For just a moment, imagine you're Kawasaki's Sam Tanegashima in the fall of 1968. At the time Kawasaki was in the midst of changing its entire approach to building motorcycles. As Tanegashima says in Micky Hesse's book Z1 Kawasaki, "One motto [we had] for developing the Z1 was to create one piece of motorcycle. Before the Z1, Kawasaki had developed several very fast motorcycles like the A7, H1 and H2. It was not sure if we were selling engine/horsepower or motorcycle."
Equally interesting is a passage from Kawasaki's museum Web site: "[With the Z1] Kawasaki changed their engine design policy so that the powerband was not set near the engine's limit, thereby pursuing elegance and smooth engine performance." At its heart, that change stemmed from Kawasaki's decision to substitute four-stroke powerplants for two-strokes in making top-of-the-line models. After all, Kawasaki had in 1963 absorbed Meguro, one of Japan's oldest motorcycle manufacturers and known for its four-strokes, so Kawasaki had four-stroke engineering expertise. Who could imagine a King Motorcycle with an engine that looked like a two-stroke engine looks, all crankcases and cooling fins?
In the Z1's development, Kawasaki was deeply concerned about the bike's durability and reliability, and rightfully so. So in late 1972 the entire Kawasaki Z1–testing entourage descended on Talladega, which they'd rented for 30 days.
Kawasaki claimed 80 horsepower for the air-cooled, transverse inline-four—handily about 15 bhp more than Honda's CB750. When asked why, Kawasaki answered with a shrug, saying, "That's all it needs." Where Kawasaki really made a breakthrough, however, was in emissions control.
The Kawasaki 903 Z1 is the most modern motorcycle in the world. Kawasaki were as much surprised - and annoyed - by Honda's unveiling of the CB750 as everyone else.
Introduced in 1971, Kawasaki's classic 903 cc four-cylinder Z1 was originally planned as a 750 cc bike with a launch set for 1970. But with Honda's surprise intro of the CB750 in 1968, the story goes, Kawasaki postponed the Z1's release, in the course upping the bike's displacement in response to Honda's 750 cc four. Jeff grew up a coporate kid of American Kawasaki; his dad was involved in starting and managing several of Kawasaki's divisions in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968 Kawasaki was far along in developing a 750cc in-line four cylinder to take the motorcycle world by storm when word got out of Honda's CB 750 Four.