An HL500-inspired vintage motocross racer from Down Under…
It may seem hard to believe today, but by the mid-1970s, the four-stroke thumpers that once ruled the dirt were all but dead. Both BSA and Matchless had gone out of business, and two-strokes had become lighter, more powerful, and more reliable than ever. Then came the mighty TT500, a big-single blast from the past:
“Of all the concepts one would never expect Yamaha engineers to attempt, development of a 500cc, long-stroke, four-cycle, single-cylinder dirt bike should top the list. In imitating a technical approach that withered away in the hands of the industry experts, the English, Yamaha has created a reverse anachronism–they’ve taken a chunk of the past and put it into the future. —Dirt Rider, 1976
Dirt Rider nominated the TT as “Dirt Bike of the Year,” and the 500cc four-stroke went on to make headlines and podiums all over the globe:
“The first Yamaha TT500 appeared at Yamaha’s September 1975 dealer’s convention, and it was an instant success in the showroom and in competition, especially in long, grueling African races like the Paris-Abidjan-Nice. The new TT500 was reliable, had a wide power band and produced loads of torque, just like a thumper should.” —Motorcycle Classics
While most of the XT/TT500’s success was in long-distance off-road racing, a pair of Swedish motocross legends — Torsten Hallman and Sten Lundin — developed the legendary HL500, utilizing a lightweight Husky frame, one-off aluminum swingarm, Fox Air shocks, Simons forks, and more:
“This new creation weighed in at just 247 lbs and offered 11 inches of suspension travel both front and rear, Hallman and Lundin had managed to make their new HL500 61 lbs lighter than the original Yamaha XT500.” —Silodrome
The HL500 shook the motocross world’s two-stroke status quo, achieving multiple podium finishes and an outright win in the 1977 FIM Motocross World Championship, proving that a properly-built four-stroke motocrosser could compete with the dominate two-strokes.
Enter our new friend Luke Beeton of Beeton Fabrications, an Australian welder/fabricator whose personal history with Yamaha’s big singles runs deep:
“My old man owned five XT500’s in his time, which he rode around Australia on, and numerous TT600’s, which I actually used to get doubled on to get to primary school when I was about 5 or 6 years old.”
What’s more, Luke has been riding and racing Yamaha enduros since he was 10. He found the ’76 TT500 you see here languishing behind a family friend’s house:
“The bike’s previous owner was a friend to the family and the bike was resting against a fence out the back of his house with a tarp over it and the weeds growing up through it, but fortunately the motor was still good and fired into life with two kicks.”
Luke, who works out of his home shop but hopes to move into a dedicated workshop soon, decided to bring the TT back to life, creating an HL-inspired restomod for racing vintage motocross. The bike and motor were completely torn down, a hole in the RH case fixed, the barrel re-bored and vapour-blasted, and a slight port and polish done on the head.
He fabricated a gorgeous HL-style exhaust and aluminum airbox, detabbed and powder-coated the frame, and cut apart, fixed, and TIG-welded the original tank back together. The bike is running forks from a two-stroke Yamaha IT and a Suzuki PE swingarm. Dubbed “Tina Turner,” this TT one of the most gorgeous VMX bikes we’ve seen, a four-stroke vintage motocrosser that goes as good as it looks:
“The motor is the stand-out of the bike with more torque than a draught horse down low and pulls the whole way through the rev range with the awesome note of the big single.”
Below, we get the full details from Luke himself.
Yamaha TT500 VMX: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I am a Welder/Fabricator from the town of Newcastle, NSW, in Australia and I am currently building bikes out of a small workshop from home and looking to move into my own dedicated workshop soon. I have a long history with motorcycles riding and racing enduros since I was about 10 and the big Yamaha singles have been a prominent part of that with me owning multiple WRFs and my old man owning 5 XT500’s in his time which he rode around Australia on and numerous TT600’s which I actually used to get doubled on to get to primary school when I was about 5 or 6 years old.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1976 Yamaha TT500.
• Why was this bike built?
The bike was built for racing Vintage Motocross and was originally going to be a side project to a 1993 YZ250 I had started but soon took over as my main focus when I discovered that the YZ was pretty much a write-off with only really being able to save the cases of the motor. The bike’s previous owner was a friend to the family and the bike was resting against a fence out the back of his house with a tarp over it and the weeds growing up through it but fortunately the motor was still good and fired into life with two kicks.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The design concept behind the build was a restomod to create an HL500-inspired bike but with the stock frame and stock TT500 tank, side panels and seat which you don’t really seem to see much as most people opt for an HL frame kit and YZ125c tank and seat.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The bike was completely torn down and once it was disassembled I found a nice big hole in the back side of the RH case behind the kick starter, so the motor was then tore down, fixing the hole in the case and cerakoted. The barrel was also re-bored and vapour-blasted and a slight port and polish on the head along with a new Mikuni VM carb. I then fabricated an HL-styled exhaust and an aluminium airbox to suit the new carb. I also had to remake the rear hoop of the frame as the bike had been flipped at some stage bending and cracking the frame. I also de tabbed the frame and had it powder-coated.
I was super lucky buying the bike as it already had IT Yamaha forks and a PE Suzuki swingarm sort of fitted to the bike. It was in a pretty bad shape full of grinding marks and brackets that were cracked; I fixed all the problems wrong with it and also modified the frame to suit the swingarm. The tank was also in a bad way as it had been used as the steering stop, concaved on both sides of the front of the tank; it was also full of dents, so I cut it around the seems hammered out all the dents, metal-finished it, and TIG-welded it back together.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The bike is a dream to ride with the IT forks and the PE swing arm and new rear shocks handle the bigger hits whilst being soft enough not to become unsettled coming into corners and in the smaller braking bumps. The motor is the stand-out of the bike with more torque than a draught horse down low and pulls the whole way through the rev range with the awesome note of the big single.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I’m really proud of the way the whole bike came out, but the stand-out feature of the bike is the pipe — it came out an absolute treat and sounds as good as it looks.