Learning to Fly: 1965 Kawasaki B8

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In 1962, Kawasaki launched the first motorcycle to wear Kawasaki badges, and this was the 125cc 2-stroke B8.
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The 125cc 2-stroke single produces about 11 horsepower.
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1965 Kawasaki B8
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The 125cc 2-stroke single produces about 11 horsepower.
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Owner Jeff Guthmiller restored this rare 1965 Kawasaki B8 as authentically as possible using mostly new-old-stock parts.
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Owner Jeff Guthmiller restored this rare 1965 Kawasaki B8 as authentically as possible using mostly new-old-stock parts.
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Owner Jeff Guthmiller restored this rare 1965 Kawasaki B8 as authentically as possible using mostly new-old-stock parts.
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Owner Jeff Guthmiller restored this rare 1965 Kawasaki B8 as authentically as possible using mostly new-old-stock parts.
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1965 Kawasaki B8
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Jeff painted the 2-piece enclosed chain case silver and opted for Firestone whitewall tires from Coker Tire.
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Jeff keeps the finished B8 on display in his living room. Sounds good to us.

1965 Kawasaki B8
Claimed power: 11hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 62mph (est.)
Engine: 125cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 54mm x 54mm bore and stroke, 6.3:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 256lb (116.4kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.6gal (9.8ltr)/60-80mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $390 (1965 dealer cost)/$750-$10,000 (2013 eBay sale)

Kawasaki had something of an inauspicious start in North America. Well, at least it did in Mobridge, South Dakota. In 1965, Haux Kawasaki of Mobridge ordered two brand new 125cc 2-stroke B8s. Those B8s sat in the Haux showroom until 1969. They were never sold. Instead, the owner filled them both with fluids, and he and his brother rode them.

“The dealership didn’t have a very good start,” says Kawasaki enthusiast Jeff Guthmiller, but things did get better. “Haux went on to sell lots of Kawasakis in the early 1970s,” Jeff adds. Jeff is the owner of the immaculate 1965 Kawasaki B8 seen here, but as far as we know, it’s not one of the Haux B8s. There is, of course, a story as to how it — and Jeff — got here.

Laying the foundation

In 1970, Jeff was 13 years old. Born and raised in Mobridge, Jeff’s neighbor was Kawasaki dealer Jay Haux. Jeff was a shop rat. He’d go and hang out at the shop, and occasionally help assemble a new Kawasaki. But it was unpaid work, and Jeff couldn’t afford to buy a new machine. That is, until he turned 14 and got a job at a local carnival. He made $250 in just a couple of weeks, and he went straight to Haux and bought a used Kawasaki 90 Bushmaster. Jeff was the king of the world. When he turned 16, Jeff sold the Bushmaster and bought a 1973 Kawasaki H2A 750cc triple from a friend for $300. He rode it for a year or two, and then sold it and didn’t get another motorcycle until 1999 when a Harley-Davidson entered his universe.

“A couple of years ago I got an urge to get an old 750 triple like I used to have,” Jeff says. Jeff’s a heavy equipment operator, and he learned that one of his co-workers had cousins who operated a Kawasaki shop. Jeff asked if there were any old Kawasakis on the family farm. They didn’t have a 750 triple, but he discovered a 1975 400 triple and another old machine that everyone thought was a Honda. “We got over there and loaded the 400, and then went to dig out the Honda,” Jeff explains. “It was buried in the back corner of a barn, where it was dark and damp, and plywood had been leaning against it.”

Except it wasn’t a Honda. The machine Jeff found in the barn had Kawasaki Aircraft badges on the gas tank, and it turned out to be a 1965 B8. While the 400 had been free, Jeff had to offer up some cash for the older, and much more rare, B8. While the B8 wasn’t in pristine condition, Jeff initially thought he’d change the tires, clean the tank and carb, add fuel and see if it would run. In the meantime, after some cursory research, he learned the B8 was an important motorcycle.

Shozo Kawasaki started a shipping business in Tokyo in 1878. By 1896, the company was incorporated as the Kawasaki Dockyard Co. Ltd., and at the end of the 1800s and into the early 20th century Kawasaki became involved in manufacturing most anything requiring heavy steel production — bridge girders, freight cars, locomotives, ships, and, starting in 1918, aircraft.

After World War II and the allied occupation, Kawasaki’s aircraft factories were idled. Instead, that branch of the company began designing and building gearboxes for Japanese manufacturers of lightweight two-wheelers. Kawasaki soon moved into production of complete powerplants, and by 1953 had introduced a 148cc 4-stroke overhead valve engine that was sold to other motorcycle makers. In 1953 Kawasaki also set up Meihatsu, a subsidiary company that was selling machines with small 50cc 2-stroke engines produced by the parent company. Then, in 1960, Kawasaki stepped up its role in motorcycle production and purchased a stake in Meguro, one of Japan’s largest manufacturers of powered two-wheelers. Meguro built a variety of different machines, including a 500cc twin that bore more than a passing resemblance to the British-made BSA A7.

In 1962, Kawasaki launched the first motorcycle to wear Kawasaki badges, and this was the 125cc 2-stroke B8. The machines were actually badged Kawasaki Aircraft, and the little single-cylinder engine featured piston ports and made 11 horsepower. The B8 was part of the Kawasaki range until 1965, when the disc-valve B1 was introduced as its replacement. Given the B8’s significance, Jeff decided to restore his barn find Kawasaki.

