Fear of dropping your pride and joy can create recurring nightmares for most bikers, but should a Z1300 perform a ‘swan dive’ your chances of getting it upright without the assistance of a Russian power-lifter are certainly slim. 700lbs or 50 stone (in old money) of rock solid ‘Kwaka’ makes your average pre-pensioners hernia ache; just thinking about pulling it up onto the centre stand…but back in those days the motto was ‘biggest is best’. Fuelled by three 32mm twin barrel Mikuni carbs this twin cam six of 1286cc was anything but subtle, reputed to be easy to maintain (shaft drive helped), endless performance with impressive fuel mileage 35-45 mpg. Road testers in-period failed to achieve anything close but economy wasn’t a concern; for them it was all about size and power.
Kawasaki Z1300 History
Many considered Kawasaki’s exploits into the world of six cylinders to be a knee-jerk counter attack against Honda’s CBX; it wasn’t. Their water cooled Z1300 had been in development five years before it hit the dealers in 1979 and the closer it was examined the more unique features this monster offered. Motor Cycle Weekly proclaimed, ‘no other manufacturer could produce a water cooled, double overhead camshaft in line six that offered the BHP of a racing TZ750 with the pure grunt of a Harley Electraglide’. Not a marque for doing things in a conventional manner, the all new Z1300 was first displayed at the Cologne show of 1978; maybe that’s why Motor Cycle News tagged the big Kawasaki the Autobahn stormer. For ‘Stateside’ journo’s their first chance to mount up was at Death Valley in California whilst the majority of Euro scribblers were taken to the most unlikely venue of Malta; more chance of running out of island before running out of road. Nevertheless, initial trepidation turned to high praise, especially in America, where a huge number were to be assembled in the capitol of Nebraska. The City of Lincoln to be exact which is almost in the centre of the USA and where Kawasaki built their huge manufacturing plant in 1974. Over the decade in production the ‘Big Z’ took on many subtle changes plus a few major ones but back in 79 the first model A1 enjoyed a gold pin stripe over ‘Starlight Blue’. What wasn’t to like? A smooth six, thrusting the pilot to 140mph, comfort with effortless power that handled better than it should have; its poor ground clearance, woeful brakes and square styling were just ignored; this thing was a beast!
The following year the A2 version got a Ruby Red to replace the blue and a larger sump that held six litres of oil and saved the warranty costs of cranks running dry. Meanwhile, the American market received the B2 tourer which took the already overweight ‘Z’ and made it obese with luggage, top box and fairing plus, no doubt, a zillion bolt on accessories the freeway riders needed for cross country excursions. The A3 of 1981 was built in Nebraska and was offered in a variety of two colours, visually things also improved with chrome finish to engine cases and covers. A grab rail was standard, the rear shocks got air and along with some electronic ignition tweaks an oil pressure relief valve and sensor; the Z1300 became a better bike overall. The A4 and A5 models from 1982 / 83 changed very little, colour options were all that adorned the menu but in 1984 fuel injection was introduced boosting another 10 bhp and improving fuel consumption; retitled the ZG1300 A1. Meanwhile back in the States the Voyager model was in its second year and came fully loaded to give the fat Harleys and Goldwing owners something to consider; tagged the ZN1300 (or car with no doors) it would run through to 1988. Kawasaki from 1985 saw the slow start of a four year demise, even the colour combinations remained the same as the ZG ran through to its A5 variant; but more on that later.
No doubt it shocked the biking world, whilst Kawasaki themselves ‘wax lyrical’ about their creation, stating… ‘the Z1300 was powered by a revolutionary, liquid-cooled In-line six displacing an incredible 1,268 cc, the largest of its time. Harnessing the engine’s massive power was a robust shaft drive. This flagship model boasts chassis and exterior components that were of the highest quality and performance. At over 300 kg, the weight of this machine was equally impressive, in spite of this, test riders were seen ‘wheelieing’ the bike during its press launch. A road sport model built for fun, the Z1300 had so much power that it fell-foul of the West German BHP regulations for motorcycles’. Rumours abound that the French 100bhp limit was introduced as a direct result of the mighty Z13, let’s be honest it is one country not known for big bike production even if their roads are most suitable. Certainly, Kawasaki enjoyed the lime-light for some time but the American market is where they expected to, and succeeded in selling their ‘6’ in larger numbers.
Road Testers View
One tester that also owned a Z1300 referred to it as the hippopotamus of motorcycles, explaining that back in the day, one would consider the Triumph 750 twin a large bike. The Z was 250lbs heavier, enjoyed 4 extra cylinders and produced three times the horsepower! After returning a well-used machine back to showroom condition many miles were spent in the saddle, touring vast distances with reliability assured and excitement guaranteed. His conclusion surprised, the Yamaha XS1.1 was better, the CBX Honda better still and he would not consider having another Z1300; even if he could find little to fault. His reasoning …it was just too much motorcycle. This theme ran through many test reports and may well have put off prospective buyers; the Z1300’s party piece could have been its downfall. The tester from Visordown carried out a back to back test about seven years ago with a CBX against a later fuel injected Z1300 but his conclusions were completely different.
