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Meet the man who's mad about OW01s

Published: 09 June 2016

To most of us Yamaha’s FZR750R OW01 is a gloriously exotic, achingly desirable production racer too rare and expensive to ever make it into our sheds. But Peter Day isn’t most of us. He’s the UK’s foremost expert on OW01s, and he has three sheds rammed to the rafters with them…

eter Day isn’t just utterly obsessive about Yamaha’s late ’80s homologation rocketship the FZR750R OW01, he’s also the UK’s foremost expert on these exotic road legal kit superbikes. He even says – quite candidly – that it’s almost an affliction for which he could do with a cure… 

PS has been allowed access to one of Pete’s three workshops, in which he makes motorcycle magic with this classic late ’80s superbike. Normally your ‘average’ PS fanatic is immersed in more than one bike, perhaps one marque, or one machine which spans a decade, maybe more, but Pete is different. Pete is OW01 man, although he has a lot of knowledge about other race rep Yamahas in his head. He’s owned most of them: FZRs, YZFs and EXUPs. 

This is the guy who recognised Rob McElnea’s 1990 WSB FZR from a pile of bits in a light industrial unit. Pete’s the man who realised he was looking at Mark Farmer’s old Loctite YZF750 when he clocked the rivet holes on its frame, despite it being in a right state. He is the man who the likes of Ian Simpson and Terry Rymer come to for advice on all things OW, and he is also the man who makes these muscular mechanical machines competitive in racing today.

The Yamaha FZR750R OW01 was the firm’s answer to the 1987 Honda VFR750R RC30. In 1989 everyone wanted to go World Superbike racing, and to do so competitively meant one thing – a homologation special that would require relatively few changes.

For way too long the OW has been unfairly languishing in the RC’s shadow, but now – thanks to a strong fan base, a resurgence of on-track success in post-classic superbike racing, and a plentiful supply of parts courtesy of Pete – values and desirability of this 20-valve Yam are rising almost in line with the RC30 itself.

Despite only 500 OW01s being made between 1989 and the end of 1992, Pete reckons he’s had ‘around 50’ of this total. And of that 500, only 140 or so were imported into the UK.

Of the 17 OW01s in the workshop we’re in today, Peter owns 13 of them. Some are complete, some on paddock stands, others in bits. Then there’s the other two sheds full of bikes and bits. If anything, Peter’s way beyond obsessive, but when you’re dealing with such an exquisite race-bred bike it’s entirely understandable.

Pete reckons you could have a good OW01 today for “around £15k. Sounds a lot, but as good as the latest R1 is at £13,399, with the OW01 you’re looking at an increasing investment and the fact that you’re guaranteed a gaggle of onlookers when you pull up at the pub.”

When launched in 1989, the Honda and Yam were poles apart price-wise, with the Yam a whopping £12,749 and the RC30 £8499. By 1991 the Honda cost £11,337 and the Yamaha a princely £14,816. A lot of the price differential was made up in the race kits. As standard the Yam had more trick bits on it, so the race kit cost around £2500 compared to £8500 for the Honda.

History records that the Honda took two World Superbike titles in 1988 and 1989 to the Yam’s zilch, but hindsight is a great thing. Pete says: “In WSB you had to keep the same carbs as on the homologated machine. So, the 38mm BDST38 Mikunis just didn’t give you the power you needed. In the British series they didn’t have the same rules so you could run different carbs and therefore the OW01 won championships. I run my bikes on flatslide Keihins, once set up correctly, they’re perfect.”

OW01 nutterdom took time to root itself in Pete via a series of other Yamahas, and not before he’d taken a forced sabbatical from biking.

As a kid, Pete lived on a farm which had a hillclimb and grasstrack circuit on it. Racing from the age of 10, he suffered a bad smash at 16 which meant years away from two wheels. He says: “My leg was ripped to shreds and I couldn’t ride for many years after that, so I began to race cars, which I did for around 15 seasons, graduating up to the Group One cars, but the bike thing was still there. At around the time the OW01 was released I’d had about five years of corrective surgery so I could ride once more. I had FZR road bikes and did a little bit of racing on two wheels but I wasn’t really up to it. However the OW thing just suddenly hit me as it was such an iconic bike.” 

Pete could have timed the arrival of his first OW01 a little bit better. “When they first came out I couldn’t afford one,” he says. “The car side of things was still going so I never had the time and they were rare. Then a few years later I bought two YZF750 SPs from Yamaha when they first came out – one for the road and one for track use.

“A little later I got a phone call from Yamaha to say they’d just found a brand-new OW01 in a crate. I’d been to Germany with some of the Yamaha UK guys so had a good relationship with them, and they knew I liked OWs, so I had to have it – even though I’d just bought two
YZF-SPs. My wife of the time wasn’t too pleased about me buying three bikes, so I had to hide it.

“The OW01 was registered in 1994, I rode it to make sure it worked then left it. It has only 1200 miles on it. I never made a conscious decision to not use it – but it became a pain to keep wheeling it out of the house where it was kept so I just didn’t use it. I paid £15,500 and have turned down £28k for it.”

