1973 Kawasaki Z1
In the ’60s, it was easy to describe motorcycles from Japan. They were small. They were unintimidating. They were—dare we say it?—cute.
Hard-core motorcyclists rode Harleys, Triumphs, Nortons, BSAs.
Then the entire world turned upside-down.
It started, of course, with Honda’s landmark CB750. But Kawasaki was there from the beginning, with its scary-fast 500cc H1, and its scarier 750cc H2. “Cute” didn’t cover any of those.
Then 1973 rolled around, and Kawasaki trotted out the Z-1. Four cylinders. Dual overhead cams. 903ccs.
It was, without question, the baddest motorcycle anybody had ever built.
This machine, more than any other, changed the language of motorcycling. Sure, quarter-mile times and top-speed figures had been studiously reported all along. But even the testers couldn’t believe the level of performance that had been packed into a stock Z-1. And it quickly earned the nickname “The King.”
Doug Kane remembers that era well. He had just started work on the motorcycle dealership in Zanesville, Ohio, that he still operates today. He signed up as a Kawasaki dealer in late 1972 without knowing what was coming down the pipe. And by the time his shop was ready to open, Kawasaki was ready to ship him this customer magnet, in root beer and orange. It was the perfect way to kick off a new business.
Like a lot of his customers, Kane had to own a Z-1. He kept his for several years, then sold it. But when the opportunity came along years later to pick up this one (complete with Windjammer fairing and saddlebags), he jumped at it. And when he took off all the non-essentials, he had a true original, just the way it came from Kawasaki.
By that time, people knew what the Z-1 was. It was a prototype of the Superbike—the machines we all take for granted on the street and on the racetrack today.
Now, 28 years later, Doug Kane’s Z-1 is one of the trend-setting motorcycles making up a previous special exhibit titled “Superbikes!” in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio.
These were the bikes that changed the motorcycling world in the late ’60s and early ’70s.