1974 Kawasaki H1
1974 Kawasaki H1
Years produced: 1969-1976
Claimed power: 60hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 114mph (period test)
Engine type: 498cc, air-cooled, 2-stroke inline triple
Weight: (wet) 188kg (415lbs)
Price then: $1,195
Price now: $1,500-$3,500
MPG: 23mpg (period test)
Cue the music. Turn the petcock to the “prime” position, wait until the Plexiglas filters are full of gas, then back it to the “on” position. Turn the ignition on and engage the choke. Kick twice.
The triple cylinder 2-stroke fires and Van Halen’s heavy metal band strikes up the staccato beat of “Hot for Teacher.” Listen to the beat for a minute. The beast is easy to kick start, but it is cold blooded, and it takes a while before it is ready to roll from its den. Wait until the Kawasaki H1’s exhaust note smoothes somewhat — although it won’t smooth much. Now you’re ready to rock and roll.
“In 1971 I was in high school and friends with a kid named Dennis Baxter,” Bill Swagerty explains. “He got one for Christmas. It was radical. It was a 3-cylinder, 2-stroke fire breather with electronic ignition and a lopsided power-to-weight ratio.”
Bill fondly remembers a trip to Lake Havasu, Ariz., with his friend. “He picked me up and we ran out there, but the bike seized up on the way. We walked to a store, got some 2-stroke oil, and it started up like nothing ever happened. That bike was so powerful that it wanted to fly, even two up. The front end came off the ground in third gear.”
Beginnings of the H1
The Kawasaki H1 was introduced three years before, in late 1968. The Sixties were in full swing, and dizzying changes in art, music and politics were taking place. Motorcycles were changing, as well. The economical transporters of the Fifties had become sporting machines primarily ridden by young men. Speed sold, fuel economy didn’t. Motorcycle manufacturers took note, and bikes blossomed out in chrome, with quarter-mile times prominently advertised.
The motorcycle market was changing quickly, and Kawasaki, eager to push its way to the top, had a 4-cylinder, 4-stroke engine under development when the company learned to its horror that Honda would upstage it with the impending 1969 Honda CB750 Four. Management decided to push back the introduction of the four and introduce something entirely different, something that would make a real splash. After experimenting with a 2-cylinder, rotary-valve 2-stroke engine, Kawasaki engineers found that a triple would produce more power with a lighter drivetrain.
A beastly concoction
To increase anticipation for its exotic 2-stroke, Kawasaki announced a list price of $1,000 — at a time when the list price of a Harley XLCH was $1,698. Officially named the H1, but often referred to as the Mach III, the 498cc, 415-pound speedster produced 60hp at 8,000rpm, would do a standing-start quarter mile in 12.8 seconds, and claimed a top speed of 125mph. This was big stuff.
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