Rider: Gary Vailes, Medina, Tennessee
Occupation: Steel worker
Rides: 2012 Suzuki V-Strom, 1973 Kawasaki Z1
Gary’s story: “In 1968 my Dad bought a new Kawasaki W2 650. After that, Dad had two Kawasaki H1s. The last H1 was a 1971 and Dad would occasionally let me ride it. I was 15 years old and had been riding for five years. In February of 1973 Dad bought a new 900cc Kawasaki Z1, serial no. 05165. I was 16 years old and Dad would let me ride the Z1. Can you imagine how cool it was to be 16 and riding a Z1? All my friends were envious. In 1975 Dad sold the Z1 so I had to say bye to an old friend.
“Thirty years and many motorcycles later, none have ever seemed as exciting as the Z1. In 2005 the current owner of my Dad’s old Z1 called to ask if I would be interested in buying it back — in non-running condition. I knew this was a deal I couldn’t pass up. After I got the Z1 home, Dad came over and looked at the motorcycle I had bought. He said ‘that looks like the same year of Z1 I had.’ I told him it was the Z1 he had. He looked at me in disbelief, but after a little history of the two other owners he realized it was his old Z1. The engine was out of the frame and already partly disassembled. Other than the tank, side covers, and tail piece it was in need of a complete restoration.
“I stripped and painted the frame and swing arm. I sent the head off for a complete rebuild and the lower end got a low mileage crankshaft. All the bearings, seals and cam chain parts were replaced. When I got all the parts needed to assemble the engine, I got a good friend, Rickey Kent, a retired Kawasaki/Suzuki technician, to help me, and we assembled the engine. I sent the gauges off for a face lift and had the odometer set back on zero. I used Z1 Enterprises for a lot of parts, and Jeff, the owner, was very helpful. I also bought some parts from Redline Cycle Service. Both these guys know Z1s. I had all the chrome parts re-chromed. The tank, side covers, and duck tail just needed a good buffing and waxing.
“After about three years we got the Z1 fully assembled. Dad was there when we got it started. I took it out on its first ride and it performed well. It brought back so many good memories. When Dad rode it, the circle was complete and he was all smiles. He said he liked riding the Z1 more than riding his 1,100cc Honda Sabre. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘the Z1 is as good as I remembered. It does everything well. It was ahead of its time.’ Just seeing him ride the Z1 made all the time and effort worthwhile. I owe him a big debt, because if not for him, I may not ever have gotten into motorcycles. Doing this bike was a way to thank him. The Z1 now has over 4,000 miles on it since the restoration.
“The Z1 will never be for sale on my watch. The Z1 will always be my favorite bike, past, present, and future. And Dad feels the same. Thanks Dad.” MC
Photo by Motorcycle Classics staff: Gary Vailes (right) with his father and their restored 1973 Z1.