Restoration or bust

“I took it completely apart, and I had it in a big pile of parts,” Jeff recalls, chuckling as he adds, “Of course, I didn’t take pictures or anything.” Amazingly, he got it all back together.

He began the restoration with lots of rusty nuts and bolts. On some of the Kawasaki forums, he asked where other restorers got correct hardware for their projects. No one answered. That’s when he remembered how clean some of the cement trucks were after a special cleaning at the yard where he works. “After washing them, they’d be clean, bare metal,” he says. “They’d rust really quickly again, but it was clean metal.”

And so, he’d bring a handful of fasteners with him to work, putting them in the muriatic acid mixture they used to clean the cement trucks and letting the solution do its job. The next day, he’d pull them out, rinse them with water, and add some more. With the nuts and bolts free of rust, Jeff would then take them home and treat them to a bath in a Caswell Copy Cad plating kit. “What a great kit, it worked so well,” Jeff says. The results speak for themselves.

Next up was the engine. Jeff says it was so filthy and oil-encrusted that it took him hours just to get it clean enough to take apart. The main engine case halves were cleaned, and the crank, which was in fine condition, went back in with new bearings and seals. The cylinder was cleaned, honed, and, together with the cylinder head, painted. A new standard piston and rings went on the connecting rod. The internal gears and shafts showed little wear, so Jeff cleaned and reinstalled all of them. The outer engine covers were treated to silver paint, together with the two-piece enclosed chaincase.

Jeff says the original Mikuni carb was in great shape, albeit dirty. “I tried just about every cleaner I could find for the B8’s carb,” he explains. “But nothing was touching the grime. So I called an old mechanic friend of mine and he suggested soaking it in lacquer thinner.” That did the trick. Fifteen minutes later the Mikuni came out of the dip looking like new. He found a new-old-stock rebuild kit for the carb in Australia. Jeff managed to resurrect the old air cleaner by taking apart the canister, plating the tins, and cleaning the filter with gasoline before putting it all back together. The wiring harness was cleaned and repaired where needed, but it’s original to the Kawasaki.

The B8 frame is pressed steel, with the headstock, backbone and rear fender forming a complete unit, although there is a small diameter removable front downtube. On Jeff’s bike, both front and rear fenders were slightly crunched at the bottom edges, the handlebars were tweaked and the gas tank had a couple of very shallow dents. Jeff took the frame and fenders to Rick Mizera at G&R Body Shop in Mobridge, South Dakota. Rick straightened out the sheet metal, stripped off the old finish, and then sprayed everything with two coats of chromate primer, two coats of regular primer, a coat of sealer, and two coats of black single-stage paint. “I tried to be as authentic as I could, but the paint is probably nicer than it would have been from Kawasaki,” Jeff admits.

After getting the handlebars back into shape, Jeff sent the handlebars, gas tank, header and muffler out for chrome plating. The header and muffler came back to him unplated, however, along with a note from the plating shop saying it couldn’t be done. Undeterred, Jeff sent them to The Plating House of Canada in Ontario, Canada. They were able to perform the job. “Other people told me it couldn’t be done, but The Plating House did it, and now it looks like a perfect, brand new header and muffler,” Jeff says.

Jeff also had the original front and rear wheel rims chromed, and ordered new zinc-plated spokes and anodized nipples from Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim, Inc. The hubs were cleaned and sanded by hand before being painted silver and fitted with new bearings. Jeff laced and trued the wheels himself. Originally, the tires would have been 3 x 16-inch. Jeff couldn’t find any the correct size so he settled on 3.25 x 16-inch Firestone wide whitewalls from Coker Tire.

Speaking of rubber, Jeff says most of the original components were hard as a rock. He has a special trick to rejuvenate rubber pieces. He boils the old rubber bits in water for approximately 10 minutes, and then soaks them in synthetic gun oil. Jeff says anything he has treated this way has come out like brand-new. It won’t magically repair splits or cracks, but it does soften the rubber.

Amazingly, the front forks were in good, original condition. Jeff stripped them down, but they were clean and weren’t leaking, so he put them back together as is. The rear shocks feature plastic shrouds, and although in good condition, the black plastic had faded. To restore the covers, Jeff lightly sanded them and followed up with two coats of primer, a coat of black paint, and finally a clear coat.

Jeff took apart the seat, which is built with a frame and springs like a mattress. He cleaned and painted the frame and plated the springs. Brian Powell of Little Slim’s Trim Shop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, stitched together a new cover. After installation, Jeff cut his own stencil and sprayed the Kawasaki emblem with matte white paint on the back of the seat.

Jeff managed to find a few new-old-stock parts for his B8, including the handgrips, the left hand switch housing and clutch lever, and the headlight and rim. A used sidestand surfaced on eBay in Wisconsin, and new and used parts and pieces came from six different countries, including Australia, Canada, England, Japan, New Zealand and Thailand.

Jeff hasn’t run the B8 since completing the restoration, and says he doesn’t have any plans to add fluids and see what it will do. For now, it’s on display in his living room. He finally put his hands on a 1972 H2 750 triple that he restored last winter, and that bike will be fueled and fired. The B8 kicked off a new interest in old bikes for Jeff, and he now has 12 other Kawasaki triples that he’s found in South Dakota to sort through. Not a bad collection, considering the slow start Kawasaki had in his hometown. MC

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