Right about the time I started reading Cycle magazine in the early ’70s (devouring every word is more like it), Kawasaki unveiled the mighty 1973 Z1 KZ900 and set a new four-stroke, four-cylinder course for the fledgling superbike market — toward the moon. As a yet-to-be-licensed teenager, the Z1 filled my head with rocketman-like fantasies that had little chance of being fulfilled soon, especially since my parents insisted there would be no street bikes allowed in our garage until I reached 18. So the clapped-out little dual-sport I could afford the day after I got my permit at 15-1/2 (the licensing laws were a bit more permissive then) lived at a friend’s place. By the time I could afford a Z1 in my 20s it was “old school,” passe — a concept I just can’t get my head around as I stand here decades later next to a perfect 1973 model wanting absolutely nothing else in the universe, including world peace and a cure for the common cold. Because this one has zero miles on it.
It is resting comfortably in Kawasaki Motor Corp. USA’s new Heritage Hall, at the back of a long room filled with historic Kawasaki motorcycles and memorabilia, but raised conspicuously on a pedestal with a “Do Not Touch” sign on the seat. Suitably juxtaposed and elevated is a red 1984 Ninja 900, frame number 1 and also quite mint, the Kawasaki that heralded the modern liquid-cooled superbike era and one of the bikes in the first comparison test in which I participated at Rider magazine. It’s a special moment — my feet feel Velcroed to the floorFinally ripping myself free I tracked down Norm Bigelow, KMC USA’s racing and master restoration guy for more than 30 years. Bigelow was tasked with gathering and restoring the lion’s share of the display bikes by Dave Dora, former Executive Vice President/COO of KMC USA, who was in turn in charge of and responsible for the successful Heritage Hall project.
Bigelow’s a modest aw-shucks kind of competent guy who won’t talk much about his personal contribution — some of the bikes are even from his personal collection — though one look at his hands suggests that many hours, days and weeks were spent lovingly wrenching, painting and polishing the history in the room.
More than 20 motorcycles, from the first Kawasaki production bike (1966 B-8) to the 2002 KX85 James Stewart Team Green Championship MXer, are lined up in rows. In addition to Norm’s 1967 Samurai and 1968 350 Bushmaster, there’s also a 1977 KZ650 24-Hour endurance record holder (a predecessor of my ’81); an ’85 ZL900 Eliminator (one of my first road test subjects); a Daytona-winning ’95 ZX-7R Superbike (a racing version of the bike upon which I lapped peninsular Malaysia in 1997); and even a 1986 KZ1000 Police Bike (memories of which I don’t care to recall). The room is filled with memorabilia, too — trophies, posters, clothing, pictures, brochures and timelines from KMC USA’s 45-year history and Kawasaki Heavy Industry’s more than 100. And what Heritage Hall would be complete without the sticker-plastered Racing Refrigerator, a fixture in the Kawasaki race shop for more than 30 years.
Thanks to the efforts of many passionate Kawasaki employees, especially Dora and Bigelow, the Heritage Hall will make a great place for employees, KMC USA meetings, parties, dealer gatherings, etc. It was assembled in conjunction with a massive computer database project digitizing the company’s history that will be used to educate new employees and dealers, and as a research and information resource, with documents, photos, org charts and magazine articles.
Browsing the new Hall I feel like a VIP, appropriate because Kawasaki says that’s who it’s for. As an internal project inspired by multiple anniversaries — the 45th of KMC USA, 30th of Team Green, 25th of the Irvine, California headquarters move-in, and more — the 2,300-square-foot Hall is not open to the public, though that could change once the modest folks at Kawasaki add a little more to it and feel it’s ready.
Heck, guys, all you need in the Heritage Hall to get me back for another visit is the Z1….