Yamaha OW31:Behold, Baker's Beast!
images by dean adams

Definitely not something you normally see at a Harley dealership. Red Rock H-D in Las Vegas has a collection of vintage bikes on display in its showroom. Among them is one of Yamaha Legend Steve Baker's former Grand Prix racebikes. This is actually what remains of the last Yamaha that Baker rode, and crashed, at Mosport in the F750 race.

Steve won the 1977 Formula 750 World Championship on a Yamaha YZR750 OW31. This machine was Yamaha Canada's 1978 OW31. According to Baker it has a non-standard frame. Also, if you need a jacket to match your Nationwide bike they have several styles. Well, okay, one style and two colors.

The Yamaha features a fire-breathing, in-line four-cylinder, reed-valve-inducted, two-stroke engine, along with a monoshock rear suspension and aluminum swingarm that were major innovations during that era of racing. It also has a set of magnesium carbs, and magnesium velocity stacks.

The lower triple clamp on Baker's OW31 is made of magnesium, and the steering stem is crafted from aluminum. If these two metals can get along in harmony, why do you always 'go for a ride' when your mother in law comes over?

The massive dry clutch, still safety-wired and ready to roll. And what's that at about 7 o'clock? A kickstarter shaft on a 750 two-stroke prototype racer? Could it be? (It's the optional right side shifter).

Titanium was used for all fasteners, axles, fairing stays, chain adjusters, brake caliper pistons, and anywhere else you could think of, all in an effort to trim weight. Dzus fasteners are still used in GP racing today. So are windscreens.

Baker's famous name was hand-painted on the fiberglass fairing, most likely by Henri 'The Brush', who was a regular fixture at Daytona in the 70s and 80s.

Such spindly forks by today's standards, but in 1977, they did the business.

The OW31 had provisions for mounting a dry break fueling system on the side of the tank, but that setup was only used in Europe. Daytona winner and America's first world champion, Baker's racing career essentially ended after his Mosport crash. Today he works at Mt Baker Moto-sport in Bellingham, Washington.

The dry break vent on top of the tank. It's a proven device that's still used for lightning-fast Daytona 200 pitstops to this day. In 1978, Baker raced this exact OW31 at Daytona, Laguna Seca, and at Mosport in Canada.

Three pipes akimbo with one sticking out the other side. They look haphazardly arranged, but they were engineered for massive--for the time--horsepower.

The two center pipes and one right-hand pipe went under the bike, but the left-hand pipe snaked up over the transmission and behind the carbs, then across the frame, and finally exited just below the seat on the right side. The arrangement allowed for more ground clearance and better pipe shape, resulting in more power. The clamp? Probably a million light years from Spies' M1.


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