The Interesting Life of a Z1 Kawasaki 900

Road Tales By Kelly Ashton

THIS is a story about a famous Japanese motorcycle, although the yarn concerns itself with its earlier life before it became a star. The saga began in 1973 when a mate of mine named Chris bought himself a brand-new Z1 Kawasaki 900. Chris was an apprentice butcher so he probably sold his soul to the finance company to get that bike. He rode it, enjoyed it, looked after it, and then smashed the tripe out of it. Yep, on his way to work one morning, some dufus decided to do a U-turn right into Chris and his Kawasaki. But it wasn’t just a stupid U-turn this peanut did; more like a ‘very’ stupid and highly illegal U-turn — like there wasn’t even a break in the median strip — this dickhead chucked a wild U-ey straight over the median and into Chris’ Kawasaki (and leg).

It was the usual story: carefree young biker meets car driver, car driver nearly kills biker, biker spends many months in hospital with a totally smashed leg. And just to remind us all that we bikie scumbags don’t rate well in general society, Chris’ compo payment was slashed by the judge who mused, “Surely, lad, you must’ve been able to see the car doing an illegal U-turn and taken steps to lessen the impact?”

Kawasaki 900 smashed
The Z1 Kawasaki 900 after it was smashed.

Even though the Kwakka was a write-off with bent frame, front wheel and forks, smashed cylinder head and more, Chris got it repaired. Back in those days, Kawasaki was selling every Z1 they could import, so a lot of bikes too far gone were actually repaired. Eventually, Chris’ leg got better, though never as good, but at least he was biking again. But something happened to his enthusiasm and he never really rode it all that much. The Kwakka stayed good (like a brand new bike) for a few more years and accumulated scant more miles. 

During this time frame, another mate, Steve, was plotting his own course through bikedom. Steve had bought himself a car, which shocked everyone, as he was one of the diehards who’d never owned a car or even held a car licence. And at 26, he was an old bastard compared to the rest of us. Steve’s first bike was an ex-cop Trumpy, then another Trumpy or two, followed by an ex-cop Honda Four. Steve came to grief on that Honda Four: coming back from the Bathurst Bike Races in about 1975, he hit a fast corner way too fast, then speared into the bush off the side of the Bell’s Line of Road. E-yoooww! Poor old Steve was a mess—leg, pelvis, spleen and liver all copped a hammering. The leg and pelvis got better, the liver repaired itself; and the spleen, well, they took that out and Steve just got along without it. 

So, after recovery, Steve bought himself a car. And not just any old car, but a brand new Falcon GS V8 panel van. Then he had to get his car learner plates, then passed a test and, hey presto! Steve was a car driver. Turns out he wasn’t a very good car driver; you’d think with all the experience on bikes, he’d walk it in, but no, he kept reversing into things and trying to split lanes at the traffic lights. Cars weren’t for him, he decided. Pretty soon, Steve and Chris were in deep negotiation, the upshot being Chris driving off to the east in a nearly new Falcon GS panel van and Steve putting on a helmet and riding off to the west on a good-as-new Kawasaki 900. That was more like it.

The Kwak was Steve’s only transport for the next few years and then fate stepped in again with another fateful meeting with another idiot car driver. If ever there was a relatively minor (two vehicular write-offs/no injuries) motor traffic accident that needed one of those cop shows to do a dramatic reconstruction, it was this one.

Scene One.

The dramatisation would open with a happy-go-lucky Steve riding his shiny Kawasaki motorbike along the gutter lane of Pittwater Road, Brookvale, one afternoon. It’s peak hour, the traffic is fairly heavy but the birds are singing, Steve is smiling and all is right in the world. The background musical track is the Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine, or something similar. Steve is totally unaware of what is about to happen, otherwise, his riding gear would have been a couple of steps up from the bare chest, the King Gee stubbies and the Japanese safety boots (thongs). At least he is wearing a helmet…

Cut to Scene Two.

(Voice Over: “Meanwhile, in another, darker part of Brookvale…”) An ominous, threatening tune punctuates the slow-motion vision of an evil-looking woman as she strides menacingly to her dark-coloured car which is parked outside a panel-beating shop. The panel-beater has just moved her car from the workshop. She writes the cheque and checks that all the previous damage has been repaired to her brooding satisfaction. She hops in, starts the motor and laughs maniacally as she rumbles into the narrow Carter Street and heads towards the busy Pittwater Road.

