8 June 2012 Kawasaki Z1, the expert’s choice

Some forty years after its official European introduction, the Kawasaki Z1 and the long line of subsequent Z machines evoke an enthusiasm and loyalty of quite staggering proportions.
Such is the interest in the Z1 that people have even turned their passion for celebrating this iconic machine into a profession. Seeking the opinions of the two most prominent experts in Europe as part of the Kawasaki Z40 celebrations, the picture of machine as icon emerges.

As the definitive Z1 author, world-renowned German expert Micky Hesse explains that the attraction is on aesthetic as well as engineering levels.
“Put simply, I see the whole bike as a work of art. It’s a really clever combination of design and technology and, if it is possible for a machine to have such a human attribute, I think it has a sort of “charisma” that is rare if not unique”.

Pushed to explain which parts make the Z1 so identifiable and iconic, Hesse is quick to focus attention on the bodywork of fuel tank, side panels and tail piece saying, “For a machine destined for mass-production, Kawasaki made a bold move with the graphic look of the Z1 and its bodywork. The so-called “duck tail” behind the seat soon became a look associated with Kawasaki but, before this, it was rare to see such a styling feature on a motorcycle.”

For fellow expert, Dave Marsden of UK Kawasaki restoration specialists Z Power, the feeling is that the exhaust system is an additional highly recognisable feature: “Sure Kawasaki may have not be the first manufacturer to use a single silencer for each cylinder, but the flowing design of the Z1 exhaust system – and the fact that it looks good from any angle – means it is a strong “signature feature” of the design. Added to that, the instrument binnacle with it’s almost fighter jet style speedometer and rev counter “pods” is yet another indication that time was spent on every aspect of the bike”.

Both men agree that in terms of the brand itself the Z1 moved Kawasaki to the forefront in aspects of design and innovation: “Until then most manufacturers had been concentrating on two stroke machines, it was Kawasaki with its secret development in America and Japan that was one of the first to produce a desirable, large capacity, four stroke bike that would appeal to a global audience”, says Marsden.

Hesse agrees, adding that technology certainly played its part;
“Don’t underestimate this, it really was a step into a new era, a company embracing new technology and delivering it via a high performance motorcycle at an affordable price”.

While both experts independently recognise that the special set of conditions that occurred in the early 1970’s may not easily be repeated, each is certain that if anyone could re-capture the impact of the Z1 it would be Kawasaki, as Marsden explains. “To be honest, it was a special moment in time – maybe only Kawasaki could create another “next biking step” given their unique engineering and performance heritage”.

In concluding, both Micky Hesse and Dave Marsden are united in their feeling that the Z1 forms an essential part of the history of motorcycling.
“To me, the 900Z1 Super Four is definitely the bike that claims first place in motorcycle history”, says Hesse…and for Marsden, “It represents a pinnacle, nothing has stood the test of time like the Z1 and, given the competition for the ultimate motorcycling crown, that’s something certainly worth celebrating."