The period from the late sixties to the seventies was the one of the most eventful in motorcycling history as the application of revolutionary technology dramatically increased motorcycle performance, multi-cylinder two-strokes with ever larger displacements, large-displacement four-strokes with DOHC engines-a veritable avalanche of new technology changed forever the face of motorcycling. Kawasaki, one of the main instigators of this revolution, stunned the two-wheeled community early on with the release of the 500SS/MachIII, a shockingly powerful three-cylinder two-stroke whose awesome performance left an indelible mark on motorcycling history. It was followed by the mighty Z1, a big-bore four-stroke "muscle bike" delivering an asphalt ripping level of performance never before seen. Of course, other manufacturers also built a variety of large-displacement high-performance machines, fueling an escalating horsepower war the likes of which motorcycling had never seen.
A brief cessation of rivalry was called in October of 1972, due to, a world-wide oil crises. This was caused by OPECs raising the price of crude oil, and a consequent emphasis on fuel efficient, environmentally-friendly engines. Early victims were two-strokes and large-displacement four-strokes, which were seen as politically incorrect long before the term came into usage. At the time, Kawasaki was secretly developing a liquid-cooled 750cc two-stroke four, and a rotary engine, both of which had to be abandoned due to fuel consumption considerations.
In spite of all this, the Z1 continued to sell strongly, as a growing legion of hard-core fans found themselves unable to kick the high-horsepower habit. Realizing that demands for high-performance supersport bikes still existed, in 1974 development was quietly begun on a new flagship model to replace the famous Z1.
The new model would incorporate the latest technology, would have displacement befitting its flagship status; and, of course, would, offer the awesome performance that had become a Kawasaki trademark. The development concept was both simple and bold: create a high-quality sport tourer incorporating the best of Kawasaki's technology, and one that would provide even more performance than the Z1.
In the new political and environmental climate, engine development was of the utmost importance. During the planning stage, a displacement of 1,200cc was called for, -1.3 times that of the Z1. Following the release of the Z1, Kawasaki was the undisputed sales leader when it came to large-displacement DOHC air-cooled, four-strokes, but the Z1's technology was no longer cutting edge. Looking for a high-impact engine design for the new era, various layouts were discussed and discarded, including V-fours and square-fours. At the suggestion of Kawasaki Motors Corp., in the United States, a V6 monster engine was mulled. The political and technological nouveau demanded a liquid-cooled four-stroke with DOHC head. After much discussion, it was decided that the new machine would be powered by an in-line six -Kawasaki's first attempt at building a monster motorcycle engine.
Kawasaki was making transmissions for Isuzu at the time, and was one of the nation's leading manufacturers in this field. This technology was used to develop a shaft drive system for the new bike. Compared with a chain, the shaft requires less maintenance, and the sacrifice in power and weight was considered acceptable given the bike's sport touring orientation. Coincidentally, both Honda and Yamaha were starting to use shaft drives at the same time on the GL1000 and XS1000, respectively.
The first prototype was completed in August of 1976. It was done in a supersport style, and sported a bikini cowl. Its slim chassis was accentuated by the impressive engine with its bank of six carburettor and a six-into-two exhaust system. But during the two years of its development, market tastes had shifted from supersport towards touring. In response, the new flagship was given a larger fuel tank and restyled as a big tourer.
In 1977, in response to Harley-Davidson's announcement of a new 1,340cc engine, the displacement of the new bike was bumped from 1,200cc to 1,286cc, and fuel tank capacity was increased to 27 litres for long-distance touring.
The final, restyled prototype was completed in March of 1978, and full-scale testing was started. To lighten the handling of what was expected be the most massive production bike until that time, considerable effort was expended in tuning the frame geometry and suspension. After building and discarding more than twenty different frames, a combination was found which delivered handling performance equal to that of the Z1. And, since this flagship model would be the successor to the Z1, thorough attention was given to every detail. To reduce vibration and mechanical noise, many tests were carried out in a soundproof room.
With final testing complete, the Z1300 made its world debut at the Koln show in September of 1978. The liquid-cooled, 1,286cc, DOHC, two-valve engine had a maximum output of 120ps@8,000 rpm and maximum torque of 11.8kg-m@6,000 rpm which, combined with dry weight of 297 kg, made it the super dreadnought of touring bikes.
Press introduction for the Z1300 were held in November 1978 on the island of Malta for the European press and in Death Valley, California, for the American press. All were unanimous in their praise of both the styling and performance of this ground-breaking new machine. In spite of a wet weight exceeding 300 kg, the Z1300 had no trouble launching the impressive bike into motion -all of which was dutifully reported to motorcycling fans around the world. In Germany, site of Koln show, the Z1300 soon became a collector's item.
The Z1300 was produced from 1978 to 1983, when it was given a digital fuel injection("D.F.I.") system and redesignated as the ZG1300 (although the generic model name continued as Z1300). Although this system was installed primarily to improve fuel consumption, even with no other changes to the motor, maximum power jumped to 130ps@8,000 rpm and maximum torque to 11.8kg-m@7,000 rpm.
In March of that year, in response to market requests, the ZN1300A Voyager, a full dresser, was added to the line-up. It featured a fairing, saddlebags, trunk, comfy stepped seat, digital speedometer, AM/FM radio, cassette deck and trip computer with fuel gauge, stopwatch function and calculator for making fuel consumption/average speed calculations. The Voyager's engine, though equipped with the D.F.I. system, had its power curve reconfigured for a reduced maximum output of 117ps@7,500 rpm, but increased maximum torque of 13.2kg-m@6,000 rpm, figures which better suited an impressive dry weight of 381 kg. The Voyager was well received by the market as a top-of -the-line touring machine. In spite of a higher price than competing machines, it was a big hit among serious touring riders.
After a twelve-year production run, Kawasaki's first liquid-cooled six-cylinder engine bowed out in 1989 after 20,000 Z1300s and 4,500 Voyagers had been produced. Throughout its tenure this mighty flagship rolled proudly at the head of the Kawasaki line.
Even today, twenty years later, it is still a popular touring mount among long-distance touring riders although the touring models like the example above cannot be said to be the KZ1300s' high point.
The 1984 model below is much more like it!
I peeled this hilarious comment off the inter-webs. Don't know who wrote it but I'd love to hear from that scribe! You kinda have to agree...
"Kawasaki KZ 1300 - Did the Kawasaki stylists do anything right on this bike? Er... no. Let's start with the magnificent 1.3 litre transverse six cylinder. While Honda showed the world how to drop jaws with their superlative CBX six and its waterfall cascade of headers, Kawi smushed the whole front of the engine together, covered it with a huge radiator, and stripped the finning from the cylinder walls so that it looked like a single billet of gray ship metal.
Although the Kawi Six wasn't the only bike of the age with hideous rectangular instruments and headlight, it does win the Golden Age prize for the single ugliest, flabbiest tank which must have been modeled after the view of a 500 lb. rider from the rear."