“Best in Show” – 2010 Classic Japanese Motorcycle Show
Kawasaki were spectacularly beaten to the punch in 1969 by Honda with the release of their stunning CB750. Cycle Magazine called it “the most sophisticated production bike ever”. Kawasaki had to drop their plans for a transverse straight-4 750cc four stroke and what emerged from their factory three years later was the Z1 “Super Four”. A four cylinder, double overhead-cam machine of 903cc capacity. Known in-house at Kawasaki as “The New York Steak” it had been designed primarily for the USA market and a bike to raise the bar completely.
This was a motorcycle I had always wanted. Finding one was not easy and after a long search in New Zealand it appeared these bikes are rarely available locally. The one I did find was a basket case and beyond resurrecting. So it was off to eBay. The bike I bought out of Atlanta was advertised as one that “pulls smoothly and shifts cleanly” and that the chrome was in “excellent condition” What emerged from the shipping crate in my back yard was a totally misrepresented disaster.
The tank was nearly rusted through and contained stale petrol and a litre of water, an exhaust pipe rusted through in one place, stuck piston rings, a spark-plug stuck in the head, rusted rims, spokes and guards and the bike would only run roughly on full choke once I had sorted out the petrol tank. I don’t think it had been running for over 20 years. Thankfully, the paint on the body set, tank, side covers and duck-tail was in excellent condition which was what first attracted me to the bike. My first priority in restoring a motorcycle is to keep absolutely everything, including spokes and nipples, nuts and bolts and other plated fasteners and reuse them so the bike is as close as possible to how it left the factory. Original factory paint is a huge plus in this regard and hard to find in undamaged condition.
The biggest challenge surrounding the project wasn’t the restoration but the sourcing and importation of the bike. Everything was done on trust and there were thousands of dollars at stake. The bike had to be crated and delivered to a customs clearance house in the USA. It had to be landed in New Zealand with a bill of sale and “pink slip”. It wasn’t. It took me over a year to sort out the paperwork for the bike so that I could get it registered before starting work on it. New Zealand Customs wanted a large cut, port handling fees, additional miscellaneous freight charges, MAF fees etc. It seemed to me that anyone who even looked at the bike had their hand out. And on top of all that the bike took over three months to arrive by sea so I couldn’t open a dispute with the eBay Resolution Centre or leave the seller negative feedback. Many lessons were learnt. The biggest one: Never Buy a Used Motorcycle Unseen!
The way I proceeded with the restoration was to first download reference pictures of the model off the Internet. My aim was to match what I had on my computer screen with what was in my garage. I also read lots of eBay parts listings as the descriptions often offer lots of insight and model specific knowledge from experienced dealers. I bought lots of items off Z1enterprises in New York. The owner of the business, Jeff Saunders, was a great help in also supplying inside knowledge and encouragement. It’s not just a business to him, the bikes are also his passion.
Most engine work was done by professionals and included everything necessary to totally refresh the engine for a new life. Just about all of the other work I did myself including some metal polishing. It’s very disheartening to have your rare flat-head number 4 bolts come back from the polisher looking like dome heads with the numbers obliterated. I also had my headlight ears dissolved in acid by an electroplater. I highly recommend Christine Products here in Christchurch for all bright zinc plating work.
It was then hugely rewarding to win Best Kawasaki and Best in Show at the 2010 Classic Japanese Bike Show. The standard of bikes on display was incredible and I felt that any one of at least 20 bikes in the show could have taken top honours. The interest shown in these old Japanese bikes proves that it’s just not another European or American marque leading the vintage motorcycle charge and it’s really time now for these “old Jappers” to get the recognition they deserve.