Ossa Yankee 500Z – 1971-1972 American Classic Scrambler

The Ossa Yankee 500Z is possibly one of the most obscure motorcycles that ever existed. It has a fantastical story and while short lived it is still worth delving into this American motorcycle.

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Ossa Yankee 500Z History

The story starts with motorcycle importer John Taylor and the Ossa Yankee 500Z would become what he is most infamous for in the motorcycling world. 

Taylor was an entrepreneur making his money from importing bikes into the US. He was responsible for Bultaco producing the popular 200cc (250cc and later 300cc) Matador street-scrambler for the U.S market. He came close to owning the Bultaco factory in Barcelona.

Taylor had a dream and that was to build an American big capacity enduro bike capable of competing against the European motorcycles and bring it to market. It would be the bike for everyone and every purpose. It took a lot of persistence and many years before the Ossa Yankee 500Z was to be produced and to fulfill Taylor’s dream. 

Ossa was the small Spanish firm commissioned to build the drivetrain for the Yankee. Taylor used his connections for this as he was the official Ossa importer for the US. The first plans were shown to the press in 1967 and the first prototype built in 1968. 

However, it took 4 years before Ossa got the Yankee 500Z into production in 1971, this was because they were chasing Grand Prix ambitions of their own. They had also just been rocked by the death of their star rider, Santiago Herrera, at the Isle of Man TT.

When the bike was finally in production, the import price of the Ossa engine doubled as a result of the Nixon administration abandoning the gold standard and in turn devaluing the dollar. Taylor wasn’t ready to give up on his American Dream, where many would have folded, John Taylor forged on. 

The engine designed by Eduardo Giro, was a modified twin-cylinder 460cc Ossa road race engine turned into a 488cc dirt bike engine. Giro did this by using two 250cc Ossa Pioneer top-ends, inclusive of the pistons, cylinders and heads, two seperate crankshafts which ran on ball bearings and connected by a central sprocket, in a joint two-cylinder engine case. 

The engine was forward facing in the chassis at Taylor’s demand for his preferred weight distribution. The cranks were spaced at 360° so both cylinders fired together; but they could be reset at a 180° interval if needed as Taylor thought the engine could be used for road racing too.  

The engine had a bore and stroke of 72mm by 60mm and two 24mm IRZ 4G dual-needle carbs, and the bike a 6-speed gearbox. Electronic triggers fired two separate ignition coils which counted for the 180° firing interval option. 

The gear ratio of the six speed box was 4.2:1, which meant it had an exceptionally wide spread, the small speed differential between gears meant that clutchless shifts were easy to attain. 

The engine wasn’t the only interesting thing about the Ossa Yankee 500Z because the frame was overseen by no other than Dick Mann. 

Mann is revered as a hero of American motorcycle racing having won more races in more categories than anyone else. Competing in 230 AMA nationals, in dirt track, road races, and motocross and winning in every category of the AMA Grand National competition. Also, a two-time Daytona 200 winner and 24-time AMA National race winner among other titles. 

To conclude, if there was ever a man to know about what you need out of a bike to win in any race Dick Mann was that guy and John Taylor had him on board. 

Mann had designed the Ossa Dick Mann Replica short-track frame, prior to designing the Yankee’s oversized chrome-moly steel tube spine frame. It was huge, constructed to a high standard and rugged to tackle all conditions. It was a work of art that was incredibly well thought out with the side stand even folding up under the frame and tucking away.

Jim Corpe, John Taylor and Dick Mann examine an Ossa Yankee 500Z prototype frame
Jim Corpe, John Taylor and Dick Mann examine a Yankee 500Z prototype frame.

It was none other than American gunmaker Smith and Wesson out of Springfield, Massachusetts that forged the triple clamps for the Telesco forks. Can it get any cooler or more American?

The Yankee was also the first off-road bike to come standard with a 9” hydraulic rear disc brake, on the front was a 6-inch drum unit. The rear brake was designed for off road benefits being self-cleaning, efficient in the wet and not affected by suspension travel. 

