CLASSIC KAWASAKI 2-STROKES

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the parent company of the motorcycle division, is one of the largest industrial companies in the world making the motorcycle part of the business somewhat of a sideline. The company began as a shipyard 1878 founded by Shozo Kawasaki. Prior to World War I it had branched out to produce locomotives, marine transportation, steel, aircraft and engines. After World War II, all divisions had work except the aircraft plant which still had skilled workers and production equipment.

The plant began to produce motorcycle parts for other makers but in 1958 they decided to produce their own motorcycle. After much initial success in the Japanese motocross racing circuit, Kawasaki reluctantly chose to export as the Japanese market was flooded with lightweight motorcycles. With small displacement engines and nothing to set them apart from their competition resulted in disappointing sales in North America. Kawasaki knew that speed was important in the North American market but concluded that acceleration was key. In 1967 they released the twin cylinder two stroke 250cc Samurai and later released the larger twin 350cc Avenger. The later could drag down the 1/4 mile in 15 seconds at 100mph from a standing start.

Kawasaki H1 500 MACH III


In 1969, Kawasaki started to develop a name for itself with bikes boasting barely adequate frames and very high performance, the start of which was the H1 model (500cc) also known as the Mach III.

The H1 was excellent for wheelies due to its backward weight bias and powerful but peaky motor. It gulped a lot of fuel and had a hard-core reputation. Two smaller versions were also released, the S1 (250cc) and the S2 (350cc). In 1972, a bigger version of the original was produced called H2 or Mach IV (748cc).

Production stopped when emissions rules got too strict in the mid 70’s and four-stroke motorcycles such as the Honda CB750Four and Kawasaki's own legendary Z1/Z900/Z1000 bikes came to be seen as more socially responsible and sophisticated.

The "Grean Meanies" were no more. Today however, they have a rather large and rabid cult following.

After the relative success of the A-series twins and the W-series 650, Kawasaki were desperate to capture the world market for high performance motorcycles. After a brief flirtation with a 500 twin two stroke in 1967, they decided instead to go with a three cylinder design. The result, the 500 MACH III H1 model.

The introduction of the H1 in September 1968 was to cause quite a storm in the motorcycle world. This fire breathing, screaming two stroke would produce 60 bhp and reach nearly 120 mph. Kawasaki claimed a standing quarter in 12.4 seconds and were quick to sell the H1 on it's unbelievable performance. Just as well because this bike was more than a handful in anything but a straight line. The H1 was soon to become known as the 'triple with the ripple'.

Were you man enough to tame this bucking bronco? Many riders tried and failed!

What a shot! Amazing that you consider the Kawasaki 500 MachIII was considered a brute, but it looks just like a work of industrial art here.

1969 MACH 111 H1-500

The original H1 was also known in Japan as the 500SS. It was available in Midnight White or Peacock Grey, The white option being the most popular. Capacitor Discharge Ignition was fitted along with a twin leading front drum brake. The front and rear fender were polished stainless steel. The five speed gearbox was strange in the respect that the gears were all up with neutral at the bottom. The gear change shaft was double ended to allow the owner to either have a right or left side gear change. This was to appeal to British bike enthusiasts and perhaps convert them to a 'rice burner'. An option of high or low handlebars was offered. The fuel tap was an automatic diaphram type, a first for Kawasaki.

1970 H1-500

The 1970 model had very few changes except for the colour and markings. It was now available in only one colour option, candy red. The gold piping on the seat cover was changed to black and the rear grab rail was slightly modified.

1971 H1-A

The 1971 H1-A was different in quite a few departments. The colour was now changed to Candy Blue but the fuel tank was now re-shaped to not include the previous cut out knee grips on the side of the tank. The MACH 111 500 badge was dropped in favour of vinyl decals. This design was used on all 1971 Kawasaki models. The chain guard was now finished in black instead of chrome. Some models, especially the UK model, were now fitted with conventional points and condensers instead of the CDI system because of problems with radio interference.

