Archives — Kawasaki Z1

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Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype

The Z1 Chronicles

Kawasaki’s 900 Super Z1 did more than blow Honda’s CB750 in terms of refinement and all-around ability.

It was the first superbike.

A velvet and every inch a King.—Cycle, 1972

For just a moment, you’re Kawasaki’s Sam Tanegashima in the of 1968. As a project leader been slaving night and day for the part of two years on what was internally known as N600. It is to be a groundbreaking road-burner that become the most important in the world, with a contemporary first of an air-cooled, DOHC, inline-four.

Testing is all but complete and has swimmingly—your finger is metaphorically to push the button to begin early next year. You even allow yourself to life is going to be very, good.

And then you get the phone from the 1968 Tokyo Show. It seems competitor had the same idea—only a bit sooner—and has motorcycling on its ear with the revolutionary Four. Suddenly there is a new most important motorcycle in the it ain’t yours. Shame and taste more acrid bile.

One remembers it with clarity.

So it was for Kawasaki’s N600 team as they returned to to lick their wounds—and to kick Honda’s … Tokyo to Tucumcari to Turin and by building something bigger, and even more sophisticated—a King of Motorcycling. It would the better part of four an eternity compared with two-year product cycles for 600cc and 1000cc sportbikes. But was determined to get it right.

At the time was in the midst of changing its entire to building motorcycles. As Tanegashima in Micky Hesse’s book Z1 One motto [we had] for developing the Z1 was to one piece of motorcycle. Before the Z1, had developed several very motorcycles like the A7, H1 and H2.

It was not sure if we selling engine/horsepower or motorcycle.

the very beginning of Z1 development, he we made sure to develop one of motorcycle, not independent engine or or designing.

Tanegashima added that the were well known for me-too approach—going along to get so to speak. Our people tend to to do the same thing as [their] In product development, this leads to [copying] some or leaders. However, [our] in developing the Z1 was to make it completely from Honda’s CB750.

[is] a very rare in Japanese society.

Equally is a passage from Kawasaki’s Web site ( [With the Z1] changed their engine policy so that the powerband was not set the engine’s [rev] limit, pursuing elegance and smooth performance. At its heart, that stemmed from Kawasaki’s to substitute four-… powerplants for in making top-of-the-line models.

all, Kawasaki had in 1963 Meguro, one of Japan’s oldest manufacturers and known for its four-strokes, so had four-… engineering expertise. (To day, the firm still Meguro’s logo on packaging and Indeed, Kawasaki’s talented Ben Inamura had already developed the previous foray into the BSA-like 650cc W1, from a 500cc K2 vertical twin. And it was who would become the project for Kawasaki’s N600 750cc and then for the Z1’s 903cc

Still, the question came up at the model-introduction press conference in the of 1972: Why was Kawasaki seemingly its two-… heritage to create four-…? In Cycle magazine’s test of the Z1 in the November 1972 Kawasaki’s Motorcycle Division Manager T. Yamada’s response was Lots of reasons, he said.

wanted to build, in their the King Motorcycle, a bike which the finest motorcycles in the would shrivel in comparison. a that would leave a hot and scar across the face of the And you just can’t do it, Yamada was with a two-… engine. In the place, Yamada said, the Motorcycle must have an that sounds right.

No important, said Yamada, is the way the looks. Who could imagine a Motorcycle with an engine looked like a two-… looks, all crankcases and cooling The King. has to have an engine looks impressive.

And only a big four-… is right.

important consideration at the time was the of America—in the face of rising emissions. Even in 1972 it was that stinkwheel-powered motorcycles living on borrowed time. this, Kawasaki had already massive amounts of focus-group that clearly indicated a four-…-powered road burner was right for the intended audience—primarily riders—and for the times.

Nonetheless, vitally important to remember developed the two-… 500 Mach III with the stillborn 750. gave the company an exceedingly motorcycle to sell as it tested, and refined the Z1, which had its code changed to T103 in 1968, changed again later to final prototypes were 9057. Perhaps the most code name/internal reference was New Steak, although one wonders, Kawasaki’s desire to create the King of Motorcycles, that didn’t dub it Filet Mignon or Châteaubriand.

Even if it were to be as Montmorency, Kawasaki was taking no whatsoever with the Z1’s of testing and refinement. For example, a of 9057s were shipped to the in February 1972, where two flogged the horns off the poor, prototypes.

Bryon Farnsworth, America’s senior test was joined at Willow Springs and at Superspeedway by the company’s race including Gary Nixon, Smart and Hurley Wilvert, who abused the remarkably stoic On Talladega’s 2.66-mile tri-oval they ran the bikes WFO for the time it to drain the 4.7-gallon fuel

Testers also ran some miles on real roads in country, going coast-to-coast-to-coast, Los to Daytona Beach and back. so much development on dynos, and racetracks, the only even unseemly trait the Z1 demonstrated was an appetite for rear tires and chains, consuming the former in 6000 miles, the latter in half that distance.

had been working for Cycle when he was approached by Kawasaki to on the role of senior U.S. rider, specifically for Z1 development. I was the round-eye to ride the Z1, Farnsworth and I was the only American to go over to to test the bike.

So in 1971 Farnsworth was sent to Initial plans called for the bike around the vast, banked oval of the MITA track, but those plans through. Kawasaki then a parking lot and threw out some to create an impromptu handling

Farnsworth, who figured he was being to tell his employers the truth no sugarcoating whatsoever, did so. The bike started dragging its mufflers corners, he says. I told it was a rakuta, or water buffalo in

Eventually the testing team it to a real track, Tsukuba but even that was short—just a mile long—and not really for wringing out the King of Motorcycles.

at this point in the Z1’s Kawasaki was deeply concerned the bike’s durability and reliability, and so. Such problems could not only scuttled the Z1 in the marketplace, but could have sunk reputation as well. Of course knew just where to Superspeedway.

