Monday, March 30, 2009

The Yamaha Supercar

OX99-11 - The Yamaha Supercar

Yamaha also had a factory effort focused on the design and construction of, not a race car exactly, but an exotic supercar using a detuned version of Yamaha’s then Formula One V12 engine and built to the highest levels of automotive engineering and sophistication, the car was known as the OX99-11.

One of the key individuals involved in the project, Dave Sullivan, tells us how this car came about. You might notice the extreme contrast between this effort and the Kawasaki race project. Of course the purpose was completely different but nevertheless, it tells the story of forays into the automotive world not well known outside of those who were directly involved. Unfortunately, however, there is a similarity to these two very different stories, at the end, events derailed both projects just short of ultimate success.

There’s little I can add so I’ll let Dave tell you all about it:

In 1991 I was working for a company called IAD on the south coast of England. IAD were a design and engineering consultancy for the motor industry, we had worked on the Mazda Miata, Lincoln Town Car and Bentley Continental, to name but a few. I started as a structural engineer on the Town Car in 1988, and I was also doing chassis work by 1991.

Yamaha had conceived the OX99-11 several years earlier, but had been struggling to find a partner who could help them realize their ambition. Strangely it was the sporting goods division (with products ranging from Yachts to squash racquets), rather than the motorcycle arm, that was leading the project, and it was part of a master plan that included the Formula 1 engine program.

To support the Formula 1 project Yamaha had set up a subsidiary company called Ypsilon Technology in Milton Keynes, UK, where the engines would be serviced. The factory was chosen to be big enough to produce the OX99-11 and a small team, mostly from the Aston Martin race team, were hired to set up the factory and help engineer the car.

A German company had had a go at the project, and produced a prototype that looked a lot like the sports racing cars of the time, (Aluminum fabricated chassis), but Yamaha were not happy with this. I’m not sure how the initial contact with IAD was made but it was probably through Brabham, who were using the Yamaha V12 engines in F1. Anyway, I was invited along to one of the first meetings because of my interest and knowledge of racing (I was racing a small formula car at the time). I immediately connected with the Yamaha project manager and had a good understanding of what he wanted. At the next meeting, in Japan, I presented some sketches I had done of the chassis, and we came back with the project in the bag

The design we completed, in under 12 months, had the following spec:-

Yamaha 3.5 litre V12 (De-tuned version of Formula 1 engine). Approx 400bhp at 10,000 rpm.
Carbon Fibre “tub” with engine mounted directly to rear bulkhead (Manufactured by DPS composites)
Aluminium panels hand made using traditional rolling techniques and hammer form tooling.
Front Suspension.
Double wishbones from Aero section steel tubing, fabricated uprights, push rods to inboard coil over damper units
Rear Suspension
Double wishbones from Aero section steel tubing, fabricated uprights, push rods to inboard coil over damper units mounted directly on gearbox.
FF Developments 6 speed transaxle with limited slip differential and multi-plate AP racing clutch
AP Racing 6 piston (Front) and 4 piston (Rear) billet machined calipers with Cast Iron discs.
Magnesium Alloy
Goodyear Eagle F1
Single central seat with small “pillion” seat just behind and to one side of the driver. Minimal trim
Single “Gullwing” door

Because IAD were mostly experienced with road car design and build, and hence had the necessary understanding of the regulations the OX99-11 would have to meet, Yamaha were concerned that the required race car detail design and manufacture would not be captured. So they hired a consultant to oversee the design and lend it some credibility in the press. The man they chose was Robin Herd. Robin had been one of the founders of the March F1 team, and had a good reputation in the industry. He also brought in his chief designer Tino Belli to give us some guidance on the chassis and Aerodynamic design.

The first car we built was un-painted and used as a test hack. In order to keep the car secret, all the early testing was done at night at the Millbrook Proving Ground in the UK. It was also wind tunnel tested at MIRA in the UK. I was lucky enough to drive this car during testing and was mightily impressed with the engine. It could be driven like an ordinary car up to about 6,000 rpm, then all hell broke loose as it accelerated up to the 10,000 rpm red line.

IAD built 2 further cars, one black one red, which were used to test various systems and later used for the press launch of the car, when it was driven by John Watson the ex-formula 1 driver. We also built a rolling chassis for the launch to show off the Formula 1 inspired design. The car looked fantastic and got very good reviews. The only “independent” journalist to drive it was Paul Frere who loved it.

As the car was so different from anything we had done before it was far from “right first time” and early testing showed it needed a lot of development on areas such as Aerodynamics and Handling. Unfortunately we did not get to do this as IAD and Yamaha had a disagreement over budgets and the project was taken away from IAD, to be completed by Yamaha’s own team at Ypsilon.

However, Ypsilon only got about 6 months to develop the car before the plug was pulled on the whole thing. The Japanese economy was taking a dive at the time and Yamaha figured they would not find enough buyers if they launched the car at that time. They promised to come back to it in a year or so, but of course things move on and it never happed.

About a year later McLaren launched their F1, which although technically superior to the Yamaha, lacked the flair and sheer audacity of the OX99-11 which I think would, had it been built, have been one of the most outrageous cars ever made.

The key people.

Casey Yoshida - Yamaha Project Manager
Michael Bowler - MD Ypsilon Technology and journalist
Gary Blackham - Manufacturing Manager Ypsilon
Robin Herd - Consultant and former MD of March F1 team
Tino Belli - Consultant from March F1 team
Mike Foxon - Chief Engineer IAD
Pat Selwood - Body and manufacturing team leader
Dave Sullivan - Chassis, suspension and powertrain team leader

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