Five classic strokers no.2: Kawasaki H1 Mach III-News & Reviews-Motorcycle…

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Kawasaki 500 H1 (Match III) Prototype

06 Aug 2013 | Ian Falloon looks at five classics in motorcycling history — Kawasaki’s H1 Mach III is number two

Words: Ian Falloon

Five classic strokers:

Number 2: Kawasaki H1 Mach III

Anyone who’s ridden an H1 will remember the sensory onslaught it could unleash with a twist of a wrist!

Kawasaki and high performance motorcycles are synonymous, and the machine that created this legend was the incredible two-stroke three-cylinder H1 Mach III. Introduced in September 1968, the H1 was raw and untamed, with an unmatched power-to-weight ratio. The H1 may have been flawed, with a reputation for twitchy handling, but in 1969 no other production machine could match its scintillating performance.

Development of the H1 began in early 1967 by a team headed by the young engineer Yukio Otsuki. It was a totally new design, sharing little with existing Kawasaki rotary-valve two-strokes. The three-cylinder engine totally dominated the motorcycle, almost to the extent where the frame and cycle parts were secondary. With the cylinders inclined 15 degrees, the in-line three-cylinder piston-port engine had dimensions of 60mm x 58.5mm, giving 499cc.

Lubrication was by the Kawasaki ‘Injectolube’ system with positive feed to the left-side main bearings.

During development, much attention was paid to cooling the central cylinder, and the outer cylinders’ fins were cropped on the inboard side to provide extra finning for the middle. Producing high horsepower required a large port area, and this, coupled with the need to maintain good cooling of the central cylinder, resulted in a long crankshaft. Placing the ignition distributor on the right and alternator on the left also exacerbated engine width.

The ignition was one of the more important innovations, and the H1 was the first production street motorcycle to feature a pointless electronic ignition.

The spark plugs were of a surface gap type, specifically designed to prevent overheating and oiling in two-strokes. Carburetion was by three Mikuni VM28SC carburettors, and the bike produced 44.1kW (60hp) at 8000rpm. For 1968 this was an astounding figure, especially considering that the weight of the motorcycle was a moderate 180kg.

The power-to-weight ratio was unparalleled at the time.

While the three-cylinder engine was a tour-de force, the chassis and running gear needed more development. The double-cradle frame just wasn’t up to the task, likewise the slender fork. A high centre of gravity and a rearward-biased weight distribution didn’t help high-speed stability, and the brakes, too, were a weak point.

But the H1 was intended to go, not stop, and this it did like no other motorcycle of its day. Capable of a standing 400m in around 12.8 seconds and a top speed of 200km/h, all the rider had to do was refuel – regularly.

Over the next few years the H1 was gradually softened. The weight went up and the power down, the front end gained a disc brake, the wheelbase increased and eventually the engine was rubber mounted.

By 1976 the wicked 500cc triple of 1969 was a distant memory, replaced by the slower, sanitary KH500. Overshadowed by a new era of superbikes, the Kawasaki triples were considered thirsty dinosaurs, without a raison d’être . But that has changed. Today the air-cooled triples are appreciated for epitomising an era when Kawasaki dared to be innovative and different, and created unique and charismatic motorcycles.

FAST FACTS: KAWASAKI H1 MACH III


Kawasaki 500 H1 (Match III) Prototype

• During 1969 the production H1 was developed as a Grand Prix racer, the H1-R. The first 500cc racer offered by a major manufacturer for 10 years, 40 H1-Rs were built, with six coming to Australia.

• In the 1970 500cc World Championship New Zealander Ginger Molloy rode a private H1-R. He finished second overall to Giacomo Agostini on the MV Agusta.

• Kenny Blake rode a Ron Angel-tuned H1-R to victory in the 1970 Bathurst Unlimited, and retired from the 500 with a broken chain while in the lead.

• For 1971 the H1-R was updated, becoming the H1-RA. The power went up to 58.8kW (80hp) and Molloy was timed at 250km/h at Daytona. The H1-R never fulfilled expectations in the US, over its two-year racing period winning only one national road race.

• Ginger Molloy remained the H1-R’s most successful exponent, easily winning the Victorian Senior and Unlimited TTs at Calder Park in February, 1972. He also finished second in the 1972 Australian 500/ Unlimited TT at Bathurst, losing by only 0.2 seconds.

*****

The top five:

1. Bultaco Model 8 Metralla

2. Kawasaki H1 Mach III

4. 1929 Scott TT Replica

Kawasaki 500 H1 (Match III) Prototype

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