Kawasaki Motor Corp. USA just moved from its forever headquarters in Irvine, California, to a new HQ five miles away in Foothill Ranch. There’s probably a very good reason you’d pack up your huge warehouse/office and everything and everybody in it, but nobody at a level that deals with the likes of me seems to know why. Anyway, the same things happen when anybody moves: You dig up a lot of old stuff you forgot you had. How about a quick spin through the stuff that didn’t get thrown out?
Mr. Daytona, Scott Russell, won five Daytona 200s – two of them on Muzzy Kawasakis, in 1992 and ’95. On this bike (we think) in ’95, he fell off on the first lap, remounted, chased down and passed Carl Fogarty for the win.
This was the first bike fully manufactured by, and named “Kawasaki.” Durable and cheap, the 125cc 2-stroke that powered it revved to 8,000 rpm and made 8 horsepower. Kawasaki used its aircraft know-how to build that engine, which is reflected in its tank badge.
Jammin’ Jimmy Weinert rode this SR450 (KX-based) to the 1974 AMA 500 Championship, with help from a factory fork, exhaust, and fiberglass fuel tank.
Before Yamaha built the first V-Twin Virago, all the Japanese built Four-cylinder “customs.” At the time, we purists were disgusted, but this old KZ has aged remarkably well and looks like a thing you wouldn’t mind riding. As a matter of fact, this ’76 LTD was the first of the breed: Those Morris mag wheels (16-inch rear) and Mulholland shocks were très chic, also the stepped seat, pullback handlebar and bell-bottom dual exhausts. This bike was so successful, it was followed by a much larger run of KZ1000 LTDs the next year, followed by a slew of imitators from Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha.
A team including Yvon Duhamel, Gary Nixon and Cycle magazine Editor Cook Neilson rode this one around Daytona to a new 24-hour average speed record: 109.641 mph – almost 20 mph faster than the old record.
Jamie Hacking was best known for his 2003 600 Supersport championship season with Yamaha, but he rode this ZX-10R for Kawasaki in 2007 and ’08, knocking out a bunch of podium finishes in ’08. Kawasaki and Honda both dropped out of AMA Superbike racing after the 2009 season.
Given my choice between this thing and a Farrah Fawcett all-access pass in 1985, I totally would’ve gone with the motorcycle. It popped out of my mailbox, wheelying off the cover of Cycle magazine straight at my heart. At a time when all the other mid-size sportbikes were air-cooled 550s, here came the first liquid-cooled 600 plastic fantastic that I might actually be able to afford… ahhhh, no. There can’t be many of these left as unmolested as this zero-miler.
Jonathan Rea won 14 World Superbike races on this one to win the 2015 championship easily, and has a big lead in 2016. The 2013 Champ Tom Sykes sits in second place on the other factory ZX-10R. Maybe Kawasaki has it lying around because it’s thinking about a fresh MotoAmerica effort soon? Naaaaaah!
According to lore, when Kawasaki Japan sent over the list of bikes to be destroyed after it dropped out of racing in 1983, Eddie Lawson’s KR500 F1 racer was somehow not on the manifest. Following orders, Kawasaki’s Norm Bigelow quietly rolled it behind the dyno and threw a tarp over it, and there it sat for many years before being “rediscovered.”
The square-four monocoque KR raced in 500 GP, most notably with Kork Ballington, who rode it to two podiums in 1981, at Assen and Finland. Eddie Lawson rode this one in AMA Formula 1 in 1982, leading the Daytona 200 for a good many laps before dropping out with a gearbox issue. Lawson’s best finish was a second at Road America that season.
1972 Mach IV 750: 74 throbbing horsepower, 423 pounds (dry), $1,395. Someday when we look back at the hydrocarbon era, this thing will be the poster child. Maybe those who believe man and dinosaur roamed the earth together are referring to this bike?
Anyway, thanks very much for the stroll down Memory Lane, Kawasaki people. And may we all continue to Laissez les bon temps roulez.