Kawasaki Z1R Restoration

Kawasaki Z1R Restoration

Kawasaki Z1RZ and the art of motorcycle maintenance

The Z1R was suppose to be the pinnacle of late 70’s Superbike design, but wasn’t the raving success Kawasaki had hoped for. Nowadays stumbling across one is an unlikely event but occasionally one does break away and make an appearance.

Owner profile

Z1R44-year-old Stephen Parr has been a Kawasaki fan ever since his first a Z650 back in the early 80’s. Before then it was the usual route, via a Casal 50, with a gearbox full of false neutrals, and on to the ubiquitous Fizzie, before getting his first proper bike, a 1977 Yamaha RD250. The need for a bigger bike came about soon after, with a Z650 but a Z1R mark II caught his attention. “Some friends already had the earlier version and I fell for the sweeping looks” recalled the Leicestershire LGV driver “so I sold the Z650, and dropped on a used Z1R for £1100, and that was that.”

Kawasaki Z1R Restoration“I ran the Z1R for a few years after that, and then parked it as other interests took over. However, the longer I kept it, the harder it became to part with it, despite lots of offers from interested parties. After the best part of 20 years kicking about, with it sometimes being ridden, but mostly not, the big Kwak needed some love and attention, but the lack of garage space, and time with which to start the work, kept the project on hold for some time. Eventually in 2002, the various parts fell into place, and the Z1R came in for some much needed attention. My partner Karen and I got stuck in, initially looking to smarten up the cosmetics, but this ended up being a full strip of the chassis to paint the whole frame. I used a Dremel to strip old paint off the hard to get to places and then repainted it all with aerosol paint. A new seat cover was also fitted to finish the job off, along with a pair of Hagon shocks to help the handling, which after all, was never as good as the other sports bikes from the same period.

Z1R RestorationAll was well, and I started to use the bike again, visiting the odd rally with Karen, and basically enjoying getting re-acquainted with a bike I had owned for over twenty years. During 2005, Karen and I fancied using the Kwak for a holiday and set off to Cornwall on our fresh looking classic, the trouble was, the lengthy run down to the south west highlighted a few other problems that we hadn’t anticipated. The engine was drinking oil, almost as fast as it was petrol so, upon our return the power plant came in for the same attention that the chassis had a few years previously.

1978 Kawasaki Z1ROnce stripped, a few problems came to light, one of the crank bearings had been forced sideways at some point, a fault often created by the incorrect use of a slide hammer when removing the crank mounted rotor. I knew this hadn’t been the case as, having owned the bike since just after it was new, I had a good knowledge of what had happened to the bike throughout its life. The movement of the crank had, in turn, cracked off an important piece of casing that need to be replaced before any thought of a rebuild could be considered. SEP, at nearby Kegworth, undertook the job, alloy welding the casing and re-machining the part to be as good as new, they also carried out the crank work effectively returning the bottom end to as new condition. I elected to replace all of the gearbox bearings as a matter of forward thinking; I wanted the rebuild to last for some time to come so getting it right from the outset was essential. Another problem that came to light was the wear found on the cam chain tensioner and guides, the coating had started to wear through and the bits that had come off had gathered down in the sump, the oil pump feed proving to be the home for this waste and the gauze to this had become blocked to such an extent that any more would have caused a compete blockage, and with it, a disastrous lubrication failure. The oil usage was pinpointed to worn valve guides which, along with the rings, were replaced and all was well again. Kawasaki specialists, Z Power, were so helpful during the engine work, I cant praise them highly enough.

1978 Z1R RestorationI thought the work would have taken around 6-months in total, but a few delays, and also the need to earn the money to pay for the various parts and repairs, meant the actual project overran by a year, the bike finally came together in April this year. I wanted to upgrade the brakes as I intended to use the bike as anyone might a modern machine, the original set up used a cable between the front brake lever and the master cylinder situated down below the headlight, this was intended to keep the handle bar area neat and tidy but in effect meant the front brake lacked power especially as the cable stretched and became spongy. I started off by fitting a master cylinder of a Z1000J, but this in turn fouled the fairing and meant me fitting some different bars to create the required clearance. A set of adjustable Jota bars did the trick, but now the riding position could be better, the brakes work fine, but at the expense of riding comfort.

1978 Kawasaki Z1R RestorationSince then I have completed over a 1000 miles with absolutely no problems whatsoever. Since the full rebuild the Z1R has won the prize for the best classic at the recent Cave Man rally in Preston, and has attracted a lot of interest, from previous Z owners and admirers alike, at several other classic motorcycle shows. There doesn’t seem to be many of the R models left around these days so my bike does tend to stand out among other machines. I could go the whole hog and refit the standard exhaust system for that original look, but the Harris 4-into-1 looks just as nice and sounds many times sweeter.”


Z Power – Tel 01942 262 864

Hagon – Tel 0208 502 622

SEP Kegworth – Tel 01509 673 295

Elite engineering and powder coating
Tel 0150 524 2838

Z1 owners club


Marque restore tel 0247 6622225

1978 Kawasaki Z1R Specifications

  • Price £1100 (paid in 1984, £2008 1978 list price)
  • Value now (est): £4000-5000
  • Power: 90bhp
  • Torque: 57ft-lb
  • Top speed 125mph
  • Dry weight: 245kg
  • Colours: Metallic silver

Technical Spec

  • Fuel: 13 litres
  • Rake/trail: 26deg/83.8mm
  • Seat height: 798mm
  • Wheelbase: 1506mm
  • Engine: air-cooled 1015cc (70 x 66mm), four-stroke DOHC four. 4 x 28mm Mikuni carbs. 5-gears. Chain final drive
  • Chassis: Tubular steel twin cradle frame, 36mm non-adjustable telescopic forks, twin oil-damped rear shocks with adjustable preload
  • Brakes: 296mm drilled discs with single-piston floating-calipers disc with 2-piston caliper
  • Tyres: 3.50 x 18 front, 400 x 18 rear

Top Tips

Watch out for seized bolts and never underestimate what can happen if you get the approach to getting them out all wrong. Easi-outs or stud extractors should rarely appear in the solution, as failure on their part usually means junking the part

Label everything and use plastic bags to keep components and their parts together as whole units

Get a parts book whenever possible they are invaluable when communicating with suppliers

A genuine manual is also a must have, especially for such a complex machine

Take as many pictures as you can during any work, you can never have too much information when it comes time to re assemble

Kawasaki Z1R Gallery

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