1974 Yankee 500 Z

In the early 1970’s, John Taylor, an enterprising businessman and a motorcyclist, was importing Ossa motorcycles from Spain.These tough 2 stroke singles were famous for their fabulous reliability and service-ability as well as speed and handling. Dirt bike riding was entering a boom, sales were good.

But Mr. Taylor had a dream. He envisioned a big bore multi cylinder dual sport machine that would be at home on the open road or on the dirt. At the time, on/off road bikes were just little dirt bikes with lights. The Yankee 500 represents the seed of a concept that has evolved into the likes of present day BMW and KTM dual sport juggernauts. Taylor was ahead of his time, but he came close to great success.

His company, Yankee Motors of Schenectady, NY, prevailed upon the Ossa factory in Spain to build special crankcases, designed to ‘twin’ two 250 singles together. The resulting tunnel shaped casting was combined with the crankshafts, pistons, cylinders, heads, etc. of two singles. The two cranks were joined by a special tapered, keyed coupler.

A chrome moly tubular frame coupled to alloy rims, Spanish Telesco forks and Betor shocks, was adorned with US available fenders, lights, and a fiberglass tank and side panels, which were badged ‘Yankee’.

This machine was acquired in the mid 90’s. The frame and all components had to be refinished, and the engine and transmission were treated to all new bearings, seals, chains, etc. One of the 2 electronic ignition systems had failed outright. Parts are not plentiful, but there are dedicated maniacs.

After 2 years, and about 750 500Z’s, Yankee Motors ceased production. It took too long to overcome the production details and obstacles frequently encountered by start-ups. By the time the 500 Z came to market, the dirt bike boom was slowing, and the competition had not been laying idle. The machine was too heavy, and too loud: in the rush to production, some compromises had been made.

I took the Yankee off road riding once. Once the soreness subsided I removed the knobbies, and installed more street worthy tires. While not suitable for long road trips, the Yankee is ride-able, and loads of fun on back roads, paved or not. Kick start only of course, which can be tricky, as the out of phase decompressors must be manipulated to allow the kick start mechanism of a 250 to cope with 500cc.

Even with a modified, quieter exhaust the mechanical and inlet noise is shocking, anti-social if not terroristic, and environmentally disastrous. Also, should you need gas, be prepared to pre-mix, and the 6 volt electrics mean the headlight at night is mainly there so other vehicles can see you. The front brake is surprisingly powerful for a single leading shoe drum, and adequate in the dirt. On the road, some care and advance planning is called for, even with the rear hydraulic disc (an industry first).

Riding the Yankee is experiencing a bit of history. Here is a tidbit that goes with the story. The same ‘twinning’ technique was used to build a few 1000cc 4 cylinder prototypes in 1974. The frame and tire technologies of the day could not contain the horsepower. One of these 4 cylinder enduro behemoths was last seen in a closet at Yamkee Motors in 1975. Photos were published recently in the Spanish Motorcycle Owners Group (SMOG) magazine. Where is it today?

Z…….it lives.