RE: Kawasaki Z1: PH2 Heroes

RE: Kawasaki Z1: PH2 Heroes

Tuesday 4th December

Kawasaki Z1: PH2 Heroes

With the Honda CB750 to beat, Kawasaki's Z1 needed to be fast, refined and cool. It was all of that and more...



In 1968, Steve McQueen drove a Sherwood Green Mustang GT Fastback into motoring legend. Fifty years later, Ford's official homage to that car - the Mustang Bullitt - has sold out. And we don't mean in a bad way.

In 1973, Kawasaki rewrote superbike history with the Z1. Forty-five years later, the Z900RS - Kawasaki's official homage to the Z1 - has been described by more than one impartial scribbler as the best retro bike ever.

Both feats are impressive, given the passage of time between original and tribute. You could say that Kawasaki's effort is even more impressive than Ford's, given that everything is 'on show' on a naked motorcycle. The essential RS engine plus chassis package is, more than conceptually, the same now as it was in 1973 - or 1967 if you go right back to the 'New York Steak' codenamed project bikes that preceded the dumbfounding arrival of the Z1.


You also have to add in the style-cramping fact that the 1973 Z1 that Kawasaki is hommaging now was - and still is - a hell of a tool. It was meant to be a 750, but Honda kiboshed that plan by unveiling its own world-dominating (they hoped) CB750 at the 1968 Tokyo Show.

Kawasaki therefore had to come up with something that would not only blow Honda into the weeds but also start them on their own self-proclaimed quest to become the motorcycle brand for power and speed. The Z1 would have to displace the ageing Vincent HRD that, even in the late 1960s, was still regarded as the ultimate sports machine.

The Z1 went on sale in the UK a year before Kawasaki had established any sort of administrative base here, let alone any dealer network. The first bikes were brought in by importers Agrati. In 1974, Kawasaki UK still only had 15 road bike dealerships selling a total of 1200 or so bikes from a six-model range. But what bikes they were.


Kawasaki had three trump cards giving them a flying start in the UK. For a start, they came into the big four-stroke market with major street cred thanks to the eyeball-popping reputation established by their scarily quick two-stroke triples, the H1 500 and the H2 750.

Secondly, there wasn't much non-Kawasaki opposition. The only other bike in the Z1's 130mph+ class was the considerably more expensive (and challenging) Laverda Jota. BMW's iconic 'gentleman's express', the R100RS, only produced 70hp from its old-school flat-twin motor and was still three years away.

Thirdly, despite their pioneering and deeply impressive CB750, Honda wasn't much liked here as a brand. Not only were they seen as a 'white goods' outfit, their annoyingly reliable bikes took a lot of the blame for killing off the British motorcycle industry. Hondas went like a watch, but they were perceived as being about as interesting as a Timex.


Honda's CB750 actually helped Kawasaki as it allowed Ben Inamura and his team to do remote market research on someone else's creation and then use that to improve their own beast. In the Z1's case, the main improvements were to double the Honda's cam count and take the capacity out to a then-outrageous 903cc.

Early Z1s produced a ridiculous 95hp in prototype form, but problems with the pistons and the oil breather meant that it wasn't a reliable figure. Kawasaki dressed some prototypes up as Honda 750s and sent them out onto American roads for shakedown testing. 82hp was chosen as the final production ouput, but even at that reduced figure, the prototype Z1s were chewing through final drive chains at a fearsome rate, despite the automatic chain oilers that were fitted to pre-Z1B models. Kawa's big strokers had had similar problems, which were eventually solved for all powerful bikes by the advent of O-ring chains.

It's difficult to overstate the impact of the finished Z1 when it officially hit the streets. In terms of shock and awe it was on the same level as the Lamborghini Countach. For many a likely lad in the 1970s it was the only bike to have.


In 1973, Triumph released its 2.0 Dolomite Sprint. That was a sporty sort of motor much loved by the motoring press. With 127hp, it had a power to weight ratio of 8kg per bhp. The 82hp Z1's figure was 2.8kg per bhp. Do the math to get an inkling as to the quantum leap this bonkers Kawasaki represented.

