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Classic Vintage Motorcycles: Kawasaki

Vintage Kawasaki Motorcycles

Kawasaki History

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The 'Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.' (KHI) company was founded by Shozo Kawasaki (1837—1912) in 1896. The company started its life as a producer of heavy industrial equipment, Shipbuilding, tractors, and trains.

Kawasaki's 'Kawasaki Machine Industry' (aka "Kawasaki Aircraft Co., Ltd") division in Nishi-ku, Kobe, Japan, began as a manufacturer of fire extinguishing systems for aircraft fuel tanks, diversifying into a broad spectrum of products from medical gas pipeline systems to motorcycle engines.

Kawasaki Machine Industry began manufacturing motorcycle engines in 1953, with the development of the 'KE- 1' (Kawasaki Engine 1) motorcycle engine. The KE-1 was a 148cc single-cylinder OHV 4-stroke motor which produced 4 hp at 4,000 rpm.

Kawasaki Scooters (1950 to 1959)

Kawasaki entered the burgeoning scooter market in the early 1950s, introducing its first production motorcycle in 1954, called the 'Meihatsu 125 Deluxe,' using a KB-5A engine. The Meihatsu was built throughout the 1950s, into the early 1960s. The also built a line of 60cc two-stroke mopeds to compete with Mitsubishi's 'Silver Pigeon' scooter, and the Fuji 'Rabbit.'

Kawasaki (1960 to 1969) 'Let the Good Times Roll'

In 1960, a partnership agreement was made between Kawasaki Aircraft Co.,Ltd. and Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Meguro Works, and by 1963 the two companies merged to form Kawasaki Motor Sales Co., which was the forerunner to Kawasaki Motorcycle Co.,Ltd.

In 1963, Meguro Works merged with Kawasaki Aircraft Co.,Ltd., forming Kawasaki Motor Sales Co., which was the forerunner to Kawasaki Motorcycle Co., Ltd. The first Kawasaki motorcycles were the Kawasaki SG which had a 250cc single-cylinder OHV motor, and the 496cc ohv twin Kawasaki K1 which was based on its predecessor, the Meguro K1.

1965 Kawasaki W1

1965 Kawasaki W1 (Photo: Kawasaki Museum)

   Meguro & Kawasaki Tank Badge Logos

Evolution of Meguro & Kawasaki Tank Logos

During the early 1960s, Kawasaki introduced a full line of motorcycles under its company name 'Kawasaki Motor Sales Co.' Early models were the 125 Ace, 125B7, 125B8, and Kawasaki Pet. In the early model years, Kawasaki used a mirrored 'M,' or 'MW' on its tank badge, indicating 'Meguro Works.'

By 1965, Kawasaki was ready to enter the larger displacement arena, launching its model 'W1' (photo above). The W1 mimicked the styling cues of the British big-twins like Triumph and the BSA A7 that Meguro copied for its model 'K1.'

The W1 used a 650 (624cc) 4-stroke OHV vertical twin-cylinder engine, and a Meguro designed tube-frame chassis. Kawasaki's W1 was unsuccessful in US markets, due to its highly derivative, and imitative BSA styling. This led to the ground-up development of a completely unique design - the Kawasaki 'Mach-III.'

Kawasaki 'Mach-III' Triples (1968 to 1975)

In 1968, Kawasaki introduced its H1 500 triple, called the 500SS Mach III in Japan. Not only was the chassis styling unique, but its air-cooled inline three-cylinder 2-stroke engine was ground-breaking.

1972 Kawasaki 750 H2
Zoom: 1972 Kawasaki 750 H2 Triple

The Kawasaki H1, nicknamed the "Bronco," earned a reputation as the world's fastest motorcycle in the 500cc class, with a top speed of 200km/h. This success led to the development of the H2 750 Mach IV in 1972. The Mach IV featured single-disc front brakes, CDI ignition, and higher reliability.

The H2 was very fast for the time, with a steep and narrow 2-stroke-style powerband that produced strong acceleration. The Hi and H2 did have some teething problems, such as premature crank bearing failures (I know this from personal experience), but the Kawa triples did earn a special place in motorcycle history, and the nickname of "the widowmaker."

Kawasaki 500 Mach III 3-Cylinder 2-Stroke Engine
Kawasaki 500 H1 Mach III 3-Cylinder 2-Stroke Engine

The 750 H2 Mach IV holds the world's record for the fastest normally-aspirated 750cc production motorcycle, running the standing quarter-mile in 7.756 seconds, with a top speed of 170 mph.

Kawasaki Z1 (1970 to 1979)

In response to the incoming Honda CB 750, Kawasaki introduced its first inline four-cylinder 4-stroke motorcycle in 1970.

Like the CB 750, the Z1 used an air-cooled DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, that earned the bike such nicknames as the "king of motorcycles."

By 1977, the large displacement wars were on, and Kawasaki introduced the 1000cc Z1-R. Only one year later, Kawasaki introduced the Z1300, with a 1300cc In-line 6-cylinder liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stoke engine nicknamed the "Dreadnaught." The Z1300 was undoubtedly Kawasaki's response to the Honda CBX.

The inline four-cylinder Z400FX was launched in 1979, marking the end of the 'Z' series motorcycles.

Kawasaki Today

Kawasaki remains one of the world's largest producers of cruiser and sport/racing motorcycles in the world. The Ninja sportbike with its signature racing-team neon green color, and the Vulcan cruiser are two of the company's best selling models, and Kawasaki in a major player in the superbike and GP class racing scene. Kawasaki headquarters are located in Chuo-ku, Kobe, Japan.

Vintage Kawasaki Motorcycle Links

Kawasaki Museum

Kawasaki Website

Vintage Kawasaki Fibreglass Replica Parts

Kawasaki Z1 KZ900 KZ1000 - (1973-1980)

Kawasaki Owners Club

Kawasaki GPX & GPZ Owners Club - UK

Kawasaki Histrory

Kawasaki Museum - W1 Histrory

Kawasaki Motorcycle Histrory

1967 Kawasaki W1 650

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