Looking over the RetroTours ‘fleet’ during the winter of 2004, I realized that Kawasaki, certainly one of the mover/shakers, was not represented. Researching the product line of the 1970’s revealed 2 likely prospects. The KZ-750, a very Universal-Japanese sort of motorcycle from 1977 or 1978, seemed too bland and modern. At the opposite extreme was the W-1 series from the start of the decade which seemed much more interesting and classical.
In 1937, Meguro began making motorcycles to satisfy the burgeoning demands of the Japanese military. Without time for design, research and development consisted of purchasing European machines and ‘reverse engineering’ (copying) the designs. Their most successful rip off came in 1951, a high performance 500cc four stroke twin bearing more than a passing resemblance to the BSA A7. This evolved into a 650 which carried the company forward until 1962, when Meguro was absorbed by Kawasaki.
The 650cc Kawasaki W-1 came on line in 1965, and was introduced in The States in 1967. The single carb 400 pounder featured gothic neo-Japanese styling, complete with oval instruments inside the headlight case, and gaudy chrome side panels on the fuel tank. During the next few years, a twin carb version was released, producing 53 HP; substantially more than its BSA predecessor. By the time this model became the W-2, Kawasaki realized that US sales were never going to live up to expectations, and the model pretty much disappeared by the 1970 or ’71 season.
I spent months waiting for a W-1 to come up for sale. There just aren’t very many around. Eventually, I found a ‘67 in the back of a Pennsylvania dealership; a trade-in that was driven in a few years before, and very tatty, though 90% complete. I was able to get it running in a day, and put a few tentative miles on it before listing the parts and labor operations needed to make it roadworthy. I began watching e-bay regularly and collecting parts for a resurrection, but based on my test ride, I was having second thoughts. I felt I had made a mistake; this machine was just too primitive. Besides a motor design from the 1950’s the suspension, brakes and electrical system all seemed too primitive to cope comfortably with modern traffic conditions. This was looking like one tough project.
Then, quite by accident, in the January ’05 issue of Walneck’s Cycle Trader, I spotted 2 650 W-3’s being sold by a gentleman in California, one whole, and one in pieces. The W-3 was never imported to the US, but Kawasaki sold lots of their big twins in Japan and down under, and the model line was upgraded there until around 1975. These later models featured improved forks and electrics, and a twin disc front brake; all of my concerns addressed. The near running bike was imported to the US from New Zealand, and the basket case was brought back from Japan by a US sailor. Suddenly, I had 3 Kawasaki 650’s.
This 1974 W-3 has been upgraded with Hagon shocks, quartz lighting, loud horns, and modern tires and brakes.The final drive ratio has been altered to give more relaxed high speed running. It has become obvious during several extended outings that the resemblance to old British iron is merely superficial. Castings exude quality and the fit and finish is more Japanese than British: a good thing. Minor oil leakage and vibration are overshadowed by the pleasant power curve and stable handling. The exhaust note is aural nirvana. You should experience it!