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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 30th April 2009

1983 Yamaha XJ900 Seca Special, Part 2

Jon Fife wanted to create his ultimate classic bike, a hybrid of Yamaha's 900 Seca and 650 Turbo. But could such a beast actually be built?...

In the first episode, Jon found a suitable donor machine for his project…

Now I could turn my attention to getting the engine up and running. Carbs were removed and sent out for rebuild. No evidence of oil leaks prompted me to try a shortcut and simply paint the engine in the frame. However the clearcoating of the side cases was peeling and faded. This was repaired by wet sanding multiple times, and then buffing to a high lustre, as were the cooling fins, foot pegs, gear shift lever, rear brake pedal and front forks.

Factory original? Yamaha XJ900 Seca with 650 Turbo fairing... The end result

With the carbs back from rebuild, the gas tank and body work, minus the bikini fairing were sent out for repair and paint. I was dying to see if the bike ran as advertised and rigged up a quart-sized can suspended from the garage rafters with a gas line running direct to the carbs -- and hit the starter button. Fired right up.

Ever wonder why you would choose a particular shop for your repairs, especially when you pick up the parts and think 'this is what I paid $1200 for'? The quality of paint and repairs was bad, while the shop owner's attitude towards making it right was… just as bad. Truly a low point in the year and half project.

I pressed on.

Most people who read about or attempt restorations never fully realise the next stage in bringing an old bike back to life. I call it the test phase. In a short two weeks in August of 2007, I rebuilt the front brakes, master cylinder, new fork springs, installed the gas tank and body work. Leaving the old bikini fairing on, it was time to ride. Any rebuild or restoration is going to have problems. So from August to October of 2007, I rode the bike to find out its quirks. Problems included the warped rotors from the failed semi-truck shop experiment, fork seals leaking, even though they were replaced with new. A gas-flooded garage floor, rough idle, and scary handling at freeway speeds. The fixes included new brake rotors, fork seals just needed time to seat, new petcock stopped gas leak, carbs synchronizing, and new steering head bearings.

During this test phase, I also placed an ad on Craigslist for a non-running 650 Turbo Seca, which I picked up five days later for $400. Having restored a turbo before, I knew I wanted as complete a bike as possible. I just needed the 650s bodywork, the rest went to eBay to recoup my costs. After I removed both bikes' bodywork, my brother Scott got wind of what I was doing and offered to help.

Scott is a master craftsman and has built car air dams, exhaust systems, air intake systems, and accessories for MGs and Alfo Romeos, not to mention a custom-built Kawasaki H2. His help came at the cost of rewiring his wife's kitchen. Good trade.

With his years of fiberglass repair and manufacturing, all of the body panels from both bikes were repaired and primered. About 40 hours were needed on the turbo fairing alone. All the fairing pieces, 900 gas tank and body work were then sent out for paint.

Now came the real test of my vision. Would the turbo fairing even fit the 900?

Like a glove. Made of fibreglass.

My research had led me to several facts about the Seca series of bikes produced in 1982 and 1983. First, the 650 Turbo, 750 and 900 all shared the same engine dimensions. Only the bores were different. A recent listing on Craigslist showed a 1982 Turbo Seca with the 750 engine installed. This led me to believe the frames must be very similar and I had a good chance of fitting the 650 fairing.

Classic Stuff on Now...

But when I rolled the 650 off the trailer and started to take measurements, my heart sank. The frames were not the same. The tube diameter is bigger on the 900. I was ready to abandon the project, but Scott took some more measurements and ever the optimist said, 'I can make this work.' Now realise I'm not the master wiz engineer here. If we get this wrong and start welding and hacking... you get the picture: about $4000 up in smoke and a 900 butchered.

Scott started with a hand-held die grinder and carefully cut off all needed fairing mounting brackets. We then loosely bolted all the required hardware to the fairing and used duct tape to firm it up. To hold the weight of the fairing as we attempted to position it on the 900, we roped it to the garage rafters, and slowly rolled the stripped-down 900 into place.

We anticipated that a lot of cutting and grinding of the fairing would be needed to make it fit. The 900 fuel tank is 5.8 gallons and it appeared to be much wider than the 4.5 gallon 650. Clearance at this widest point of the tank to the fairing didn't look promising. Also a concern was the fairing lowers and connecting air dam. Early measurements indicated it would not fit. Finally, on a cold, wet December night, with tripod halogen lights ablaze, we slowly walked the 900 into place around our jigged-up turbo fairing.

'Scott and I were amazed at the fit...'

Scott and I were amazed at the fit. We stood in engineer's stunned silence as we became aware of Yamaha's brilliance in the design of the Seca family of bikes. It was obvious that at least the 650 and 900 had been designed from the get-go with interchangeability of both engine and fairing pieces in mind. The fit was perfect.

However, a project like this conducted in family two-car garage has its limitations. Our fitment jig was neither precise nor laser-perfect. Scott solved this problem with hours of test fits, measurements, temporary JB welds, and levels. Test fit, temp weld, one side of fairing off and start over. Again and again until he had it perfected. Then came the mig welding. Twenty to thirty hours were spent on this process alone. Most folks who've seen the bike swear it's a factory production bike.

The clocks were finished at 10:54...

Scott had schooled me in the fine art of plastic repair and I began the repair of the 900 instrument panel next.

The 900's housing and lenses were badly cracked. I quickly repaired the housing, but the lenses were nonexistent. I then remembered the 1995 restoration and dug through my file and found an old business card of a Lexan plastic company. I took my old lenses as examples and had new ones made. Taking the 650 turbo fairing hardware, I then manufactured a mounting bracket for the 900s instruments to fit the turbo fairing.

Assembling all the bodywork to the bike was the most fun. Seeing your 13-year vision come to life is better than anything depicted in a MasterCard or Visa ad. The journey was just as exciting as the destination, which was one big reason for building it.

Take a bow, Jon Fife Yamaha XJ900 Seca with 650 Turbo fairing... and proud owner

And there's something to be said for creating your own perfect 10. Today, Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki all make far superior sport tourers. But in 1995, when I was looking for the best bike, it didn't exist. But now I know Yamaha was ahead of the game... if only they would have built the 1983 900 Seca, with the turbo fairing. Perhaps they would have given it the model designation 900 Seca-SST, for Standard Sport Touring? The 1983 model was twenty years to early by today's standards. It had shaft drive, air assisted front suspension, self cancelling turn signals, easy to read fuel gauge and clock, easy-to-access twin piggyback shocks, 5.8 gallon tank, adjustable handlebars, flat wide seat, adjustable windscreen (mine has MRA adjustable spoiler), and MP3 mounted on the fork yokes.

The public may not know it, but 25 years ago Yamaha was on the verge of sport-touring heaven. Slow bike sales, a saturated market and the 900 never got its chance. The FJR is now king. Yet the 900 is the only bike I know of that can be multiple bikes to multiple people.

This one is also the only one in the world, for now.

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