1972 H1-B

The 1972 model was offered in Pearl Candy Orange with the now famous stripped pattern. The petrol cap was now a chrome locking type and the seat cover was now ribbed instead of just a plain cover. The front and rear fender was now colour matched to the rest of the paintwork and the tail light lens shape was modified. A single disk brake was fitted at the front and the front forks, clocks, handlebar controls, footrests and indicators were all re-designed. The rear brake panel was now finished in black and the outer engine cases were now polished instead of being painted silver grey. In an effort to reduce noise, the mufflers, baffles and air cleaner system were also modified. All the control cables were now finished in black instead of grey. A hydraulic steering damper was now fitted as well as the previous friction unit in an effort to improve the handling.

Check out the speedometer here. It reads just 37 kilometers travelled! Maybe, maybe not. Looks good enough for me though.

1972/1973 H1-C

This was a strange period in the life of the H1. Officially there was no H1-C but it would seem that Kawasaki were having one of their 'parts bin clearouts' and a reported one thousand models appeared with bits of everything on them. There was an H1-B with a front drum brake, another with a white paintjob, just like the 1972 S1-250, some with a disk brake and some with a drum brake. There were also reports of a red H1-B and even an H1-A with a disk brake. Has anybody got any hard facts on this rare model?

1973 H1-D

This was a major change of design for Kawasaki. The colour options were both green: a Candy Lime green or a darker Candy Green. A lot of discussion and confusion is evident on these colours, but as I see it, Europe got the darker green while the states got the lime green. Nearly everything was changed on the H1-D except for the engine. The CDI system from the H2 model was now fitted and the exhausts and air cleaner system was once again modified to improve social acceptability!!!. The exhausts were now a one-piece affair with no connecting rubber between the down pipe and silencer. Major changes to the rest of the bike included the bodywork, seat, fenders, instruments, rear shocks and electrics. The two steering dampers were now dropped with a modified hydraulic item being offered as an option. The overall shape of the H1-D was to become the basis of all the triples in the Kawasaki range for many years to come.

I always thought the white paint looked nicest on the big Kawasaki 2-stroke. Gives it that elegant look this fella below is clearly enjoying.

1974 H1-E

The H1-E was offered in two colours, Candy Green or Candy Red. The green proved to be the most popular. Once again the CDI system was changed and check valves were added to the front of the crankcases. The mufflers, seat, handlebars controls, instruments and side panel emblems were modified as was the rear shocks and footrests. The engine was now rubber mounted using a series of rubber clad bushes. The green H1-E seems to be the most popular with riders and restorers all over the world.

1975 H1-F

The H1-F was offered in either Candy Sky Blue or Candy Brown. The blue was very popular while the brown was avoided like the plague!!. Very few differences were evident on this model. A decal was added to the tailpiece and the shape of the tank decal was also changed. The side panel decals were finished in white instead of chrome and the footrests were once again changed. Other small discreet changes to the controls and instruments were also evident. Because of this many people get the H1-E and the H1-F confused.


Go easy man. Starbucks is just around the corner!

1976 KH500-A8

1976 was a big year for Kawasaki for many reasons. They changed the way they described their models throughout their entire range of bikes. KH stood for 'KAWASAKI HIGHWAY'. The KH was offered in two colours, Burgundy or Copper. Major changes included a three-way fuse system, a locking fuel cap and the use of the modified braking system that was also being used on the Z900-A4. The gear change was changed to the normal one down and four up system. Changes were also made to the front forks, front wheel, handlebar grips, footrests and head lamp. The lamp was now the seven-inch item that was also fitted to the 750 and 900 models. Emission control requirements in America was spelling the end of the road for the two-stroke engine and Kawasaki knew all to well that the end was nigh.

IN A LAST ditch attempt to comply, they modified the mufflers and air cleaner system yet again. The use of these restrictive parts and smaller jets in the carbs strangled the performance of this once mighty 'superbike' and the KH500 became a shadow of it's former self, producing only 52 BHP. The handling was much improved over the earlier models but no one bought an H1 for it's handling, only for raw, unashamed power and this was now sadly missing. The H1 was at last doomed to disaster becoming just another universal Japanese motorcycle. Even to this day the KH is often referred to as the runt of the litter even though it was probably the best of the 500 models.

...and this is what the Mach III would look like after I gave the Kawasaki 2-stroke a tune-up!


