It’s always a good feeling, finding a classic bike in good shape. But what if that classic bike is in as-new condition? That seems to be the story with this 1973 Kawasaki Z1 900, for sale in Arkansas, with zero mileage on the odometer. That’s a rare find, almost unheard of outside a museum. There’s a catch, though.
Alas, with great rarity comes a great price increase, and this machine is listed at $23,977. That’s a load of money for an almost-50-year-old motorcycle, and you could easily buy a much better, modern motorcycle for far less. But then, you wouldn’t be buying a Z1 …
The original “Leader Bike”
The Z1 900 wasn’t a litrebike, but it was almost there, with a 903cc engine. However, it certainly was a “leader bike,” as the semi-literate squids like to put it. The air-cooled four-stroke inline four engine, with double overhead cams, made 81 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 54 lb-ft of torque at 8,500 rpm. That’s less than half the horsepower of a modern superbike, but even today, it’s enough to get you into “lose-your-licence” territory. When the Z1 900 debuted for 1973, it was crazy power, and an advanced design. The original Honda CB750, introduced for 1969, made about 68 horsepower, and while it, too, had a four-cylinder engine, it only had a single overhead cam setup. Even Kawasaki’s two-stroke 750 H2 triple, still a legend for its brutal power delivery, only made 72 horsepower, and it was far less manageable.
Europe didn’t have anything that really came close. BMW’s 1973 R90 made around 67 horsepower, and the hottest Brit bikes of the day also lagged behind. The ’73 Norton Commando 850 made about 60 horsepower, and came with oil leaks, dodgy electronics and all the other eccentricities you got with machines made in the UK.
This was Kawasaki’s first big four-cylinder street bike, and Kawi had actually planned to debut it sooner than 1973, as a 750-class machine. When Honda came out with the CB750, Kawasaki decided it would move the release date forward, and big-bore the engine design. The result was a major step forward for the motorcycle industry.
The Z1 900 grabbed everyone’s attention. It was basically unchanged through 1975, winning accolades from power-hungry journos and proving popular with buyers (as long as they could afford it). In the 1970s, the motorcycle world wasn’t as segmented as it is today; the top streetbikes were used for roadracing, drag racing, touring, commuting, whatever they could be forced into. Many of the most famous and successful motorcycles of history have earned their fame due to crossover success (see also: Honda CBR600 Hurricane, BMW R1100 GS, Yamaha XS650). Having said that, the Z1 900 was really good at one thing, and that was putting out more horsepower than anyone else. It wasn’t the best-handling bike out there (the British and Euro bikes still had that nailed), and it was heavy. With a 542-pound wet weight, Kawasaki seriously overbuilt the Z1.
For a few years, Kawasaki basically owned this big-bore four-cylinder market. Honda’s GL1000 Gold Wing came along in ’75, but it was definitely aimed at a more level-headed clientele. Suzuki never even had a four-cylinder bike until the 1977 GS750, and the GS1000 didn’t come along until ’78. Yamaha waited until 1978 to release the XS1100, and Honda’s CB900 came along in 1979.
By the time those machines hit the market, Kawasaki was already on its second generation of big-bore four-cylinders (or third generation, depending how fussy you wanted to be). The Z1 900 morphed into the KZ900, which morphed into the KZ1000 for 1977.
It would probably be fair to say the Z1 900 is the most influential motorcycle Kawasaki ever made. Not only did it set the company, and the whole industry, into building big-bore, high-performance four-cylinders, but it also provided the basis for Kawasaki’s KZ900 LTD. That was the first Japanese attempt to enter the American cruiser market, and the Big Four have been cranking out cruisers ever since.
What about this bike?
So is this bike, for sale at Freedom Powersports Fayetteville, a long-term unridden survivor?
Sadly, no, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You almost never see true zero-miles bikes from the 1970s, especially on something like this, a machine that everyone would have been hot to flog. A salesperson immediately confirmed my guess: This bike is a total restoration, with actual mileage unknown. The gauges are factory replacements.
Some people might be bummed out that this bike actually has mileage on it, but think about it: A careful restoration should mean this bike doesn’t have weathered-away seals and rubber bits, or rust from disuse, and so on. The salesman told me the dealership has sold Kawasaki motorcycles for 41 years, and did this work in-house. Along with the new gauges, the tank/tailsection/tins are NOS from Kawasaki’s warehouse, so you don’t have to worry about the paint being mis-matched. The seat’s vinyl is a bit aged, he says, but there are no rips or tears. The tires are modern Dunlops, but supposed to be factory-correct as well. He also says the engine was fired up and put through a heat cycle, so this bike does run, if you want to start putting mileage on that odometer. Hey, it’s your money, if you want to buy it and ride it!
Photos: Freedom Powersports Fayetteville