The first-year Candy Brown bike you're looking at here has been in Patrick Bullimore's garage for the last 40 years. He bought it for £500 in 1978 from the original owner, having helped that same chap to buy it new in August 1973 by giving him a lift to Read Titan, the original vendors. "I did own a Z1 in 1974, and always regretted selling it," recalls Bullimore, who started to restore this bike in 2001. The engine was rebuilt in Manchester by a well-known Z1 specialist and all the cycle parts were restored under the watchful eye of Z1 guru Dave Marsden. The bodywork was repainted by Dream Machine and a 1976 Z900 exhaust system was fitted, as they were the only original pipes you could get from Kawasaki in those days. Now, if you need a new Z1 system, it's aftermarket non-original, or bespoke if you can find someone daft enough to take the job on.

The Z1 is no lightweight at around 230kg - the new Z900RS weighs 215kg - but once you're moving you'd never guess it. Peak power doesn't arrive until 8500rpm, which is high for a two-valve head. Fortunately, changing up early doesn't leave a 2018 rider feeling short-changed. Progress is smooth and relentless. The engine is still as wonderful and characterful today as it ever was.


Early road testers were gobsmacked not just by the Z1's performance but by the effortless refinement with which it was delivered. Extensive use of rubber mountings made it smoother even than the CB750, and that was hardly rough. Motor Cycle News's man Brian 'Badger' Crichton was the first British journo to ride a Z1 in the UK. He described the "non-stop crescendo of power... when I looked down at the speedo and saw over 130mph I just couldn't believe it." Badger was a little bloke, so even allowing for the 6% optimism of the speedo it must have been quite a culture shock for him.

Japanese riders must have been annoyed by their country's 750cc capacity limit and the 42mph motorway speed limit that was in force at the time, both of which meant the Z1 was off limits to them. Kawasaki did do a home market 69hp Z2, but it was a poor subsitute for the full-fat Z1.

Suspension is one of the areas in which big advances have been made over the last half-century, but even with the limitations of 5-way rear shocks and spindly front forks you're still likely to be taken aback by the balance of a well set-up Z1. The high buckhorn bars and simple but supportive seat provide a fine riding position for old British scribblers with original backs, and the end result is a surprisingly excellent town bike for anyone over 5ft 8in tall.


Which poor old Brian wasn't. That must have made what happened at the end of the 130mph straight all the more knee-trembling. "The machine suddenly broke into a high-speed wobble... I just sat there for what seemed forever, waiting to be thrown off. Thankfully the machine eventually came back under control."

There's something really evocative about the typefaces Kawasaki used for both clock digits and badgework. With only a single front disc (that was notoriously ineffective in the wet) and a drum at the back, you tended to spend a lot of time concentrating on the clock numbers. Luckily, Z1 instrument design is a paragon of simplicity and clarity that still hasn't been bettered.

Cycle Guide's amusingly named road tester Bob Braverman rated the stability of the bike on the special track at which he and other US hacks were invited to test the Z1. For some reason, ahem, this track didn't have any corners on it, but Bob was impressed by the fact that he could "cruise at 120mph sitting bolt upright in the saddle... there are very few motorcycles we have ridden that can come close to achieving this. The rider is not required to hang on with a vice-like grip in order to keep the front end pointed in the direction he wishes to go. It is merely necessary tp lightly rest his hands on the grips, and we found the bike will track perfectly every time." Eeeh, straight from the days when men were men and women were grateful.


Aboard Pat's bike on the somewhat bendier and bumpier roads of Surrey, the motor felt a little 'woofly' as if it wasn't getting quite the right mix of air and fuel. That's not exactly uncommon on old Japanese bikes with original carbs. Even so, the 66x66mm Z1 motor was smooth and super-tractable from low rpm, the controls light and the steering responsive. It's a lovely ride and perfectly useable on modern-day roads.

In 1973 it was a revelation. Cycle magazine put the big questions about whether or not Kawasaki had indeed created the King Motorcycle they were claiming to have built. "Would you believe a machine that can idle along in town with no fuss?" they asked. "And tour effortlessly at any old speed? And streak down country roads? And break the back of any other motorcycle at the strip or speedway? You can believe it now. A velvet blunderbuss, and every inch a King."