Quick cut back to Steve.

(Camera’s point-of-view is looking directly over his bare shoulder). Steve is riding at exactly 59 km/h, a speed at which all statisticians will tell you is the most dangerous for law-abiding, safety conscious motorists to travel. (Think about it; whenever anyone is asked what their speed was immediately before the accident, it was always 1 km/h under the legal limit.)

Cut back to evil woman.

(Camera point-of-view is looking straight up the bonnet of her car). Her sneering face is cleverly framed by the gun-sight bonnet emblem.

Cut back to Steve.

Cut back to evil woman.

Tension is building. (Ominous background music builds to crescendo).

Cut back to Steve.

(Steve’s point of view). His gutter lane is clear all the way to the big Top Dog intersection at Pittwater and Warringah Roads; the line of vans and trucks in the middle lane is slowing, but his lane is still cool.

Cut back to Evil Woman driving a car fresh from panel-beating shop.

(Evil Woman’s point-of-view) She’s looking down the bonnet, through the gun sight emblem now. (Voiceover of woman’s thoughts: “Southbound lanes of traffic are clear; two northbound lanes stopped to let me in — there can’t possibly be anything like a Kawasaki 900 being ridden by a bloke named Steve travelling along in the gutter lane, so I’ll just swerve all the way over to that lane.”)

Cut back to Steve.

(Steve’s point-of view is a large portion of freshly buffed and very-recently repaired car that appears to take up the entire amount of traffic lane that was previously available to him). “Oh dear,” sighs Steve as he grabs a handful of front brake. The Kwakka slams into the front mudguard of the car and stops dead. Steve sails over the bonnet and lands in a tight ball, then tumbles up the gutter lane towards the Top Dog intersection. The only sound Steve hears is the plaintive wail of an ethnic woman as she screams: “OH NO — NOT AGAIN!”

Fade out. Credits.

If Steve got hurt, he wasn’t showing it at the pub later that night. The fact that this woman had already smashed her car up once, and after the repairs, had only travelled the length of Carter Road before smashing it up again, was pretty bloody funny. Up until that part, we thought it was just a bit of bad luck for her, but it got uproarious when it was intimated that her original accident was on the corner of… you guessed it — Carter and Pittwater!

Fortunately for Steve, her insurance company paid up and allowed him to keep the wreck of the old Kawasaki. Unfortunately for the insurance company, Steve was a claim Nazi, and apart from the bike, the company had to pay for: One (1) Shoe full face helmet, scratched; one (1) pair of King Gee stubbies (green), split; one (1) pair of Bonds briefs (red), split; and one (1) pair of Dunlop thongs (blue), left one has broken strap.

Now, you’d think after two total write-offs under two different owners, the Kawasaki would be ready for the scrap yard. But it wasn’t; it still had a lot of riding to do. Steve advertised the wreck in The Trading Post and a bloke named Ross came and bought it, possibly paying around $400, which, at the time, was probably the right price for a written-off Kawasaki Z1A.

That Ross was actually Ross Hannan, the super-tuner of the ’70s and ’80s and he was building a bike for Kiwi psycho hero road racer Graeme Crosby to ride in the production racing class. Now, the way things happen with race bikes, it might’ve been the cylinder head, or the crankshaft, or just the back wheel that went into Crosby’s fantastic racing Kwakka. Seriously, the early heads were the ones fitted to later bikes for better breathing. Or, it might’ve been (as Steve still fervently believes) the entire bike with a few new parts to repair the damage. If that is the case, then even before Crosby imprinted his Ross Hannan Kawasaki Racer into the history of Australian road racing, the bike already had a mildly interesting history of doing spectacular things.

And as a fitting end to this story, the nearly new XB Falcon GS panel van that the Kwakka’s original owner, Chris, ended up with got totally written-off too! Yep, Chris and another mate Banno were volunteer bushfire brigade blokes, and were called from their BBQ at Beacon Hill to a bushfire at the other end of the Wakehurst Parkway. Well, they didn’t make it, but they did get halfway there, and were doing real good until Chris rolled the van four or five times into the gully on the Parkway.

Funnily enough, that car got rebuilt too, using a hail-dented bonnet, taxi front guards and other wreckers’ wares. With a new paint job, it looked flairsh! Pity the poor bastard who bought it…

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