50 years of Z – ‘Excessive Steaks’ the historical past of the Kawasaki Z1

50 years of Z – ‘High Steaks’ the history of the Kawasaki Z1

2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Kawasaki’s Z series of motorcycles. The motorcycle that started it all, the 1972 Kawasaki Z1, was a huge leap forward in both performance and engineering. So significant was the Z1 that it’s impossible to ignore what it has contributed to modern motorcycles. So, to help celebrate 50 years of Zed, let’s take a look back at how the Kawasaki Z1 came to be… To understand the Kawasaki Z1 you first have to understand the […]

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2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Kawasaki’s Z collection of bikes. The bike that began all of it, the 1972 Kawasaki Z1, was an enormous leap ahead in each efficiency and engineering. So vital was the Z1 that it’s not possible to disregard what it has contributed to fashionable bikes. So, to assist have fun 50 years of Zed, let’s have a look again at how the Kawasaki Z1 got here to be…


To grasp the Kawasaki Z1 you first have to know the Nineteen Sixties. And I don’t imply the civil rights motion or mop-haired Liverpudlian music. You must perceive the bike scene itself.

British producers have been punching out oily rattlers. Italian workshops have been stripping bolts on passion-fuelled curios and America was making motorised armchairs – a enterprise mannequin they’ve effectively and really caught to. However the Japanese weren’t making something inspiring both. Bikes gave the impression to be both low-cost rattly runabouts from Honda or riffs on current designs. Some have been dependable. Some have been fast. None have been really style difficult.

Kawasaki Z1 history

Kawasaki Z1 history

Kawasaki was no exception. That they had some actually gnarly two-bangers within the pipeline, however their lead four-stroke was the Kawasaki W1 – a motorbike that couldn’t be extra pedestrian if it grew legs and walked.

However massive plans have been underway. As a result of Sam Tanegashima knew what the best bike on the earth was going to be.

The Japanese-American had been engaged by Kawasaki to take a look at the US and determine what they needed. The mission was dubbed New York Steak. Why the title? Properly, Kawasaki figured the very best merchandise on any menu within the USA was a New York Steak. And that’s what they needed the bike to be. The very best factor on the menu.

Kawasaki Z1 history

Kawasaki Z1 history

The brand new world-beating trip was to be a slick 750cc four-stroke inline-four. It was to be quick and dependable and cement Kawasaki’s title within the US as a real world participant. However crew inexperienced didn’t simply need to elevate the bar of how good a motorbike could be. They needed to redefine what a contemporary bike was. And that will begin with the engine.

Dubbed the ‘N600’, the meaty powerplant of the New York Steak was progressing properly. It was to be a 750cc double-overhead-cam monster of energy so dependable it ought to put on a go well with.

A couple of rooms over, gradual work was occurring on the physique design for the brand new bike. Path from the welkin of Kawasaki HQ declared the brand new bike ought to embody a 3 ‘S’ precept – Slim, Smooth and Attractive. What they need to have added was one other – Speedy. As a result of all plans stopped on the Tokyo Bike present in 1968. Honda had debuted the CB750 4.

Kawasaki Z1 history

Kawasaki Z1 history

The CB750 4 was all the pieces the New York Steak needed to be. It was a four-cylinder, four-stroke, dependable bike with an electrical leg and disc brakes. It didn’t have to be began with a tickle of a carb and a deckman’s curse. It was the New York Steak. And it was the primary massive Japanese bike to catch the US market’s eye.

Issues ramped up at Kawasaki HQ.

The N600 engine crew went again to work, resolving to not solely match Honda’s world-beater however to outperform it. Kawasaki’s DOHC design was refined and the displacement punched as much as 900 cubic centimetres. The CDI ignition was refined. The engine was tuned for torque. However as onerous because the engineering boffins sweated and bled over the brand new donk, no person labored more durable than designer Norimasa ‘Ken’ Tada. As a result of Kawasaki gave him one month to design the bodywork.

Norimasa Tada kawasaki z1 designer

Norimasa Tada kawasaki z1 designer

After the unfinished plans for the New York Steak have been positioned below his nostril he referred to as his spouse, suggested her he wouldn’t be residence for thirty days after which went to work. On nights and weekends. He burnt a lot midnight oil the US needed to invade his drawing-room.

Norimasa needed to adhere to the preliminary ‘three S’ plan with a deal with a styling design to get American hearts racing. And it couldn’t, below any circumstances, appear like a CB750. After thirty bleary-eyed days, Norimosa lastly had a design that battalion HQ was proud of. A teardrop tank, a ducktail and a slimline tank made the Z1 into an astonishing-looking trip.

Kawasaki Z1 design drawing

Kawasaki Z1 design drawing

However being the prettiest bike on the earth wouldn’t imply squat if it didn’t carry out. And the revised N600 engine was promising. The crew knew it may put out north of 80 horses they usually knew it may belt previous the 120mph mark. However they didn’t know the way lengthy it may do it for – and if it could survive the type of using America was to throw at it.

So the crew at Kawasaki shipped a brace of prototypes to the States to see what would occur.

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On arriving in LA the 2 bikes have been deftly painted in Honda colors and marked with Honda badges in LA to confuse any onlookers. After which the check riders minimize a lap of the US. They rode them on freeways and backroads. In cities, by cities and throughout the desert. They minimize lap after screaming lap at Talladega. After which the bikes have been shipped again to Japan to see what wanted to be modified.

1000’s of onerous miles. Numerous hours spent pinned vast open. And the modifications? The Zed gained an automated chain oiler. And that was it.

Manufacturing ramped up in Japan and the Z1 turned the belle of the ball at its debut on the Cologne bike present in September 1972. Pants tented, knickers dropped, and a whole era of grease-stained bike lunatics fell in love.

Within the house of just a few years, 85,000 models of Kawasaki Z1 have been offered all over the world. Over the course of a mere few months, it turned an icon of engineering and efficiency.

And towards the CB750? The Kawasaki completely dominated it. The Kwaka had an additional twenty horses, a stiffer body, extra nimble dealing with and styling so fashionable it made the CB appear like one thing your dad would trip.

Kawasaki Z1 factory

Kawasaki Z1 factory

The Kawasaki Z1 would go on to be beloved by anybody who had proven even a passing curiosity in bikes. It outlined each a era of bikes and heralded a brand new period for Japanese automotive design. By films, magazines and drunken tales of tall tales slurred at roadside bars the Z1 turned the bike of the Nineteen Seventies.

And a long time on, nothing has modified. The bike is even higher trying than when it first debuted. Examples are nonetheless working reliably. The bike remains to be fast. It nonetheless handles effectively. And it’s nonetheless, and can without end be, one of many biggest bikes ever made.

Story by Marlon Slack   |   Pictures by way of Kawasaki Motors

The history of the Kawasaki Z1

The history of the Kawasaki Z1

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