Today's article will be a short one.
Not only is the Yamaha Ami a rare vehicle (apparently, just three were made) but its unlikely form and construction makes it, surely, one of the most bizarre kei cars of all time.
Based on the Daihatsu Mira, a small, middling, hatchback that was introduced in 1980 as a classically-styled—but still technology-packed kei car. The Yamaha Ami was based on, apparently, the Mira-based Opti.
Based on a car that was based on something else? Let's clear some things up.
What you should know is that, in the kei car class, what we would consider a trim level is often produced as a more distinct model, with additional marketing. The result is many versions, derivatives, and "special" editions that are targeted to a desired niche.
This could be young mothers, businessmen, rabbit enthusiasts (Suzuki Alto Lapin)…you get the idea. The Opti was a sub-model of Mira with classic styling. Its droopy round headlights and ever-present smile endowed the Opti with a Pokémon face and Goomba rump. (Especially on the 5-door version!)
These sub-versions had a purpose—in Japan, the elderly went for the Mira, and so to attract young people, various special "models" at a low development cost are produced in limited numbers. That way, they can sell Miras and fill commercials with, say, the Opti Classic Club Sport, a sport version of the classically-styled Opti…a variation of the Mira…you get the idea.
"OK, I get it, but what the hell is this thing, then?"
Here's what I know. It cost 2,000,000 jpy (~$21,000 in today's money, but this was back in 1995 or so.) Buyers had a choice of engine; a single overhead cam 3-cylinder with 42 horsepower or a dual overhead cam 3-cylinder with 55 horsepower.
Yes: front engine, front wheel drive. Apparently there's a roll cage (doubt it) and apparently they produced 600 but only three were sold (again, doubt it.)
Yamaha has been flirting with the automotive industry for some time, from handling assembly of the Toyota 2000 GT; to developing motors for Ford, Volvo, and others; to producing wood veneers for luxury cars.
With its motorcycle and more youth-focused heritage, it's not much of a stretch to see how this may have happened.
"Hi, Yamaha? It's Daihatsu."
"Hey! How's the Opti doing?"
"Great. But there's a problem…only women are buying it."
"Oh. And you're worried about street cred, right?"
"Yeah. We were thinking…do you want to make a special edition with us? We'll give it some motorcycle-esque cues, give it really aggressive styling, and let you sell it as a Yamaha."
"That sounds awesome! We have a subsidiary, YM Mobile Mates, that can build it; just send over some cars and we'll finish the job!"
So, in the process of digging up as much as possible on the car (not much) I've come to the conclusion that only a handful were made, and the owners each customized theirs. Maybe the car was a conversion kit, maybe it was sold in dealers. But no two look exactly the same—if you follow the first group of sources, you'll notice subtle differences in the Ami; one has black side vents, another has a single exhaust, and the brochure shows an example with dual exhaust.
We'll leave this mystery here, OK? If I can dig up anything else, you'll be the first group of people to know (and I'll update the article online accordingly.)
Almost forgot: there's one for sale.