Kawasaki history and facts
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. But 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 it introduced an improved model, the Meihatsu 125 Deluxe. This time the Kawasaki logo was stamped into the engine side cover.
But 1960 represented the true 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 2-stroke.
And the new bikes kept coming. 1962 saw a series of the 2-stroke models from 50cc to 250cc released. The 250cc disc-valve ‘Samurai’ attracted particular attention in the US.
Then, 4 years later in 1966, the 650 W1 was launched, the biggest bike made in Japan at the time.
At the end of the 1960s, Kawasaki began making a serious impact on the race track, too. This was when Dave Simmonds won the 1969 World Championship, in the 125cc motorbike class.
In the same year, the Kawasaki H1 (also known as the Mach III) was unveiled. The 500cc 3-cylinder 2-stroke, powerful for its day, helped establish Kawasaki’s reputation in the US.
Because of the bike’s success, Kawasaki released 2 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.
This was 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 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.