Yamaha YD Racer Catalina GP

Published Date


Somewhere a real enthusiast found the remains of the rarest of all Yamaha Motorcycles, THE FUMIO ITO YD 250 CC RACER WITH WHICH HE SCORED HIS FAMOUS 6TH PLACE DURING THE U.S. CATALINA G.P. IN 1958.

The impact of the Japanese motorcycle on the American way of life cannot be underestimated. It is possible that more Japanese motorcycles have been sold in America than all the motorcycles the rest of the world has ever produced.

It changed the image of motorcycling in the USA. Before the arrival of the Japanese motorcycle, most Americans perceived motorcyclists as tough, boozing, black leathered gangs causing terror throughout the countryside. Thanks to Marlon Brando type movies and negative media coverage of biker gangs.

The Japanese motorcycle movement changed all that.

Clean-cut youthful College types with their girlfriends heading off to a picnic or social gathering was the type of image portrayed. Soon Japanese motorcycles became household names in America. Motorcyclist were normal people.

The Japanese motorcycle was the start of this change in the way we perceived motorcycles and their riders.

Sales of motorcycles increased dramatically. People bought motorcycles who years before never dreamed of such an idea. The Japanese motorcycles were inexpensive, well made and easy to ride machines.

Something the American public had been waiting for.

The Yamaha YD Racer was the start of this movement.

It was the first exposure to Japanese machines for the American public.

Notes on the racer:

* It was the first Yamaha to race outside of homeland Japan

* It was the first Japanese motorcycle to race in America (Catalina GP. In May 1958, Yamaha's President Kawakami attended the race).

* It was also the first Japanese motorcycle to race in an American AMA sanctioned event in Kansas City, ridden by AMA Hall of Fame member Roxy Rockwood) who finished 1st in the 250 cc class.

*It was also ridden by AMA Hall of Fame member Cal Rayborn. He once held the title as "Fastest man on two wheels". He won the El Cajun half mile TT on the Yamaha.

* It was the first real 250cc Racer built by Yamaha

* And the first twin cylinder racer built by Yamaha.

* In it's First Race ever entered, the Team placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the 1957 Mount Asama race in Japan.

As preparation for the event on Catalina Island, in March 1958 Mr. Kawakami, Yamaha’s President, visited the scene together with Mr. Ono, Chief Engineer and Fumio Ito, the rider. They all returned on April 28th 1958 to Japan.

The 5 special race bikes were shipped to Yamaha International Corporation (Musical Instruments), who asked a small motorcycle importer (MARTY’S FOREIGN MOTORS) to handle the import and further work. Altogether 9 cases were shipped with bikes, spare engines and spare parts.
For the race Mr. Kawakami came back with the team to see the first performance of his men and machines outside Japan.
The actual race was held on May 3rd, 1958 and the Yamaha riders were:

Fumio Ito finished 6th place. (Click Fumio Ito and compare his machine with the one on the following pages !!!!!

The machine in this report is believed to be the El Cajun /Cal Rayborn bike, where Cal used number plate “4x”.

Click all pictures for large format !!!!!!

The engine of this rare bike has number PQ47. This is reputedly the machine that was used by Fumio Ito and with which he scored his famous 6th place in the Catalina GP. He carried number “33” hence this number is also applied to this bike.


It was recently discovered that the YD racers also set the fastest lap time at Catalina, which was a tremendous achievement.

The engine is very special inside with lightning holes drilled thru the clutch, square cut primary drive like a TD1. Careful matching and polishing of the ports.

Connecting rods are polished too! Crankshaft is two part and you can remove one half of the crank with engine still in frame. Carburettors are like TD1 but have a different casting and number. Float chambers are totally different from TD1 type. They look very similar to the RD56.

Remember, it was the first appearance of a Japanese motorcycle in a race in the United States and the first time the American public ever saw or heard
of a Yamaha. The magazines of the time said the Yamaha was clearly the loudest machine in the 250 class!

PQ racer is what the "inside" people called the racer. It probably was known by that at the Factory but we are not sure about that!

The famous machine is nearing its completion. Look at the details yourself. Later-on a technical description of this strange motorcycle will be made.

From the front it looks like a modern dirt-tracker. You nearly cannot imagine that such a beautiful machine was built by Yamaha already 50 years ago !!!


Drilled clutch basket with drilled/square cut drive gear. The smaller gear is the kick start gear. This was a worthless last minute addition to the design. There is no return spring for the kick starter. When you try to start the bike you must push the kick start lever forward. This will engage the gear into the clutch. When it catches into several cogs on the underside of the clutch you can give it a kick. DO NOT push the starter lever forward while the engine is running or bad sounds will occur. There is no stop on the kick start arm either, it slams into the case when it reaches it's limit. The Catalina racer has a strange arm that bolts to the rear of the bike's frame and comes forward to the engine. The kick start lever hits this first before the engine case is struck. This bike had this outside safety arm removed and of course the L.H. crankcase was broken where the kickstarter internal arm struck!

We do know that the Yamaha YA Asama racer used the same clutch and LH outer cases and it had no kick starter. So we assume that the starter was a last minute detail/addition on the Catalina bikes. If you look at pictures of the bikes you'll see the kick lever always laying all the way down.
This clutch is mounted to the gearbox and what's really odd is that it mounts on the same shaft as the drive sprocket mounts. Direct drive!
Yamaha was smart enough to know way back in 1957 that the clutch belonged on the gear shaft and not on the crankshaft. Funny how it took them till 1967 to finally put it back where it belonged! All the TD1's up to the TD1C and all the YDS1's, YDS2's and YDS3's all had the wrong crank mounted clutches!

L.H. main case from the outside. Clutch assembly, gear shafts, shift shaft and shifter assemblies. Look at the large number of clutch plates, steel and friction, all controlled by just 4 feeble springs!


L.H. main case from the inside. Notice the carburetors bolt directly to the crankcases, not to the cylinders. Total Adler design. In fact, most of the design of the whole bike is directly copied from the Adler 250 RS racer. We do know that everyone writes that Yamaha only "studied" the Adler and very little was copied, only measurements. This is absolutely not true. Look at the RS version of the Adler and you decide. The cylinders and heads look like direct bolt on’s. The intakes mounted to the case, the long intake manifolds, remote carburetors, exhaust pipes, chassis frame, even the wheels with their 3 bolt sprockets. There's a picture of an Adler with upswept pipes in Colin MacKellar's book on page 12 with heat shields. They are the exact same heat shields that the Catalina racer uses right down to the number of holes! Interesting..


Starting at bottom right and moving clockwise: 1. L.H. main case cover with tachometer drive. 2. Small cover over drive sprocket and rear mounting screw provision for magneto cover. 3. R.H. Magneto cover with clutch adjuster under the small round chrome cover. 4. R.H. main case. 5&6. L&R inner crankcases. These fit into the main cases and hold the crank halves. The crankshaft is two piece and each half is pressed into these small cases. When these small cases are unscrewed from the maincases, the mechanic can pull them out along with the crank half and rod. Of course the cylinder and piston must be removed first. This is a great idea, much easier to work on than a normal twin. You can replace one side or the whole crank without removing the engine from the frame or spliting the cases. Wonderful feature at the racetrack where time is never on your side. Crank can be replaced in minutes, not hours.

Another interesting and unusual feature of this engine is the placement of the gear shafts. They are stacked vertically, one on top of the other!
Gearshafts are always one behind the other with the counter shaft or driveshaft with sprocket at the rear. The clutch mounts on the forward shaft. Not the Asama! It makes for a very long chain!


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