The Story behind the 1985 Frog FZ750

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Every few weeks I get a request for information about the classic Frog FZ750 concept designed by our founder Hartmut Esslinger in 1985. The Frog FZ was a bit of a superstar, appearing on the cover of various magazines including Cycle World in the US and Motorrad in Germany. In 1990 it appeared on the cover of Businessweek with Esslinger. Hartmut was the only living designer thus honored since Raymond Loewy in 1934. I always felt the Frog FZ, sometimes called “The Rana,” was special for a few reasons. Being designed in 1985, just three years after frog entered into its contract with Apple and opened the California studio, it was the personification of the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of Frog at that time. It also influenced the generation of motorbikes that followed. The Honda Hurricane was so influenced by the Frog FZ that Honda offered one to Hartmut as a gift!

After having a prominent place in our client area for the last twenty five years, we prepared the frog FZ to enter the permant collection of the SFMOMA this month. There it will be on display as the iconic part of design history it is. As part of the restoration and preparation process, we spoke with Hartmut to document the entire story on how the FZ came to be.

“The FZ project was inspired both by German Bike Magazine’s Motorrad call for a safer and more beautiful bike and by California legislation against very dangerous motorcycles – of which Yamaha’s FZ 750 was one of,” explains Hartmut.

“I decided to participate in Motorrad’s competition and as Yamaha USA got wind of it, they told me that they would be happy to collaborate. This resulted that we made a foam-study (scale 1:2.5) which made it on the cover of Motorrad and then continued with the support of Yamaha USA to design a build a 1:1 (full scale) prototype based upon a real FZ 750.”

“The bike got imported from Japan – without pistons in the engine and screws which made it un-drivable as it was outlawed in California – and then we went to work.  Aside of creating a retro-futuristic design language, we also integrated safety research by the University Bochum in Germany (especially in the area of body work against side falls and the shape of the seat/tank). We also increased side-visibility as a major cause of accidents in the US is a car cutting into a bike and we provided double headlights – by now an industry standard. In addition, we also designed light-weight rims with carbon-fiber core in order to reduce the mass of the wheels, back then quite a challenging proposal.”

A helmet was designed to accompany the FZ.

“The design study went to Yamaha HQ in Hammamatsu, Japan, was liked but never built. However, we got permission to publish the bike and the global effect was tremendous. The biggest compliment was by HONDA, as their design team dedicated their Hurricane design to the FROG 750. They actually offered me one as a gift. Photos are taken by Dietmar Henneka, World-famous for his work for Mercedes Benz and Porsche.”

This story originally appeared on Frog Design’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

  • smoke4ndmears

    I Wonder if the Ducati designers saw this prior to designing the Paso.

    • JTB

      Paso was shown in 1986 launched in 87 here in the USA.

    • Rick


  • Chris Davis

    It looks like it should run on electrons.

  • Troy R

    Wow! Those Frog guys were into alot of shit!

  • tomwito

    The bike is ok but that helmet is awesome. I wish I could get one like that.

    • isambard


    • rohorn

      The Porsche Design helmet from about 25 years ago looks very similar.

  • jpenney

    What are these “very dangerous motorcycle laws” that are referred to?

    • Ceolwulf

      This has me curious as well. Never really thought about the FZ 750 before but I kind of want one now.

    • Kevin

      There were import tariffs in the eighties on bikes that were 750 cc or larger, maybe that was it?

      • Gene

        IIRC, actually the IIHS were pushing a law banning bikes over 500cc, or 100HP, or had a fairing. No kidding. Those fairings are dangerous.

        Edit: actually it was 400cc or bigger. I think HDs not a “get out of jail free” card, but I don’t remember.

        • jpenney

          Is that because the has HDs made the same power as a 400?

          I am aware of the tariffs but not of any dangerous rule.

        • Kevin

          It was >700 ccs, I remember because my Shadow 700 had been downsized from the previous year’s 750 cc to get around the new tariff.

      • Rick

        If memory is correct the tariff was a response to Harley-Davidson claims that the Japanese were “dumping” motorcycles into the US market. Machines 700cc and below were not subject to the fee.

        When the going gets tough, pinch John Q Public.

    • TuffGong

      These were proposed laws which generated a lot of publicity and were in response to the ever increasing horsepower wars of the 80′s and sparked the so called Gentleman’s Agreement amongst Manufacturers to limit top speeds/horsepower. The tarrif’s of the early eighties were purely an import tarriff on Motorcycles larger than 750cc(hence the death of the Virago 920 engine,which was a sweet runner in a variety of models,pre-Harley cloning)

  • Jesse

    That helmet is many things, but I don’t see it being able to contain that awesome Hasselhoffian hair. Ah, the eighties.

  • Mark D [EX500]

    Eighties-gasm. Now I want to go check that thing out in the flesh.

  • Kevin

    I guess the future doesn’t need turn signals or mirrors? Or are they too subtly integrated to detect?

    Still, great looking machine.

    • Erok

      Where we’re going, we don’t need mirrors…

  • rohorn

    If I remember right, it was on the last cover of Cycle Guide magazine. I think that was the article with “action” shots of the bike, taken coasting downhill since the engine didn’t run.

  • Toby

    This reminds me how annoying it is to start reading an article, find that it’s in the first person and have no idea who wrote it, and have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find the author’s name… why not move author up under the article title?

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]


    • Campisi

      Agreed. Minor thing, but still…

    • David

      Doesn’t it always say on the front page under the abstract? I’ve learned to check that before the click…

      • Sean Smith

        I was gonna say…

    • ike6116

      I’ve complained about this before to no avail.

    • BigRooster

      +1 – I’m glad I am not alone. I was lost for a period.

      “Every few weeks I get a request for information about the classic Frog FZ750 concept designed by our founder Hartmut Esslinger in 1985″

      At this point, I was wondering – Who? Founder of what?

  • dux [87 CBR600, 95 XR600R]

    Cool. My Hurricane is crying out “daddy”. Same colors and everything.

  • Scott-jay

    Three bikes in gallery?
    Like this post and its moto.