MAY 27, 2002
GENICHI KAWAKAMI, the man who turned Yamaha from being a musical instrument maker into one of the world's leading motorcycle firms and an important automotive businesses, has died at the age of 90.
The Yamaha company dated back to 1885 when it was originally called the Nippon Gakki Company. It was taken over by the Kawakami Family in the 1920s and Genichi joined the firm in 1937. During the years that followed the company's knowledge of wood techniques was used to produce airplane propellers during World War II. The company upgraded to equipment for making metal propellers and after the war this equipment was left idle and when Genichi took over the firm in 1950 he decided to adapt the machinery to produce motorcycles. The Hamakita factory was opened in 1955 and Yamaha Motor became an independent operation from the musical instrument business. Yamaha Motor diversified into outboard motors and boats but then success in motorcycle racing made that side of the business dominant. The tradition of competition remains at the core of Yamaha Motor corporate philosophy and the firm has won more than 40 World Championship titles with riders such as Phil Read, Kent Andersson, Johnny Cecotto, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.
In 1965 Yamaha first became involved in engine development work for Toyota, developing a six-cylinder engine for the Toyota 2000GT sportscar, which achieved its first major success in 1966 winning the Suzuka 1000kms. Yamaha continued to diversify into snowmobiles, karts, yachts, golf carts, snow ploughs and in 1979 into an all-terrain vehicle called the Land Car. Seeing automobile engineering as an area of potential development, the company began to build its own racing engines in 1984 and the Yamaha OX66 V6 engine won its debut race in the Japanese F2 Championship of 1986. The 1987 season saw a collaboration with Cosworth for the OX77 which won the second race of the Japanese F3000 series and took the championship in 1988 with Aguri Suzuki.
In 1989 Yamaha entered F1 with the West Zakspeed team and the OX88 V8 engine. It was not a success and Yamaha went away and built the OX99 V12 engine, which was supplied exclusively to Brabham, the first Yamaha engine to score points in F1. The engines were used by Jordan in 1992 but then a new relationship began with John Judd's Engine Developments company in Rugby and a two-year deal was done for Tyrrell to use a new V10, codenamed the OX10A. This coincided with plans for Yamaha to build a supercar but the OX99-11 of 1992 never went into production.
The company's F1 program was never a success although in 1996 the Yamaha OX11 - the first of the new generation of small, lightweight F1 V10s - helped Damon Hill come close to victory in Hungary in 1997.
Yamaha was left in the lurch at the start of 1998 when Arrows announced that it would be using its own F1 engines but its technology has been used in the design of the current Toyota V10 engines.
Kawakami guided Yamaha to become the world's top piano manufacturer and in the 1960s created the Yamaha Music Foundation and a network of music schools across Japan. Kawakami handed over the presidency of entire corporation to his son Hiroshi in 1983 but stayed on as chairman. Kawakami retired finally in 1992 at the age of 80.
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