BLOWHARDS! 1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo Vs. 2020 Kawasaki H2 Carbon Vs. Ken Vreeke and JB
Abnormal aspiration meets lowered expectation
I thought I was picking up a new Z H2 naked at Kawasaki, but there was some miscommunication. I got this H2 Carbon instead, the full-zoot sport version barely removed from the track-only H2R instead of the slightly tamer naked I was expecting. Damn the luck! I’d really prefer to be sat a bit more upright. When I climbed on and reached for the clip-ons, the H2 Carbon hurt my lumbar and impinged upon my liver compartment. Then it cracked my knees when I picked my feet up onto the pegs. And the way the thing revved and the supercharger chirped in the parking lot frankly was a bit frightening. It seemed angry. This is ridiculous. Nobody needs a motorcycle like this outside of the Bonneville salt flats.
Eight minutes down the road, I realized again what an ass I am. I was so busy aiming and zotting along, whatever complaints my back and knees had were drowned out in the wind and adrenaline. Like being dead after a long disease and disconnected from all pain, suddenly I was nothing but a pair of veiny Von Dutch eyeballs attached to a primordial brainstem blasting through space. While trying to not get a really expensive ticket.
The tachometer goes to 14,000, but I don’t think the needle ever went past about 8000 and maybe half throttle, which was more than enough. With the supercharger positively shoving perfect mixture into every cylinder-full, the H2’s not even trying. You barely need to rotate your wrist to get to 100 mph instantly (luckily there’s a back way between me and Kawasaki), and you barely need to move your left foot to shift through the auto-blipping dog-ring gearbox.
Nobody needs a motorcycle like this, but everybody should definitely get the chance to ride one at least once, even if only like Ray Charles driving the car in that Peugeot commercial on a dry lake if you’re worried your skills aren’t up to 206 horsepower. Don’t be. It’s fine.
If in the springtime a young man’s thoughts turn to love, in the fall, an old guy’s thoughts turn to great memories and things you’d like to have a second crack at. When we watched the dynamometer at Chris Redpath’s shop register 206 rear-wheel horsepower, we got to reminiscing about other Kawasaki moonshots, and admiring the two GPz750 Turbos in Red’s shop – the last time Kawi built an artificially aspirated production bike.
In the early ’80s, all the big four Japanese built turbos, the Kawasaki being the last and, by most accounts, the best of them. Instead of the convoluted plumbing of some of the others, the GPz attached its turbocharger just downstream of the exhaust ports right in front of the engine, thereby minimizing lag. Kawasaki rated it at 112 crankshaft horsepower at 9000 rpm, and 73 ft-lb of torque at 6500 rpm. Pretty, pretty steamy at the time – and all of it from an inline-Four displacing just 738 cc – since the goal for all the manufacturers was to extract big-bike power from a mid-size engine. In 1984, desperately in need of some direction in life and a new motorcycle, the thing on the cover of all the magazines knocked my eyeballs right out.
It was Redpath’s idea for us to borrow one of his GPz Turbos for a retro comparison, but in the actual event, he was tough to pin down and then too busy to get one prepped for us. Hmmmm, who else has a 1984 Kawasaki I can borrow… my thoughts turned to other gimpy old friends who needed to dip themselves into a fountain of youth. Ken Vreeke leapt immediately to mind. Ken was already old when I was just getting started in the magazine business circa 1989. A quick email led to an almost instant reply including a pic of him on the cover of the big magazine in 1984, on what else – the 1984 GPz750 Turbo. How serendipitous. I remember reading it in my cradle.
The Vreekster, now head of his own media empire Vreeke & Associates, has connections. Within the hour, he’d located and arranged to borrow a pristine-ish ’84 GPz750 Turbo from a local collector friend. Also, Vreeke had just come off rehabilitating from a nasty ankle injury inflicted by his KTM 1290 Adventure and a rushing mountain stream. He was itching to ride again – especially my new H2 Carbon – and made sure to seal the deal by offering me a nice compliment on my singular steadfast ability to never have wavered from my original goal of being a motorcycle magazine guy after all these years. My admirable professional stasis. I could see how it was going to be.
Daniel Schoenewald’s (inventor of the pocket calculator when he worked at Texas Instruments) 36-year old 13,000-mile GPz fired right up, smoking quite a bit from her dual exhausts but clearing out eventually and idling nicely along on Kawi’s DFI – Digital Fuel Injection – which was as advanced as Ms Pac-Man at the time. There’s a nice rumble coming out of those pipes, too, but not perceptibly louder than the new 80-decibel H2.
