Yamaha TZ750: Meeting The Monster

From roach to racer in three easy, fun-filled days. (Ha!) We go butt-to-saddle at Daytona with the most notorious and successful roadracing motorcycle of the 1970s--Yamaha's TZ750

By: Patrick Bodden, Mitch Boehm, Photography by Tom Riles, Catherine Brennan

Patrick Bodden: I peer into the back of Russ Bigley's dingy gray Chevy van and get a face full of carbon-fiber two-stroke silencers. "Impressive," think, "this thing's the business!" After all, here was a seemingly competent example of one of the most legendary racing motorcycles of all time, the bike that struck fear deep in the heart of every manufacturer with large-bore roadracing intentions during the middle and late 1970s. If you had the balls and a decent racing rsum, and wanted a real chance at winning, even big-time, world-class winning, well then, mister, it was a Yamaha TZ750 or nothing.

"You wouldn't be alone in wondering if maybe the TZ750 isn't more than can be managed by mortal man. Plenty of people are having such thoughts. Reports in the foreign press have told of the TZ500's impact in GP racing, told of the stunned panic within the opposing MV team. Jarno Saarinen's death gave MV another 500cc championship, but the Yamaha's early performances would seem to give it a place of pride as the fastest motorcycle in GP roadracing history. What, then, might it be with more displacement, with virtually a pair of the engines that made Yamaha's TZ350 so formidable during 1973? The whole concept is intimidating enough to have given everyone pause." -- Gordon Jennings, Cycle, January 1974

Bodden: The TZ750 forged a well-deserved reputation as an unbeatable and unstoppable racer. But I'd been blinded by this bike's array of shiny new silencers. Unloaded in the dismal, soggy environment of our Daytona pit, the TZ looks tired and shopworn, and inspires little confidence. Boehm and I stand there gazing at it, not saying much for fear we'll come to our senses and go off in search of margaritas (for him) and root beer (for me). I break the silence first: "Well, Mitchie, we've not only got a vintage racer, but vintage workmanship to go with it!"

Mitch Boehm: I see none of the downsides at first. What I see is a real-deal TZ750, and a late-model monoshocker at that. I'd been in awe of Yamaha's big TZ since the summer of '76 at Michigan's Grattan Raceway. I'd gone there to check out a real roadrace with Dale Dahlke, an RD350/TZ250 mechanic who was tuning my XR75 and YZ100 motocrossers while running a small bike shop near my northern Ohio home. In an early practice session my 14-year-old senses were electro-shocked by a particular red-and-white two-stroke racebike that shrieked past the pits at what seemed to me an unbelievable rate of speed; had to be 130 or 140 mph. And the sound! Ear-splitting was way too tame a descriptor. After the session I walked the pits to see what sort of animalistic machine was capable of such mind-bending velocity and racket, and found it cooling menacingly in the pit of Midwest racer Robert Wakefield. I approached the bike from behind and saw smoke curling slowly from the skinny stinger exhausts. But it was the shredded, half-melted rear slick that lazered itself into my gray matter. Having never seen a warm and recently used roadrace tire up close, the sight filled me with genuine awe. I remember thinking, "This thing's a monster."

"Yamaha quite naturally has reservations about selling TZ750s to just anybody with money and a bag of brave pills. But AMA rules require 200 copies and you can't expect them to simply warehouse the production left over after Kel Carruthers takes what he needs. All the big fours will be sold, some of them to riders whose talents were barely equal to last year's TZ350. That thought plainly has the AMA spooked, because they know they don't have 200 Juniors and Experts who can cope with what it is feared the Yamaha will deliver. But there's nothing to be done now; Yamaha created the TZ750 in good faith and strict conformity with rules long-standing if not necessarily wise." -- Gordon Jennings, Cycle, January 1974

Boehm: Yeah, the TZ was a beast, but I still wanted to ride or, better yet, race one, ideally at a circuit with an equal measure of history. Daytona seemed perfect, and when Bigley offered up the chance to ride Kurt Lentz's bike (which Bigley took care of for Lentz), I jumped at the chance.

Bodden: I thought I'd seen the last of this sort of bike prep back in the '70s during my days as an East Coast club racer. Boehm said, "we'd" just have to make the best of things. Of course, the Heritage Racing guys have managed the impossible in impossibly short time so many times over the years that Boehm has come to expect this as an entirely reasonable approach to racebike construction--never mind we're dealing with a device, old as it is, capable of 170 mph even in less than top-notch condition.

By Patrick Bodden, Mitch Boehm
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