So in late 1972 the Kawasaki Z1–testing entourage on Talladega, which they’d for 30 days.

They were it wide open for an entire of gas, Farnsworth says, about 140 miles per hour. of consequence broke, but this was in the day, before manufacturers something about shock and frame stiffness. It was a wiggler at the he says, but only if you let off.

If you had the and held it wide open, it was OK.

It about 10 years for them and other manufacturers] to figure out the head was connected to the swingarm and that you can’t put an engine in that’s going to try to twist the apart!

As a side note, mentions that the Japanese tended to hang out together—especially at the at night, after testing was No big deal, right? Except they were squatting in a big circle drinking beer a hotel—in the South. Alabama, to be

So of course the Heat swooped in and them all off to …, and Farnsworth had to them out.

But that’s not all. From 13 through 15, 1973 (after the 200 had run), Farnsworth brought a assault team to beat record set in 1968 of running mph for 2172 miles. Included Kawasaki’s American roadrace riders of the day—Yvon Duhamel, Art and Gary Nixon, among several U.S. moto-magazine including Cook Neilson of and Motorcyclist’s own Art Friedman.

Ultimately … Suzuki’s record, a new one of 109.641 mph for 2631 miles. A one-off Z1 tuned by Yoshimura and by Yvon Duhamel set a new record of for one lap.

So what was this of Motorcycles? How was it configured? What was it like?

From the beginning, the Z was all about its overachieving powerplant. claimed 80 horsepower for the air-cooled, inline-four—handily about 15 bhp more Honda’s CB750. Cycle’s described it this way: flows. like water an Artesian well.

It simply stops.

To further distance the Z1 the CB750, the Z utilized square x … dimensions of 66 x 66mm, than the Honda’s old-school numbers, to get 903cc of displacement. asked why, Kawasaki with a shrug, saying, all it needs. This was a very indication that the Japanese were no longer interested in rigid and limiting class

A sophisticated DOHC induction (still rare on mass-production if not on Euro performance cars) was fed by a of four 28mm carbs.

in the crankcases lived a nine-piece, roller-bearing crank, with needle-rollers for each con rod to ride on enough of Kawasaki’s massive design background. Sufficiently apparently, for Cycle to write, The end looks like it came out of a Carrera. Power then to a massive, wet, multiplate and to an equally overbuilt five-speed

This strength would the bike well on the streets, and dragstrips of the world for many, years.

Although the DOHC with its shim adjusters was more complex than the adjusters of most other Kawasaki tried to make by keeping other maintenance as simple as possible. As a result, any top-end wrenching that be required could be done the engine still in the frame.

Where Kawasaki really a breakthrough, however, was in emissions For instance, sintered valve made them impervious to fuel, while a low, compression ratio ensured the mega-motor could run on the wateriest pumped anywhere in the U.S. important, though, was the crankcase rebreather. A canister on top of the cases and the cylinders separated oil from then routed the fumes to the

Absurdly simple, but a scheme to reduce hydrocarbon emissions a 40 percent.

By comparison, much of the of the motorcycle seemed, well, Yes, the stylists managed to the big Zed appear slimmer and more than Honda’s four-cylinder, but to Cycle once more: The styling is conservative by normal and positively funereal by Kawasaki’s, the that gave the sport stripes and lollipop paint

Others, though, felt the Zed was more lustworthy than the any other motorcycle, for that Such considerations, along the Kawasaki’s crushing performance made the bike a smash hit a bullet when it hit U.S. floors in November 1972. the press was just as bowled

The thing that impresses you the 900 is its great straight-line stability at high speeds. We could at 120 mph sitting bolt upright. Guide, October 1972

The 903 Z1 is the most modern motorcycle in the It is also the fastest. It is above all the of a new generation of bikes, a generation will run quietly on the streets of a generation which will to solve motorcycles’ tiny to the world’s dirty air; it is the of a generation of motorcycles which come close to being reason all things to all people, of nattering down quiet roads packing double one and rotating the Earth with acceleration the next. —Cycle, 1972

The Z1 is one of those shockingly GT machines, the kind on which you can down at the speedometer and discover, God, I’m doing 90, better shut down.’

—Cycle World, March

A Z1 is the only bike left to those famous lines a mid-’60s road test on a Sportster still apply: will make hair on your chest, and if you’ve got it, it will part it down the —Cycle

. the first 903 Z1 four-cylinder had refinement and enough performance to the most refined gentleman in a of serious sweat. —Cycle, May

. Kawasaki, like a black-sheep has never failed to pat us bad-boyishly on the give us a surreptitious snort a hidden flask, and affirm our that life without is no life at all.

—Cycle April 1993

In short, 900 Super Four Z1, as it finally to be known, was a revelation, a motorcycle pointed the way to the future for virtually other manufacturer on the globe. The was definitely toward performance, but it the harsh, demanding type characterized Kawasaki two-strokes as the Mach III and Avenger. Instead, it was a more civilized performance—but at an higher level—and as inviting and as the two-strokes felt hostile and to some.

Even so, the Z1 didn’t generate the all-inclusive, big-tent of Honda’s CB750. There was just a bit of an edge, a subtle of Us versus Them. Where the had this wonderful malleable that allowed it to accommodate role the owner had in mind, the Z1 quite as obsequious.

It’s not the bike wasn’t capable of shape-shifting; it’s just the Z1’s performance (especially the was so inviting and user-friendly.

Such guaranteed Kawasaki’s Z1 would be as the motorcycle that ushered in the era—and cemented its place in

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