58, Yamaha had supposedly delivered 11,000 YA-1s.

Like the BSA Bantam and the Harley Hummer, the YA-1 was largely based on the DKW RT125, only with a four-speed gearbox and a primary kick-starter that enabled the engine to fire up with the transmission in gear. A number of other modifications were made to the original DKW design, allowing the Yamaha to outperform the competition. In ’55 and ’56 the YA-1 was piloted to victory in the “ultra-light classes” at the Mt. Fuji Ascent and Asama Highlands races.

While the influx in the post-war moto-industry can largely be attributed to motorcycle’s economical nature, Yamaha decided to opt for a more elite offering with its inaugural moto-model. The YA-1 reportedly sold new in ’55 for ¥138,000 ($1,236), a figure that translates to $11,665 in 2018 dollars. Considering the median income for for (male) college graduates in Japan at the time was reportedly ¥10,780 ($96.60), the YA-1’s price tag kept it from being accessible to the average joe.

The public reception of the YA-1 led Yamaha to introduce the YB-1 and the YC-1, marking the beginning in a long line of motorcycles that continues to this day. In addition to being Yamaha’s first-ever motorcycle offering, the YA-1 was the first vehicle in Japan to boast a primary kick start system, and has also been recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan as one of their 240 Landmarks of Japanese Automotive Technology.

This particular YA-1 (VIN: YA155 012)is a first-year example that was imported to the US from its native Japan and has 18,379km (11,027 miles) on the odo. The seller says this is a 100% original specimen. The VIN tag has supposedly fallen off of the frame (a common occurrence according to the seller) though the engine stamp is still present and easily legible. Confusingly, the seller claims the engine turns over, though they haven’t tried to start it. Included in the sale is a new seat, grips, fork gators, and a handful of engine gaskets too.

You can find this 1955 Yamaha YA-1 for sale in Santa Ana, California with an unmet opening bid of $12,000