CLASSIC MOTOCROSS IRON: 1971 YANKEE 500 TWIN
BY TOM WHITE
New York’s John Taylor was a mover and a shaker in the motorcycle industry in the late 1960s. He was the American importer for both Bultaco and Ossa. But, John had a dream. He wanted to build an American-made dirt bike that would be ISDT-ready. Taylor wanted a machine that would be “everything to everybody!” His dream bike would be a 500cc two-stroke twin with lots of low-end torque that was built solidly enough for hours of no-sweat riding in any weather on road or trail.
As the Ossa importer, John Taylor was able to use his connections at Ossa to have them modify a twin-cylinder 460cc Ossa road race engine, designed by Eduardo Giro, into a 488cc dirt bike engine by mating two 250cc Ossa Pioneer top-ends, including the pistons, cylinders and heads, onto a unified two-cylinder engine case. The engine had a bore and stroke of 72mm by 60mm and two 24mm IRZ 4G dual-needle carbs. The result was an engine that could be used as a twin or a twingle.
Dick Mann was enlisted to design the oversized chromoly frame, because he had designed the Ossa DMR (Dick Mann Replica) short-track frame. Gunmaker Smith and Wesson in Springfield, Massachusetts, forged the triple clamps for the 42mm Telesco forks. The swingarm was oval. The axles were hollow. The rims were alloy Akronts. The bars were stainless steel, and the tank, fenders and side panels were fiberglass. The Yankee was also the first off-road bike to come standard with a hydraulic Kelsey-Hayes rear disc brake, even though the front brake was a 6-inch drum unit.
The first prototype was built in 1968, but actual production didn’t start until 1971. John Taylor’s dream bike was designed to be fast and powerful and was built like a tank. And that was its demise. Everything about the Yankee was overbuilt; its dry weight was 344 pounds. It was too much bike for its intended market, and it was only a modest success. Over its two-year production run (1971–1972) only 764 bikes were built. John Taylor achieved his dream, but there weren’t many offroad riders who shared his vision.
Yankee did try to build a single-cylinder version to recoup its investment. It used an Ovi Puiu-designed, Swiss-built Motosacoche two-stroke engine in a Yankee 500 Z chassis. Only ten engines were ever built.