What does the automotive world really, really need right now? Cheap to produce, economical cars comprising recycled materials, powered by efficient, low emission engines? That’s one school of contemporary thought. Seems even a 1.1 Fiesta is too toxic for some people. Personally, I believe that there has, eventually, to be a compromise which will allow cars to perform in a manner capable of satisfying those with a penchant for fast driving whilst at the same time running on carrot juice. If everyone were to drive around in a four-seater milk float, life on the road would become a touch dull.
Don’t ask me how any of this may be achieved. To this day it remains a mystery that I ever passed my chemistry O-level.
What I do know is that impressive technological statements such as the Porsche 959, Ferrari F40 and new Bugatti are all very well for those with a bank balance the size of Brazil’s national debt, but they make no sense in a modern driving context. The only place you could feasibly pull 200mph in Britain would be up the M1 at around three in the morning (though the M50 is quieter . . .): even in derestricted Germany, the volume of traffic is such that speeding Porsches and S-Class Mercs have to lift off once in a while to allow Helmut Public room to manoeuvre his Kadett in safety.
Despite the worldwide recession, however, a trickle of impractical supercars continues to emerge. The McLaren F1, complete with anticipated £500,000 price tag, is expected to be shown to the world before the summer. The Yamaha 0X99-11, subject of a surprise press announcement late in December, likewise.
Yamaha, which has been at the forefront of World Championship motorcycling since the mid ’60s, has not put its name to a car before, and managed to keep its first such project remarkably quiet. It has produced engines for Toyota in the past (the first collaboration, in 1966, produced the 2000GT, and nowadays it concentrates mainly on high-performance twin cam units for sporting hatchbacks), and also designed the V6 which powers Ford’s SHO Taurus in the States. Future plans include volume engine production for both manufacturers, but senior managing director Takehiko Hasegawa stresses that Yamaha has no plans to enter the frantic mass-volume production game as a manufacturer in its own right.
Instead, it is happy to concentrate for the time being on a limited production run (50 units per annum) of an exceptionally high-performance sports car, drawing on the experience it has gained producing racing engines for F2, F3000 and latterly F1. Until the McLaren appears, the 0X99-11 looks set to be the closest thing to an F1 car for the road. It is powered by the same 0X99 engine that will see service in the Jordan 192, and which performed with occasional distinction in the Brabhams of Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle throughout 1991.
For the moment, Yamaha won’t divulge its performance forecasts, any questions relating thereto being deflected by the response: “It will be adequate.” That much we could probably have figured for ourselves. Although the engine, which will be catalysed, won’t be running in an F1 state of tune, it is still likely to churn out around 600bhp. The factory was claiming 700 by the close of the last GP season.
As for the seating arrangement, the driver will be located centrally, in line with single-seater traditions. There will be a vestigial passenger seat directly behind. Interestingly, McLaren road car project leader Gordon Murray produced a tandem seating arrangement in the motorcycle-powered Rocket two-seater which was unveiled last year. .
Continuing the F1 way of thinking, the 0X99-11 features a six-speed transverse gearbox and a carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, onto which is draped a set of hand-crafted aluminium body panels. The car will be built in Britain, at the Milton Keynes factory of Ypsilon, a Yamaha subsidiary.
The plan at the moment is to market it only in Europe, though the proliferation (relatively speaking) of Jaguar XJR-15s and F40s in Japan leads us to believe that more than a few 0X99-11s will make it to the Far East as personal imports. Price? That, like the performance, remains a secret for the moment. Given the specification it will inevitably resemble a long-distance telephone number.