First Ride on the 1973 Kawasaki Z-1 | The Way We Weren’t

By Dain Gingerelli, Photography by Dain Gingerelli

Our pilgrimage to Laguna Seca followed the sacred path of Highway 1 north, a road I had traversed several times before on my 1970 Honda CB350, so I was rather familiar with its curves. I wish I could report that I rode the Z-1 at a sedate and friendly speed but I can’t, and I dispatched more than a few bikes during the ride. Among them were a small pack of BMW/5s that had been given the café-racer treatment, several Honda 750s and Kawasaki Mach III super-wobblers, and a Norton Commando.

The Z-1 impressed me with how nimble it was for such a big bike. If I maintained a steady cornering speed I could use the bike’s superior acceleration after standing it up on the exit to pass the bike in front of me. Even so, I managed to scrape quite a bit of the Z-1’s hardware through the turns that morning.

Years later, while researching a story about early Superbike racing, I interviewed two-time champ Wes Cooley, who began his career riding Pops Yoshimura-prepared Kawasakis. Cooley told me, “You come into the turn, square the corner, then accelerate out—hard.” And should you miss the turn’s apex on the big and fast Z-1? Simple: “You make up for it just by gassing it,” Cooley explained coolly. Those early inline-fours were that powerful compared to the BMW and Ducati twins that also populated the AMA Superbike Production grids.

So I continued gassing the Z-1’s powerful engine out of Highway 1’s many turns until we arrived at the track before lunch, in time to watch a Yoshimura Kawasaki Z-1. We observed most of the racing from the hill overlooking what was Turn 7 (now Rainey’s Corner, Turn 9) while we basked under the soft sunshine. Pops’ rider was Yvon Duhamel, who was pops to future roadracing legend Miguel Duhamel.

There were no camping facilities at the track in ’73, but management reserved the infield for tents and campers. Tyson and his posse pitched camp there, but I met some of my friends from the AFM on Laureles Grade Road just outside the track. And while we discussed where in the heck we were going to make camp for the night, my friend Fred Walti, who was perhaps the fastest of the bunch on a racetrack, asked to ride the Z-1. (Fast Fred was the person who gave me my Daingerous Dain moniker, but that’s a story for another time.) The ride was Fred’s first experience on the new bike, and within a year he was racing a Z-1 prepared by Ron Scrima in the Superbike Production class. They competed under the Exhibition Engineering banner and, as I recall, they enjoyed a podium finish or two.

After Gary Nixon won the Formula 1 main event on Sunday, I rode solo to San Francisco where I’d bunk at my old college buddy Ian’s apartment. But before I even made it out of the racetrack’s congested parking lot, a guy and his girlfriend on a Honda 750 pulled me aside for a closer look. She was a rather cute blonde so I didn’t mind, and soon enough they invited me to dinner at their apartment somewhere near Hollister. After dinner I carried on to Ian’s place, and the next morning he snapped a few riding shots of me in the city before I headed east on Interstate 80 to visit the famous Harrah’s Auto Collection near Reno, NV.

By Dain Gingerelli
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What a great story.. the Z-1 Parked on the Bixby Bridge brought back great Memories of "then came Bronson" . Bronson is what made me take my first cross country trip from Virginia to California on my 1977 KZ-1000.. The only troubles I had with that bike were ones that I inflicted on it. I have ridden Coast to Coast several times. I attribute Bronson to solidifying my desires to ride this great country. I was 14 years old when it was on TV and had a 1964 Honda 90.. and I was Bronson.. Such a shame that we don't have Television like that now.
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