I don’t think the Big Four were even doing “sportbikes” yet in 1984, not ones with sportbike ergonomics as we know them today anyway. The old GPz sits you basically upright upon a thickish seat whose foam has held up remarkably well, with your feet right below your fundament and only a slight lean forward to grab grips located in what Harley today would call “semi-apehanger” position.
Riding along on some fast surface roads, a quick blast down Highway 101, and onto some deserted farm roads, you’d think the turbocharged four-cylinder displaces more than 738 cc at any rpm, but the real fun is watching the boost gauge build after you watch the orange tachometer needle pass 6000 rpm. From there to the 9000 rpm redline, the old girl really does skedaddle. Matter of fact, it was the fastest bike Motorcyclist ran down the quarter-mile in 1983, turning a 10.99 at 123.2 mph with Jeff Karr at the controls. Quite a big deal in an era when the ¼-mile belonged to burly big-cc bikes like Suzuki GS1100Es and V Maxes.
Googling over to a 2017 Cycle World comparison by our old chum Don Canet, I see the new Kawi Z900 that year did the deed in 10.95 seconds at 125.06 mph. And that bike made 111.8 hp @ 9670 rpm. Maybe Kawi’s claim of 112 for the old GPz was spot on. Wait, it must’ve been pretty conservative, given that the new Z900 weighs 469 pounds wet on MO’s scales to the old GPz’s 557 lbs. I didn’t realize until I sat down to do the spec chart for this thing, that the GPz motor is also air-cooled and two valves-per-cylinder. Stone age. Even so, the old girl runs with hardly any vibration and excellent throttle response right into 9000 rpm – and feels completely modern in its rising-rate power delivery.
With Kawasaki, it’s always been about the engine, and we’ll let the rest of the bike catch up later. The rest of the GPz was pretty standard fare, including your basic double-downtube steel frame. But the new “Uni-Trak” rear suspension had been introduced two years earlier on the GPz550 and GPz750 (way earlier on the KX dirtbikes), and that’s what the Turbo got too, along with 4.1 inches of sweetly progressive wheel travel contributing to the cush ride.
On smooth pavement, it’s hard to think of the GPz as being the gnarliest sportbike on the road in its day, but then in its day, the first GSX-R was still two years in the future. Those high handlebars and big windscreen make the GPz feel almost like a sports-tourer.
The fork’s relatively plush also and not bad unless you’re braking semi-hard over bumps, and then it’s not bad either since the pair of 280mm discs and their single-piston slide-type calipers are incapable of braking any kind of hard in the current sense of the word. Which is probably just as well, since the hydraulic anti-dive system seems to have seized up – but Ken says that’s how it always worked, so….
But hey, what do you want for 36 years old? Dan Schoenewald has a bunch of old bikes to maintain (most of them Nortons). So, you can only imagine how the old GPz might do with new brake pads and fork oil and whatever. At least nothing was leaking, and Ken swears the GPz had great brakes when it was new. It’s a shame we can’t travel back in time to test that dubious assertion and buy real estate.
Dan the owner also advised caution since he didn’t really know how old the Metzeler ME880 tires on the bike were, which I totally took to heart in the curvy parts of our ride, happy to tiptoe through the Potrero Canyon corners and watch Vreeke blast off in the distance immediately on the H2. As I knew he would be, Ken was blown away, quite literally, by the supercharged H2. Though 206 horsepower is impressive, it’s really the instantaneous boost the blower provides in the midrange, in any gear, that makes the thing so amazing, and that the 9-position KTRC traction control lets you confidently use all of it. Downshifts are mostly optional.
Ken says: When the 1984 Kawasaki 750 Turbo was new, turn signals lenses were wider than most rear tires. You were reminded of this frequently on the Turbo as the boost crammed power like never before into an overwhelmed rear tire. Back then, you didn’t just go around power sliding out of corners, but the Turbo did. Those of us fortunate to test it back then were awed. Hopping from the old Turbo to the 200-horsepower H2 is not like stepping out of a time machine. The H2 is the time machine. One second you’re here. The next you’re there. Most of the middle part is just blur.
They don’t make roads long enough for this motorcycle. The H2 accelerates with an effortless brutality I have never experienced before. Try as I might, there is nothing I could find to dislike about this 200 horsepower motorcycle. It stops as hard as it goes, handles great, and the Supercharger creates a symphony of cool chirping sounds that remind you something special lives inside that green trellis frame.
John Burns makes a lot of chirping noises too, though I’ve heard most of them before. I admire John’s ability to not evolve like other humans, flip evolution the bird and remain as spud-like as when I first met him. He’s still in his happy place, which turns out to be 1984.
