Yamaha RZV500R – the latest look at an aspect of the classic scene

Import-ant With this issue seeing a test of the rare RZV500R, we ask about the relevance of imports and why two-strokes are going up in value. Words: Paul Jayson. Pics: Gary D Chapman.

Is the Japanese-market RZV500R – and other imports – less valuable than the home-market models? The RZ with its ‘hand-crafted’ aluminium frame, restricted motor, gold wheels and self-retracting sidestand, is the holy grail of road-going Yamaha two-strokes. Yes, there’s an irritating red light that confuses the rider when it comes on at 55mph, eliciting fears that your two-stroke oil tank has run dry, but this can easily be disarmed and the bike can be derestricted so you can enjoy the full (claimed) 90bhp.

Yamaha RZV500R

Yamaha RZV500R

There are conflicting stories about how many of these particular 500 fours were produced, but it seems that fewer than 2000 ally-framed, Japanese-market machines left the factory, which makes them very rare and very desirable.

The RD500 and RZV500 are derived from the track bikes that Yamaha pioneered in the 1970s. The RZ is surely the pinnacle of this story, as it has that aluminium frame and is rare. But so many people will cry out: “But it’s an import! It’s not a UK bike!” So what? They’re all imports. They came from a factory in another continent. All of them. The fact that these particular motorcycles weren’t imported by Yamaha UK makes no difference to their desirability and they have never built higher specification motorcycles in the Yamaha factory solely for the UK market. They are the rarest of the 500cc Yamaha two-strokes.

Many collectors have discussions with me about two-strokes, as they are wary of them. Contrary to popular belief, they do like to ride their motorcycles. Also, leaving a two-stroke standing and not running during the wet weather is not best practice if you want to maintain healthy crank seals. However, modern fuel and that devilish ethanol just loves to destroy crankshaft seals when your pride and joy is racking up the miles. A full engine rebuild is a bit off-putting when you’ve tied up your pension money in your RZV500R. This ‘fuel for thought’ creates an anxiety we never grew up with in the days of four-star fuel and this is putting a lot of people off: until you ride the thing and get the needle spinning to over 7000rpm…

The adrenaline provided by a two-stroke makes you feel young again, conjuring up the music of the time, cider-tasting kisses and buying rubber johnnies. It’s all about nostalgia: two-strokes were as much a part of growing up in the 1970s and the RZ500 was as close to a factory race bike (even alongside the RG500) as any of us were ever going to get close to getting a leg over. These sorts of machines are appealing as they also had the kudos of reflecting the glory of our heroes, like Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts.

Of course demand will outrageously outstrip supply, and caution will be thrown to the wind, as people passionately want to own these motorcycles – and any two-stroke machine, be it 250, 350 or 500. Demand of course does drive prices up. In 2013 I was offered a 3000-mile RD500 with crankshaft seals that were perished and I declined. I wasn’t afraid of doing the work, it just put me off. It also demonstrates how much prices have increased over the last six years. There isn’t a financial product (probably outside of the arms trade) that will deliver such a return on your money. No wonder motorcyclists are getting out of their pension plans and into collecting classic motorcycles. You also get to own and ride these incredible machines.

When it comes to rare, what about racing two-strokes? Racing heritage and the provenance of these machines drives prices upwards. Everyone who’s ever ridden a two-stroke always wonders what the power band is like on a TZ750. Just like we used to wonder what it was like to snog Farrah Fawcett, or even Olivia Newton-John…

There is also another force that will drive prices higher over the next decade. Around 2004 a Barry Sheene race bike sold for around £80,000 at auction and everyone thought the buyer was insane then. The prices of such machines have now become unimaginable. Sometime in the next 10 years, I am fairly sure that at least one of Kenny Roberts’ TZ750s will come on the market and will sell for many millions of pounds. That will have a profound upward force on all race-developed two-strokes and prices will become unrecognisable.

Prices then: well, as we said two-strokes have gone up in value. A £1500 Yamaha TZR250 3MA import of two decades ago will now be around £6000 in good order. The 3XV V-twin Yamaha sits around the same price. In comparison groundbreaking four-strokes like Yamaha’s own FZR1000 EXUP, or earlier Genesis will be half that cost. That’s the allure of two-strokes: only the mighty OW-01 FZR750R can claim to be as desirable as a big two-stroke. These are selling now from around £15,000 – more depending on state, miles and that all-important provenance.

But the subject is the RD/RZ500 and we at CMM have seen them at around £14,000-£17,000 for low-milers while the more doggy of the V4s (often with iffy paint jobs) can still start around £10k. Not cheap, but oh so desirable!

ABOVE: RZV ally-framed model. ABOVE: Base model V4 is still a beauty!

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