Kawasaki history and facts
Similar to BMW, which originally made airplane engines rather than bikes or cars, Kawasaki did not start out as a motorbike manufacturer.
Founded in Tokyo by Shozo Kawasaki in 1896, the company was officially known as Kawasaki Heavy Industries. This reflected its key areas of activity: shipbuilding, railroad rolling stock and electrical generating plants.
Kawasaki retains an interest in a broad range of sectors to this day – from tunnel boring to helicopter design. However, when it came to motorcycles, the big change came in 1960 when Kawasaki took over Meguro Motorcycles, a major (though struggling) Japanese bike manufacturer.
Kawasaki had been producing motorcycle engines from as early as 1949 and came out with its first bike in 1954, named Meihatsu. The following year an improved model, the Meihatsu 125 Deluxe, was introduced. This time the Kawasaki logo was stamped into the engine side cover.
But 1960 represented a watershed for the company as the Meguro takeover emphasised Kawasaki’s intent to be a big player in motorbike design and manufacture.
In 1961, Kawasaki produced its first complete motorcycle post-Meguro takeover – the B8 125cc two-stroke.
And the new bikes kept coming. 1962 saw a series of the two-stroke models from 50-250cc released, with the 250cc disc-valve ‘Samurai’ attracting particular attention in the US.
Four years later in 1966, the 650 W1 was launched - the biggest bike made in Japan at the time.
At the very end of the 1960s, Kawasaki began making a serious impact on the race track too when Dave Simmonds won the 1969 World Championship, in the 125cc class.
In the same year the Kawasaki H1 (also known as the Mach III) was unveiled. The 500cc three-cylinder two-stroke, powerful for its day, helped establish Kawasaki’s reputation in the US. Because of the bike’s success, Kawasaki released two smaller models based on the H1, the 250cc S1 and the 350cc S2. And for those who wanted more, not less, power, Kawasaki introduced a 748cc version, the H2 (Mach IV) in 1972.
Prestige for the brand provided by victory on the track continued in the early 1980s when Eddie Lawson won the 1981 AMA Superbike championship for Kawasaki after an epic battle with Honda’s Freddie Spencer. Lawson achieved the same feat a year later too.
Innovation and new model design continued at a pace during the following decades. In 2003, Kawasaki realised that only a small percentage of super-sports motorcycles ever actually raced. Consequently, Kawasaki upped the capacity of the ZX-6R to 636cc and ‘ordinary riders’ welcomed a noticeable increase in mid-range power.
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