Just like me, though Ken whined about the low clip-on bars when he first climbed on, he was glad to have been strapped in tight by the time he climbed back off the H2. He also complained about the stiff ride, which reminded me you can totally back off the preload and damping in that TTX36 rear shock with nothing but your fingers. And one Allen wrench softens the fork, too. Riding a couple hours home later, the H2 was transformed into the world’s fastest pillow.
Since Kenneth blasting off ahead of me has always defined the hierarchy of our riding relationship, I should’ve known there was no way he was going to allow the tables to turn when it was my turn on the modern bike. He knows better, but like a dog having chewed through its leash at a meat counter, he can’t help salivating, then going into a feeding frenzy on the GPz.
Again, the old Turbo impressed with its speed on the straights, as I needed to roll the H2 throttle open more than halfway driving onto some of them to close back up on the crazed, GPz-mounted Vreeke. In all the H2’s acronyms, I’m not sure if there’s a wheelie control or not (there is a launch one), but I trusted some electronic aid or other in there would keep us from all harm; there was a remaining crumb or two of honor at stake in not letting the Vreekster leave us for dead on a 36-year old bike on vintage touring tires. Mulholland Highway’s corners are pretty fast ones (and dustyish on this day), but Vreeke was not touring at all as he flung the GPz repeatedly onto its side into them. From behind, it looked more like following a jet-propelled bicycle on that skinny rear tire. And though I was riding the H2 at about my personal street maximum, Ken and the GPz still had a little corner speed on us.
Another big advance in 36 years is the weight the manufacturers have been able to extract from their machines: Though the H2 makes nearly twice the power and has twice the everything of the old GPz, it weighs about 30 pounds less. Vreeke reports that he dropped 45 lbs getting himself back into shape after his recent rehab. So, there’s my excuse: He had a 15-lb weight advantage.
Anyway, like I said, it was easy enough to reel in that midcorner gap using the H2’s massive power and traction control on the straights, even though that’s generally frowned upon in friendly street riding. Sometimes larger things are at stake, and I wasn’t about to let chivalry cheat me out of the first time I can recall keeping up with the Vreekster, in hammer and tongs mode, on the roads he’s been riding since the 1940s. Back in the day, he’d keep half cigarettes in the pack to be smoking when you pulled up to give the impression that’s how far behind you’d been, but nobody smokes anymore. When we stopped, I wished I’d picked up a pack for this special occasion.
The Metzelers, we decided, really were great touring tires, since they seemed to have just as much traction now as they did at whatever point in history the previous owner had put them on the GPz, and plenty of tread too. Probably good for another 36 years.
What did we learn, boys and girls?
We learned that you can go home again, but that things are going to be smaller and less impressive than you remember. The old GPz is still a powerful motorcycle, but today, its performance would have it in about the same percentile as the aforementioned Z900 or equivalent – a fast bike for sure, but one you’re not afraid to hold the throttle all the way open on. And though its performance was without peer and its styling undoubtedly swoopy from a distance, the old girl’s overall appearance and plasticness remind us of a time when Japanese bikes were affordable, expendable, and highly modifiable – which is why unmolested examples like Daniel Schonenewald’s are hard to come by. (Thanks again, Dan.)
On the other hand, it’s nice to remember a time when you could have the rippingest streetbike available for today’s equivalent of $12,000, which is what the Consumer Price Index tells us $4800 is worth today. Five years later, when I emigrated from Kansas City in 1989, it was easy to get a sweet 1BR apartment close to the beach in Ventura on the $25k my new Cycle magazine job paid, and plenty left over for beer, tacos, etcetera….
Thirty-six years later, my 1989 earnings wouldn’t get me an H2 Carbon (though it would get me a new Z H2 for $17,500!). For most people, $33k is just too much to pay for a motorcycle. But fortune favors the rich, and for those lucky few, the H2 is to the GPz as an iPhone 12 is to a princess phone, a C8 Corvette to a Pontiac Fiero, a night discussing sex with Dr. Ruth as opposed to, never mind. The H2 is the first motorcycle Kawasaki’s stuck its rivermark badge on in like 50 or 60 years. It’s a rolling expression of corporate pride from a corporation that has a lot to be proud about. The thing exudes quality and exclusivity from every fastener and component, and that’s before you even get to the 206 horsepower.
Why did they do it? No one knows. In 1984, Kawasaki was following the turbo herd. In 2015 (when the first H2 got here), they did it because they could. Meanwhile, in America, we were busy working on finding a way to screw up the Boeing 737. Don’t get me started.