Is a Z1 a practical proposition in 2018? Many parts are now either n/a or hideously expensive, but there's a healthy aftermarket of love and craftsmanship to help you realise your Z1 dream. Dave Ennis of Buzzworkz has as much Z1 experience and expertise as anyone. He does brilliant work improving Z1s both mechanically, electrically and chassis-ily, giving the frame the sort of bracing it should have had from the start, all without altering the classic original look if that's something you'd like to retain. If you're not that bothered about originality he'll hold your hand and take you down the Ohlins/Sanctuary route, or to any point in between standard and full restomod.


You'll always be safe in the knowledge that your investment is totally secure, because the Z1 has never been anything less than a legend, and the supply of bikes is extremely limited. "It's thought that only 30 odd bikes were brought in to the UK in 1973, and that there are now only a handful left," says Patrick.

A quick footnote. Back in 1989, a chap called Steve Webster won a restored Z1 in a magazine competition. The magazine was SuperBike. I worked there when I was young, foolish and a lot more bouncy than I am now. Stupidly, the mag waited until I'd gone before they organised that competition. If I'd hung on a bit longer there might well have been an unexplained fire in the Comp Entries box. Ah yes, great times.

Values, needless to say, can only go one way. In 1989, Steve reckoned his Candy Yellow Green prize bike was worth maybe £4000. Today, if you did manage to track down a really good example like Pat's, you'd probably have to start the bidding at £18,000 - and you could easily end up looking at a figure considerably larger than that.


You won't be getting Pat's Z1, though. "I will never sell this bike," he says flatly. "My wife would never forgive me. it is her favourite bike of all time."

SPECIFICATIONS - KAWASAKI Z1

Engine: 903cc DOHC 8-valve transverse four, air-cooled
Induction: 4 x 28mm Mikuni carbs
Power: 82hp at 8500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed, chain drive
Weight: 230kg
Top speed: 133mph @ 8500rpm in top
Frame: Steel duplex cradle
Seat: height 32.5in
Wheels: 18in
Braking: 11.7in single disc front, 8in drum rear
Price new: £1177 inc tax
Value now: £18,000-£30,000

We thank Pat Bullimore for trusting us with his superb Z1, and Pat thanks Dave Marsden of Z Power for parts and knowledge and Stephen Smethurst for the engine rebuild.

Photography credit: John Goodman.


Author
Discussion

EggsBenedict

Original Poster:

1,368 posts

110 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Lovely thing!

Look at the length of the mudguards on it!

cwis

805 posts

115 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Beautiful thing.

Just a slight correction - the Jota wasn't for sale in 1973.

Its predecessor the 3CE came out in '75 and was a special built by Slaters based on the 3C

The 3C itself was released in 1972...

The Jota came out in 1976 and was based on the 3CL.

The Z1 was pretty much out there on it's own for a couple of years and was probably the "target" Slaters had for the 3CE.

Riverside Red

706 posts

71 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Chose a new Kawasaki Z650 over a used Z1B in 1978, still regret that decision today even though dynamically the Z650 was the better bike.

Would love a 1970's 4 cylinder Kwacker in the garage.......

RR

calistomon

9 posts

22 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Another Americanism creeping in when you wrote 'do the math'. Please stop.

MrExile

29 posts

131 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Built a little dragster (car) using one of these engines which replaced a blown nitro Triumph. Second and a half quicker and 30mph faster, stopped playing in '89 and there are a few Hayabusa engined cars today that ain't gone as quick. Brilliant engine, amazing motorcycles.

Edited by MrExile on Tuesday 4th December 18:20

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LuS1fer

34,517 posts

181 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
It was odd that Honda didn't even try to compete. Even in 1979 when they launched the CB900F, Kawasaki and Suzuki had already moved up to the full litre and Honda's litre bike turned into a six cylinder poster bike.

Honda went the other way and launched the Gold Wing in 1974, a sublime and effortless tourer.

I remember seeing a green Z900 in the window of Horsmans of Liverpool in 1975. It was impressive but, at that age, I lusted more over the KH250s alongside it even though I later went on to buy a Gold Wing, via a number of different smaller Hondas.

RemyMartin81D

4,266 posts

141 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Don't write off the Goose until you see the fox run into the hole!!

Biker's Nemesis

35,344 posts

144 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
RemyMartin81D said:
Don't write off the Goose until you see the fox run into the hole!!
MFP.

unpc

2,040 posts

149 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
I think you'll find it was a highland green Mustang and that's my sole contribution to this thread.