The CBX won out through the twisty’s and on the brakes, whilst the Kawasaki was victorious over a faster course as the Honda was forced to except a lower gear just to keep pace with the ‘Zed’s’ pure grunt; its smoothness of power delivery plus overall enjoyment winning the day. His conclusion, the Z1300 housed the greatest engine to ever grace a sports bike and its all-round performance simply flattened the Honda with brute force. Opinions eh! Back in the day the writers of biking tales didn’t have future motorcycle advancements to compare, so when Motor Cycle Weekly blagged their way to California for test, it concluded the Kawasaki had ‘won them over’ through the dry, twisting valleys on virtually empty ‘Stateside’ roads. The American machine featured stricter emissions controls which reduced performance but this mattered not, they loved it. Back home the follow up test included West Country riding through country lanes and villages on a full power version but the shear bulk of the ‘Z’ became a hinderance leading to a second conclusion; in the UK what’s the point?
Looking Back-Riders View
70s tearaway Gary James, bike shop worker in-period, either owned, borrowed or blagged all of the era’s two wheelers…He always shares an opinion, whether we like it or not! He thinks…the engine looked like a central heating pump, whilst the overall riding experience was utilitarian. Certainly not ideal for the UK market in-period but perfect for the Yanks…a vanity product Kawasaki could have avoided.
The mid-eighties and just when sales should have been steady (issues with oil starvation and slipping cam chains long forgotten) they began to slow. This wasn’t dramatic, just a gradual decline, expected maybe in the UK and parts of Europe but not in wide open touring hotspots like Australia or worse still USA. Us Brits just never really got to grips with the Z1300, our lack of suitable tarmac no doubt contributed to the dwindling sales here; be honest, who would like to muscle this ‘bad boy’ through Central London? As the nineties approached the age of excess became unfashionable and so did the bulk of this Kwaka; nimble light and blindingly quick ‘crouch-rockets’ took centre stage. Personally, I was drawn to the GP stable, fully faired, matching helmet and boots brigade but one bike could always cut short the Wayne Rainey fantasy and that was a Z1300. All things must come to an end and to conclude, it seems this was one machine that was never thought of as a ‘marmite’ bike; not a case of loving it or hating it…whilst they were applauded by the majority, only a few wanted to live with them; by the end of the eighties sales figures had gradually slowed and then stopped. After a ten-year production run, Kawasaki’s only liquid-cooled six-cylinder engine bowed out in 1989 after 20,000 KZ1300/Z1300 models and 4,500 Voyager models had been produced. The Z1300 might have been available until 1989 but there were reports of dealers still having new stock until 1993, dealers couldn’t give them away but two decades on they would give their right arms and legs to have one in the window. Who says bikers are a fickle bunch!
This September marks the 40th anniversary of Kawasaki’s announcement they had built a six cylinder and events are proposed across the globe; from Holland to Australia. The Z1300 is not just a bike we still talk about today, it’s a monster we have never stopped talking about. The debate for the world’s best sounding motorcycle still rolls on You Tube between two contenders both sixes; namely the Z and the CBX. Their re-sale values post mid-90s have only ever increased and its worth remembering this Kawasaki was just about the most expensive option at your local dealership back when the average mobile phone was the size of the Zed’s fuel tank. It’s not that we have forgotten about the issues of poor fuel consumption, oil starvation, inadequate suspension including failing fork seals and shock mounting issues, headstock bearings, wooden brakes plus a host of other problems…. we just don’t care. The Z1300 is still viewed through the largest ‘rose-tinted’ glasses; ‘it can do no wrong’ and that is a most fitting legacy. Grant Ford for classic-motorbikes.net
Kawasaki Z1300 1979 Technical Spec
Wheel Base: 62.2in
Seat Height: 31.2in
Ground Clearance: 5.5in
Weight: 709lbs wet
Brakes Front: 2 x 11.9 in disc
Rear Brakes: 1 x 10.8 in disc
Fuel Capacity: 5.9 Imperial gallons
Type: Water cooled DOHC
Cylinders: In line 6 – 12 valve
Compression Ratio: 9.9 – 1
Carbs: 3 twin bore 32mm Mikuni
Max Power: 120bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque: 85.6 lbs @ 6500rpm
Top Speed: 140mph
0-60 4.01 seconds
0-100 9.02 seconds
Cycle World tested 1979 KZ1300 standing 1⁄4 mile :11.93 secs @ 114.79 mph
Clutch: Wet multi-plate type
Transmission: 5 speed constant mesh
Final Drive: Shaft
Starting System: Electric motor
Battery: 12 Volt
Fuel consumption: 36mpg
Check out this early 80s video from the LWT programme ‘Just Amazing’ with Barry Sheene and Kenny Lynch featuring Arto Nyquist – Stunting on a Z1300