What does Ken think? The 1984 Kawasaki 750 Turbo was John’s first lust. I couldn’t wait to hear about how it felt after he waited all this time. Now 36 years later, he finally gets a chance to ride the legendary Turbo and what does he do? Cry like a teething baby about the brakes, the suspension, the tires… which were all cutting edge in the day.
John, his heart now flinty and jaded from decades of tearing around the globe on the fastest motorcycles made, can only see an aging hag in his once-beloved Turbo. But not me. I was fortunate enough to test hundreds of bikes in my career, and the Kawasaki 750 Turbo was a standout. It’s still a blast to ride. The H2 is on the nuclear level by comparison, but when you think about it, that means Kawasaki hasn’t really changed much. They still make a motorcycle nobody needs, until you ride it and realize you really do need 200 horsepower. 206.
Sorry, John, that the 750 Turbo was not the unicorn of your dreams, but don’t take that as a sign you have evolved beyond it. Some of us know better.
Riding the old GPz is a perfectly nice, even surprisingly comfortable experience if you’re an old guy like Ken, and I could totally see having one in the collection if I had a collection. On the new H2, though, it’s as if the self-healing paint on the tank seeps through to restoreth the soul. I’d forgotten how riding real sportbikes actually unkinks the back after the initial bend is made (especially after we backed off all the damping in that creamy-smooth suspension), like high-speed yoga. You can go as slow as you want on it, but you won’t – the faster you go the better the H2 likes it, and the sharper it hones your aging brain. If God had intended man to fly, or even evolve lately, he would’ve given all of us an H2.
You can’t go home again, but if you’ve got $33k, you can buy into a way nicer neighborhood where you’ll be happier in every way. I think this H2 Carbon is the sweetest motorcycle I’ve ridden since 1989. Okay, ever. Highly recommended. But the Z H2 naked is in the garage now, and Dan Schoenewalde has a few original 2-stroke H2s as well. The work goes on apace…
1984 Kawasaki GPz750 Turbo vs. 2020 Kawasaki H2 Carbon
GPz 750 Turbo
|Engine Type||738cc air-cooled turbocharged inline-Four||998cc liquid-cooled supercharged inline Four|
|Bore and Stroke||66mm x 54mm||76mm x 55mm|
|Fuel System||DFI Keihin 36mm throttle bodies||DFI, 50mm throttle bodies|
|Valve Train||DOHC, two valves-per-cylinder||DOHC, four valves-per-cylinder|
|Horsepower||112 hp @ 9000 rpm (claimed)||206 hp @ 11,600 rpm (measured, rear wheel dyno)|
|Torque (Rear Wheel)||73 ft-lb @ 6500 rpm (claimed)||95 ft-lb @ 10,000 rpm (measured, rear wheel)|
|Electronics||Ignition, Direct Fuel Injection!||Kawasaki Cornering Management Function (KCMF), Kawasaki Traction Control (KTRC), Kawasaki Launch Control Mode (KLCM), Kawasaki Intelligent anti-lock Brake System (KIBS), Kawasaki Engine Brake Control, Kawasaki Quick Shifter (KQS) (upshift & downshift), Öhlins Electronic Steering Damper|
|Transmission||5-speed, Wet, multi-plate clutch||6-speed, Wet, multi-plate slipper clutch, dogring transmission, quickshifter|
|Final Drive||Sealed chain||Sealed chain|
|Frame||Double-downtube steel cradle||Steel trellis|
|Front Suspension||37mm Kayaba fork, hydraulic anti-dive; adjustable anti-dive and air pressure, 5.1-in travel||43mm inverted Showa AOS fork; adjustable spring preload, rebound and compression damping, 4.7-in travel|
|Rear Suspension||Uni-Trak single shock; adjustable rebound damping and air pressure, 4.1-in travel||Uni-Trak, Öhlins TTX36 shock; adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping, 5.3-in travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 280mm discs, single-piston calipers||Dual 330mm discs, 4-piston Brembo Stylema calipers, KIBS ABS|
|Rear Brake||270mm disc, single-piston caliper||250mm disc, 2-piston caliper, KIBS ABS|
|Front Tire||110/90 V 18||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear Tire||130/80 V 18||200/55 ZR17|
|Rake/Trail||28º / 4.6 in. (117mm)||24.5º / 4.1 in. (104mm)|
|Wheelbase||58.7 in. (1490mm)||57.3 in. (1455mm)|
|Seat Height||30.5 in.||32.5 in.|
|Curb Weight||557 lbs (wet)||525 lbs. (wet, MO scales)|
|Fuel Capacity||4.7 gal.||4.5 gal.|
|Ground Clearance||12.9 in.||12.7 in.|
|Fuel Consumption (observed)||36 mpg||32 mpg|
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