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1958–1961From Land to Sea—Entering the Outboard Motor Business

While traveling in the US on a fact-finding tour, President Genichi Kawakami noted the substantial number of sophisticated outboard motors being produced and the vigorous growth of water sports and recreation. He was convinced that the time would come when water sports would be commonplace in Japan as well. Moreover, he strongly believed that it was not possible to communicate the appeal of marine recreation to others without experiencing the fun of such activities himself. So he bought a sailing cruiser and learned the essence of its appeal by cruising on Lake Hamana.

Yamaha’s first outboard motor, the P-7

The cruiser was equipped with an outboard motor made in the US, but it often broke down. He tried replacing it with Japanese products, but they proved substantially inferior to the foreign motor in terms of both quality and performance. This experience turned his attention toward the development of outboard motors.

There were no technical staff members, however, with experience in developing outboard motors. Lacking good models of outboard motors to serve as a reference, development proceeded through a process of trial and error. In the spring of 1958, an air-cooled, 2-stroke 250 cc prototype with 2-cylinders was completed.

Practical application of the prototype proved difficult as the development team encountered a number of obstacles. Because the engine unit was large, the engine mount broke at one point during a test run and the motor fell off into the water. A 40-horsepower motor was also developed, but it too failed to make it to the assembly stage.

At the same time these activities were taking place, development also proceeded on a 125 cc, air-cooled, 2-stroke, single-cylinder outboard motor. The technical staff in charge of design at the Hamamatsu Research Laboratory recalled, “All we received were a bunch of brochures for foreign products. The start of development was something like a wild goose chase.”

Initial firing tests for P-3s (1960)

Like YMC’s other products, the goal was originality. The developers were given four requirements: the engine had to be air-cooled, it had to share parts with the YA1 (125 cc), the transom height (distance from the propeller to the engine) had to be variable, and the engine had to run on kerosene.

Around this time, development had started on motorboats at Nippon Gakki’s new factory. President Genichi Kawakami demonstrated a strong commitment to the manufacture of outboard motors, making frequent visits to the development site to monitor their progress. Finally, in July 1960, Yamaha put its first outboard motor on the market, the P-7. It was an air-cooled, 2-stroke, 123 cc model with seven horsepower and was targeted for Japanese wooden boats used in coastal fishing. Initial plans called for monthly production of 200 units. With the P-7, the history of Yamaha outboard motors commenced.

A model that earned a strong reputation in the market was the P-3, which was launched the next year in November 1961. This 63 cc motor was air-cooled, had one cylinder, and generated three horsepower.

The fuel tank of the P-3 was designed by female staff members, which was unusual in those days. The tank featured a unique rounded shape and was painted yellow. Later on, fishermen referred to it affectionately as “Yamaha’s yellow hat.” It also had novel specifications, which included the first application in an outboard motor of a rotary disk valve for pneumatic control.

The P-3 was light and exhibited good start-up performance, so it received the strong support of fishermen. At that time, red outboard motors made by Tohatsu were quite popular and the coastal waters were truly a sea of red. One year after the launch of the P-3, however, waters off of the Boso Peninsula and elsewhere saw a conspicuous increase in “yellow hats,” as Yamaha outboard motors soundly infiltrated Japan’s coasts.


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