When you think of an iconic made-in-America motorcycle, you’d maybe expect something from Harley-Davidson (a Softail? Fat Boy? Sportster) or Indian, or even a Buell, or Crocker, or Henderson.
Here’s another to add to that list: the Kawasaki KZ1000P.
There’s all sorts of interesting things going on with this 1996 Kawasaki KZ1000P for sale in Harrisonburg, Virginia, maybe starting with the date of manufacture. Weren’t Kawasaki’s KZs long out of production by 1996?
The answer is yes, sort of. Kawasaki canceled most of the KZ line (KZ750, KZ1000, KZ1300, KZ440, etc.) in the 1980s, but the KZ1000P, which was intended for police sales, was built right up until 2005. And, it was built in the USA, in Lincoln, Nebraska.
For some reason, not a lot of riders know about Kawasaki’s decades of US motorcycle production, but Kawasaki built bikes in the US from the mid-1970s until the 2000s (Honda also had significant US production, and that’s a little better-known).
Kawasaki started the US plant with models like the KZ400 and KZ900, but the production line kept right up, with various Ninja models and the Concours being built in Nebraska, until Kawasaki decided it needed the line for other production (stuff like rail cars), and shut down motorcycle manufacturing. But while other models came and went over the decades, the KZ1000P was always there, being cranked out for the police departments of the US.
The KZ1000P was introduced in 1982 (supposedly with a lot of design input from Dan Gurney), an update from earlier KZ1000-based police bikes. Why Kawasaki stuck with the air/oil-cooled engine for the entire run is unclear. As production ran on, Kawasaki certainly had other powerful engines with advantages like liquid cooling, and the same reliability (like the Concours). For whatever reason, Kawi just continued adding the police package to the big KZ, though.
Low sales, relatively speaking could have been the major reason. It also could be because most of the competition still lagged behind at that point. The Euros and Japanese had stuff, sure, but the made-in-America competition from Harley-Davidson was inferior to the Kawasaki, so much so that police departments were known to complain when forced to switch from the reliable KZ1000 over to Harley-Davidsons. Some police believed the H-D models had the edge at higher speeds, but the big Zed was supposedly more nimble at lower speeds, and ran more smoothly.
The KZ1000P wasn’t a tire-shredding monster, only rated for 88 hp and 60 lb-ft of torque (these numbers vary slightly, depending who you ask, but this is the ballpark). That was more than enough for the roles this bike was pressed into, and because this meant the engine was detuned a bit (supposedly), it would run forever with proper maintenance, over 100,000 miles even.
The KZ1000P wasn’t lightweight, rated for 270 kg at the curb, and that’s with a way-too-small fuel tank that sees reserve at 2.9 gallons. Range was about 110 miles.
From a distance, it was easy to confuse this KZ for something else, at least if you couldn’t see the engine. It looks a lot like a Harley-Davidson police bike of the late ’70s, due to the floorboards, engine crash bars, fairing, the old-school saddlebag design and the big tractor seat. Kawasaki wanted it to look like other police bikes on the market at the time of its introduction, and they certainly succeeded. Plenty of viewers saw these in shows like CHiPs and assumed they were seeing a Harley-Davidson.
The KZ1000P also had a role in Terminator 2:
So much for realism in movies. You can’t expect James Cameron to get everything right, though, and you’ll see the KZ1000P in other movies as well (along with earlier A1 and A2 police models) if you look closely. But its most prominent role was a day-in, day-out machine for police department usage.
Along with the luggage, fairing, seat and floorboards mentioned above, there were a few other changes Kawasaki made for improved reliability, safety, and police usability. Supposedly, engine oil capacity was increased from 3.7 liters to 4.5 liters. The charging system was also upgraded, to handle the power required by the extra lighting, siren and communications gear. Many KZ1000P units were shipped with Dunlop run-flat tires, although some ex-users say this wasn’t always the case. The run-flats supposedly had terrible grip, and non-police owners of these bikes recommend upgrading them.
All in all, it was a pretty cool machine, but by the early 2000s, it was a throwback. Not only did Kawasaki want the production line space for other stuff, police departments wanted improvements to the bike—ABS, shaft drive, more luggage capacity. There just weren’t enough sales to justify changing the design, so Kawi canceled the KZ1000P.
These days, the P is becoming more rare, but occasionally you might see one working as an escort machine, and they’re available for sale if you know where to look. Shopping at a government surplus site like GovDeals will find you the machines for low prices, but buying there gets you into other questions, like: are the electronics on this bike totally fried? Sure, it runs, but does it sound like it’s falling apart? Because these bikes were owned by police, they should have been well-maintained … until they weren’t. You can find a real mess when you buy a bike that has been sold by a police department that wanted to remove comms gear, logos, whatever, and that’s why buying from someone like this vintage motorcycle shop may make more sense, even if you’re paying more money. You should have a better idea of what you’re getting into.