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The Story Behind the 1985 frog FZ750

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 Motorad in Germany. In 1990 it appeared on the cover of Business week 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 mortorbikes 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. Read the following for the full scoop:

"The FZ project was inspired both by German Bike Magazine’s MOTORAD 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…

I decided to participate in MOTORAD’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 MOTORAD 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.

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."


Above: original scale model for Motorad Magazine


Above: matching FZ helmet


The FZ in a rare street appearance outside our San Francisco studio before going to SFMOMA.


So, for all of you FZ enthusiasts, there is the whole story! The departure of the full scale prototype has left a little hole in our hearts as well as our lobby, so we have been busy preparing something special. Something that represents our hopes, dreams, and aspirations just like the original did. Stay tuned for more on that...



As a Creative Director at frog, Michael DiTullo has designed products for a wide array of industries including housewares, consumer electronics, automotive, medical robotics, fashion and performance footwear. Michael is also a weekly contributor to Core77, a global design magazine and resource. You can follow Michael on Twitter @michael_ditullo.