As is so often the case, one soon wasn’t enough. I mean, we all need an OW01 ‘for best’ don’t we, and one for racing too? Over time the OW01 became all-consuming for Pete. He says: “Back in the late 1990s a mate wanted to go endurance racing on OWs so I built a couple of bikes and we nearly won the KRC Championship – we were up against the R1s of the time. Mike ‘Spike’ Edwards raced for us and we missed the championship by a single point. I also started finding bikes for people. I found a 1992 for someone with just 1800 miles on it – it was immaculate. I told the bloke that it needed work to be ready for the road, which I did for him and he took it home and put it in the house where it stayed. He said it was too nice to ride all the time. I knew that feeling. So I had to find him another one.

“People think I’m bonkers, but it’s a voyage of discovery for me and it goes on. Just playing around with these bikes, you can see the thought processes that went into the engineering side of things and it’s fascinating. Even playing around with the ex-Phase One bike, I mean, it’s not a factory bike but it is interesting seeing how they did things. Sometimes you can actually improve even the factory parts. You look at some of the kit stuff and it’s phenomenal and you think, ‘God, I have to try and reproduce that.’”

What Pete doesn’t have, he tries to make himself, or via his specialist contacts. On the shelves are A-kit gearboxes, B-kit ’boxes, C-kit ’boxes, fork tubes, conrods, every throttle kit they made for the bike, pistons, all the quick-release wheels they did for the OW01, bodywork, bearings, airboxes (which Pete makes from aluminium – the original kit parts were carbon fibre) sprockets, kit sprockets and banks of carbs. Pete can resurrect flattened tanks which resemble crushed Coke cans, he makes subframes, bespoke paddock stands, replica kit radiators from the bare elements. “That’s 40 hours of work in each one and people think they’re expensive at £800, but that’s cheap,” says Pete. He even gets someone to perfectly replicate the stickers and the thin metal plaques marked ‘OW 01’ that go on the frame rails. What seems like hundreds of heads and engines on shelves sit awaiting work, while what looks like all the world’s OW01 gaskets hang from the rafters – more fruits from the relationship with Yamaha.

“I got to know Andy Smith at Yamaha UK pretty well. Yamaha still stock or can supply so many parts. They gave me a call when they wanted to free up some space and sell off some of the OW parts. They asked me to make them an offer, which I did, and now I’ve got lots of parts for the FZR750R. I think I must have around 800 or so kit pistons and 600, 0.5mm oversize ones too. Fairings and bodywork are rare. Luckily
I have a lot of it in the attic. The originals were priced at around £3000 for the bellypan only. Seat units have been known to go for £1400.”

Everywhere you look there are OW parts – sometimes sandwiching spares for other superbike Yams – such as the YZF-R1, YZF750 and even the R7. “I don’t like those so much as they’re too modern for me,” says Pete. “You know things are going to cost when it’s from an R7.”

Some of Pete’s bikes have real history but what about the legendary ‘Foggy’ OW01 which took (and held for seven years) the outright Isle of Man TT lap record of 123.62mph? Pete says: “Don’t mention that bike! Ha! At one point it was up for sale for silly money. It’s in the Isle of Man but you’d never know what parts are original. Like many bikes – including mine – the only way you guarantee it is original is if you take the bike off the rider as soon as he gets off it and take it away. The Hizzy bike I have is definitely his as the frame has his name stamped on it. The engine is more than likely original as it’s fairly standard and that fits with the story. But you never know about the rest of it.”

Whether you’re into standard bikes or modified, there’s little Pete doesn’t know about the FZR750R – and being a trackday instructor he knows the capabilities of the machine.

He says: “I use my 750 a lot when instructing, but the 860cc big-bore is such a sweet machine and can hang onto the tails of a crossplane-crank R1. Price-wise, if you wanted one an 860cc road bike would be about the same as a nice 750 – around £15k. They cost a lot because of the amount of engineering that goes into them – especially the engine. But they’re such a nice bike to ride: plenty of torque and nicely geared thanks to the standard close-ratio gearbox. The beauty of the 860 is that it’s a lethargic-feeling bike. You think it’s tailing off then it picks up again. It’s amazing to ride. Despite the torque, they do lack a little grunt coming out of the corners compared to more modern stuff, but we’re mucking about with trumpet lengths to improve this. People have done 1000cc-powered OW01s, but if you do it destroys the bike – it ruins the balance of the thing. People have found that with the R7s when they put 1000cc motors in them.” 

I’m curious to know what’s inside one of Peter’s 860 motors, but Mr Day remains tight-lipped. “As I say to people who ask about the 860 – want to know what’s in the motor? Then buy one. It’s an expensive conversion and not as straightforward as you’d think. What I will say, though, is that it gives a 20bhp increase over standard, as well as a healthy boost in torque, and the compression remains the same.”

For Pete, one bike and one bike only cuts the mustard. “I had one of the first FireBlades but it wasn’t for me,” he says of Honda’s modern classic. “Sometimes I think that one day I’ll be cured of this, but time will move on. In years to come there will be people like me doing the same for, perhaps, the first-generation R1. It all goes around.”

Words Bertie Simmonds Photos John Noble

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