“The smooth and immediate power caused the rear wheel to break loose with the slightest nudge of the throttle.” as quoted by Motorcyclist in its archives. 

John Taylor had fulfilled his dream bike, it was fast, powerful, built like a tank and frankly you could ride it across the country and compete in an enduro race, then ride home again. 

Ossa Yankee 500Z Performance

The Ossa Yankee 500Z only lasted 2 years and with a claimed 764 bikes built it is therefore safe to say it wasn’t met with great enthusiasm from the intended audience.

It was heavy with a dry weight of 344 lbs and for the enduro market in that moment it wasn’t the hit it was intended to be. 

Off-road bikers were going for smaller displacement and lightweight machines, the dual-sport, one bike fits all wasn’t a belief riders carried yet, and it would be decades before that belief would be popular. 

The Yankee however, was met with enthusiasm from press and test riders who acknowledged the quality components and toughness, the power delivery and smoothness. 

Bob Greene was one of the test riders who wrote a piece in motorcyclist magazine he states: 

“The Yankee felt and sounded indescribably different than anything I had ever ridden before; the power, absolutely gorilla-like…the Yankee’s power starts to rub off on you, and before long you’re looking for challenges you might otherwise have preferred to ignore.”

After tough testing from motocross, Amateur AMA competitors including John Taylor’s Son Trent, Greene later says “it occured to me that in two days none of the four machines had so much as missed a beat, let alone a plug.”

Taylor believed in the Ossa Yankee 500Z, so did the test riders and the press would come to believe in the dream too, but it just wasn’t received all that well. Plans were in place for a strictly road version, abandoning the two-stroke of the original Yankee, however, they never did come to light. 

Buying an original or restoring Ossa Yankee 500Z

With only 764 Ossa Yankee 500Z’s ever made, to say they are rare on the market would be an understatement. 

However, perhaps because they are so rare, and from the 70’s other than serious motorcycle collectors and historians they are not necessarily the most coveted classic motorcycle. This is certainly truer outside of the US. 

What this means is that the 2 Yankee’s I did find for sale on old listings from 2015 and 2018 were priced for around $5,000, which compared to other classic bikes is not a fortune. Both bikes were in good condition too, so you wouldn’t have loads of extra expenses on top of the initial layout. 

However, it should be noted that it is rare to find a 100% completely original Yankee 500Z. One bike I found had different handlebars and the other needed a new wiring harness. 

If you are in the market for a restoration project, I would suggest the Ossa Yankee 500Z isn’t the bike for you. Not to say it can’t be done, but as with buying an original, I would expect it to be a very long term waiting period before finding a bike to start with and even longer for parts to become available.   

Is the Ossa Yankee 500Z a good investment?

As with anything rare, investing in a Yankee 500Z cannot be a bad thing. However, I would suggest the value won’t rise tremendously as they are simply not in demand enough to warrant an increase. 

They will certainly hold their money, particularly if kept in good condition but the value will be more found in having it as a talking piece in your collection as opposed to financial gain. 

The Yankee makes an ideal buy to ride classic. The engines were believed to be bulletproof as were the frames, and for the cost, why not get out and ride it.

Treat the Ossa Yankee 500Z as it was meant to be, as your do everything, ride everywhere bike, if nothing else it deserves to fulfill its purpose. 

Take the American Dream out for your off roading days and watch it stand up to the modern Japanese dual-sports your mates are on, make John Taylor proud. 

Verdict

Who wouldn’t want a piece of motorcycle history, given the chance I’d snap a seller’s arm off for an Ossa Yankee 500Z. 

In many ways the Yankee was ahead of its time and had it been produced more recently (with a few updates) I suspect it would have fit right in with the modern scrambler scene amongst the Ducati and Triumph Scramblers, and arguably would have been more up to the job off-road.

John Taylor predicted the dual-sport era before the Husqvarna, KTM or Honda with their CRF400L and the world just wasn’t ready in the early 70’s for a bike that potentially could do it all. 

Ossa Yankee 500Z - 1971-1972 American Classic Scrambler

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