Kawasaki H2-750 Mach IV

These words from the excellent UK website Z-POWER.CO.UK.

Kawasaki were more than impressed with the success of the 500 triple so it was only natural to follow it up with a big brother, the H2-750 MACH IV. In an age when bigger was better, the H2 was the ultimate stroker. 74 bhp was on tap giving a top speed of 126 mph and acceleration second to none. The H2 would pull wheelies in the first three gears without even trying, much to the amazement and downfall of many owners. The H2 put the 'bad' back into motorcycling. In the UK, more than one insurance company refused to insure them giving the H2 a reputation that would last forever. In Japan the H2 was known as the 750SS.

1971/1972 H2-750 MACH IV

The first model H2 was offered in two colours, Candy Blue or Candy Gold. Only the blue option made it to the UK. The front fender was painted to match the rest of the bike. CDI ignition was used to provide the sparks, powered by the magneto and not the battery, while the five speed gearbox, all up like the early 500 H1, was a beefed up version of the 500 box with a stronger clutch assembly. Three 30mm carbs provided the extra fuel and an updated two stroke oil pump was fitted to lube the bigger crankshaft. Two steering dampers were fitted, one friction and one hydraulic, but the handling was still a bit suspect to say the least! The front disk brake was the same one that was also fitted to the H1-B 500. Kawasaki also offered an optional additional right hand brake set up and many owners did indeed fit it. The large rear drum brake was more than adequate for the H2 and was later used on the Z1 models. A first for Kawasaki was the fitting of an oiler for the rear drive chain. This was a manual plunger type, which Kawasaki recommended using every 200 miles. The very first models had a plastic head lamp shell which was later changed to metal. The styling of the H2 was used on many other models in the Kawasaki range and even today it still looks fresh and purposeful.

1973 H2-A

Once again two colours were offered, Candy Gold or Candy Purple. But again only one came to the UK, the gold option. The front fender was now chromed instead of painted and the side panel emblems were now metal badges instead of stickers. The rear fender was changed and a holder for a spare set of plugs was fitted into the tailpiece. Other small discreet differences were made to the fuel cap, seat lock and instruments.


1974 H2-B

Quite a few differences were made in 1974. Two colour options was offered, Candy Gold or Candy Green. The whole shape of the bike was changed to keep it in line with the H1-E and the new S3-400. Major changes were made to the instruments, frame, seat, bodywork, footrest, stands, fenders, handlebar controls, rear shocks, electrics, fuel cap and the tail light. The rear swing arm was lengthened to improve handling and in an effort to reduce the wheelie factor!. The engine was fitted with the crankcase check valves from the H1E and the crankshaft, cylinders and pistons were slightly changed. The two-stroke oil pump was also re-designed to a four-outlet type. The pump now fed a three into one pipe to the rear of the crankcases for lubrication to the crank and three more pipes directly to the float bowls of each carb to feed the cylinders. The exhaust system was modified and the silencers were now longer and rounder and rubber mounted at the rear. Some models, especially American bikes, were produced with a one-piece exhaust pipe and round holes in the crankcases presumably to accept rubber bushes. Strangely enough only metal bushes were actually fitted. The green bike was very popular while the brown and gold bike was once again avoided. The friction steering damper was now dropped but the hydraulic one remained.


1975 H2-C

The H2-C was offered in two colours, both very popular. Owners could chose from either Candy Super Red or Candy Purple. The fuel tank was now longer so the seat was made shorter to give the H2-C a longer sleeker appearance. The steering damper was moved from the right side to the left side of the frame and small changes were made to the instruments, grabrail, rear shocks, side panel badges and exhaust mountings. The purple bike has proved very popular with restorers all over the world. Kawasaki replaced the H2 with a 750 twin four-stroke at the end of 1975, not a good move but emission controls in the states would not allow the triples to continue pumping out their polluting gases for much longer. Gone but not forgotten, the legend of the H2 will live forever.

The H2 continued to be raced all over the world for a number of years after this, even getting a water cooled motor and many countries have a 'Triple Owner's Club' where the H2 plays a very important part. The H2 was perhaps the second most important motorcycle in Kawasaki's history, after the grand master of course, the mighty Z1-900.