During these days of the Honda NSX, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Supra and Skyline GT-R, it is quite difficult to believe that there was once a time when Japanese cars really struggled for appeal. But rewind to the early 1960s and the Japanese car market was flooded with boxy, dull and shallow imitations of western models. It wasn’t a great look for an industrious island. The nation’s automakers needed a spark, and it came from Suzuka.
In 1963 the first Japanese Grand Prix took place, run as a sports car and GT race over 50 miles, and it was won by Briton Peter Warr aboard his Lotus 23. The field consisted of a mixture of sleek prototypes and European GT cars from Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Jaguar. The event proved to be an eye-opener for Japan, and its automakers picked up on an increased appetite for sporting offerings. Japan needed its own GT of note – and somebody brave enough to make one.
Step forward Yamaha. Yep, not Toyota. Yamaha. The motorcycle manufacturer. Early in the 1960s Yamaha’s two-wheeled empire had grown sufficiently that the company bosses constructed and opened a Technical Research Institute with the aim of building its own sports car among the bike range. The YX30 was its first solo attempt, but production issues meant Yamaha needed to partner with an established carmaker to make any new project viable. That would have been Nissan, but the brand pulled out of a deal to focus instead on developing its own Silvia model.