TorqueDirty

792 posts

155 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
I remember this bike having the nick name "The Widowmaker" back in the day.

Used to really like these but truth be told I preferred the CB900 as a teenager. Guy I knew had a modified yellow one when I lived in Nicosia and I wanted it badly!

Would have either now.

TD

Greeny

1,341 posts

195 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
cwis said:
Beautiful thing.

Just a slight correction - the Jota wasn't for sale in 1973.

Its predecessor the 3CE came out in '75 and was a special built by Slaters based on the 3C

The 3C itself was released in 1972...

The Jota came out in 1976 and was based on the 3CL.

The Z1 was pretty much out there on it's own for a couple of years and was probably the "target" Slaters had for the 3CE.
My Jota is a 1975 (just about)

Raygun

2,056 posts

56 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
TorqueDirty said:
I remember this bike having the nick name "The Widowmaker" back in the day.

TD
H1 500 got that title.

JohnntRVF

1 posts

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
I own a ‘76 KZ 900 LTD. Yeah, yeah, it’s not a Z1. It’s close enough though. I’ve done an anorak search of the differences and there aren’t that many. I am modifying it as I cannot believe Kawasaki could do such a horrible hatchet job on the styling. I have no qualms about cutting about a stock bike. It won’t be modded as some of the beauties that are about nowadays though. I’ll be using parts to give it a seventies rather than a 21st century look. But I’ll stay away from the platform soles and baggy flares. ( Very nice article by the way Mr Middlehurst and Mr. Goodnman ).

TorqueDirty

792 posts

155 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
Raygun said:
TorqueDirty said:
I remember this bike having the nick name "The Widowmaker" back in the day.

TD
H1 500 got that title.
Ah, ok my bad. Well at least I got the make right; and it proves once again that most of my older biker mates from that time were full of st - but I knew that anyway.

TD





Janluke

1,524 posts

94 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
I have a slightly modded Z1B(brakes, suspension and exhaust) it really is a very usable classic. Huge range of spares still available. Although prices are a bit mad nowadays the later and arguably better Z1000s are still affordable.

Mr Tidy

6,924 posts

63 months

Tuesday 4th December
quotequote all
That bike is just lovely - it was the poster bike for me back in the 70s. cloud9

The nearest I got was a Z650 in the early 80s, but that was a great bike too.

TerryFarquit

25 posts

63 months

Wednesday 5th December
quotequote all
I hired one of these quite a few years ago when they were cheap to go to the Philip Island Grand Prix - drove down from Melbourne to watch Doohan do his thing.
The motor had not aged much at all - was beautifully smooth and flexible, but the chassis was made of marzipan and the brakes were pretty borderline.
But overall it was still a good package, and with some subtle mods, would probably have been pretty good.

neutral 3

2,693 posts

106 months

Wednesday 5th December
quotequote all

NNM 314P Where are you now ??
My diamond green Z900 complete with Paolo Tarrozzi rear sets, rear disc, S + S pipe, Lester mags, Z1000H injection front mudguard, reversed callipers, taper head races, is seen here in Chingford in late 81. Sold it in Jan 82, to buy my first road car, a 72 3 Litre Capri ( this was the fastest 3 Litre Capri in East London, a high speed dice with the Capri a few months before, sealed the deal for me )

Edited by neutral 3 on Wednesday 5th December 00:32

blade7

8,223 posts

152 months

Wednesday 5th December
quotequote all
I had a Z1B in 1979, my first 4 stroke. The Z1R I had next was a much nicer bike.

Mr Tidy

6,924 posts

63 months

Wednesday 5th December
quotequote all
neutral 3 said:

NNM 314P Where are you now ??
My Z900 seen here in Chingford in late 81. Sold it in Jan 82, to buy my first road car, a 72 3 Litre Capri ( this was the fastest 3 Litre Capri in East London, a high speed dice with the Capri a few months before, sealed the deal for me )
Lovely looking Z900, with some handy mods too - a 2nd front disc at least gives you a chance of stopping! thumbup

Sadly it's last MOT expired on 1 March 2014, so it could be anywhere. frown

As could the KH500 my former OH persuaded me to let go as part payment for a new kitchen in 2002. banghead

There's no MOT history showing for PPR 290R. cry

But as I have a photo, albeit very grainy, why not post it anyway as it's the offspring of a widowmaker?