Kawasaki W, H & Z: The Big Air-cooled Machines Book Review (Rider’s Library)

Kawasaki W, H & Z: The Big Air-cooled Machines Book Review (Rider's Library)

If you bleed mean Green and cherish memories of the days of the fearsome air-cooled two-stroke triples and DOHC four-cylinder rockets Kawasaki produced from the late sixties to the mid-seventies, Brian Long’s latest book, Kawasaki W, H & Z The Big Air-cooled Machines, is one you’ll want in your library.

Long writes based in Japan and had Kawasaki’s support with access to archives and historic documents to produce a definitive work on some of the bikes that elevated Kawasaki from just another motorcycle maker to a brand known for high-performance machines.

You might recall our review of Long’s excellent book on the Suzuki brand. It is with the same attention to detail and authenticity of background material he provided in that book that he presents the story of the big air-cooled Kawasakis.

Kawasaki W, H & Z: The Big Air-cooled Machines Book Review (Rider's Library)

To provide a context of how long the road has been for Kawasaki as well as to help the reader understand the company’s scope, Long provides a brief history back to the firm’s very beginnings in 1878. It is a diverse history with a lot of twists and turns, but Long lays it out with clarity and it really enhances a person’s respect as well as an understanding for this durable brand.

Though it is written with the authoritative command of facts of a university textbook, it is far from boring and does not get bogged down in the company’s ancient history, interesting though it is.

Long moves the story quickly through the early Meguro motorcycle (and the company even took a swipe at automobile manufacturing) days of the 1950s and ‘60s up to the roll-out of the large-displacement, air-cooled W-series bikes in 1964 with the 496cc OHV twin four-stroke powered Meguro K2.

Kawasaki made its first step into the North American motorcycle market with small-displacement two-stroke bikes badged as “Omega” brand in 1964. But by 1965, there was already a call for bigger displacement four-stroke road bikes and Kawasaki answered the call with the 624cc W1, which debuted at the 1965 Tokyo Show. The W1 reached the North American market in May 1966.

Little did the world know that even as the 650 twin was opening the door to the big road bike market in North America, Kawasaki was busy cooking up the three-cylinder two-stroke gut-punch for the competition, the H-series.

Long relates that in January 1969, the fierce and fast KH500A also known as the H1, 500cc Mach III entered the North American market. That history-making bike led to major publicity for the brand and the two-stroke triple segment of the product line quickly expanded to include 250, 350-then 400, and 750cc variants.

Even as the two-stroke triples were shaking up world motorcycle markets, Long recalls the development of yet more powerful four-stroke road bikes intended to eclipse Honda’s CB750. Originally intended to be a 750 code-named the N600 project, Kawasaki decided to avert the “me-too” effect of Honda’s introduction of its four-cylinder SOHC 750 by retooling the engine design into a double-overhead-cam 903cc brute code-named T103.

By June 1972, the new Z1 or 900 Super 4 as it was designated in the European market, made its debut at the press roll-out in Akashi. With its introduction, the world had a new top-of-the-line superbike.

In the fifth and final chapter, Long recalls the end of the two-stroke era brought about by the increasing regulation of tail pipe emissions of both gasses and noise in the early and mid-seventies. With those restrictions, the air-cooled two-stroke triples were phased out by 1980 and the four-strokes moved ever more broadly toward liquid-cooled designs.

The book includes three Appendices for technical specifications and production figures of each series of bikes. Long uses his training as a mechanical engineer and experience as a writer has authored more than 80 books to make Kawasaki W, H & Z The Big Air-cooled Machines technically accurate and complete while keeping the book interesting and enjoyable for readers be they Kawasaki enthusiasts or general interest readers.

Book data:

  • Title: Kawasaki W, H & Z The Big Air-cooled Machines
  • Author: Brian Long
  • Published: 2019 hardcover, 160 pages, 451 color and black & white images, page size 8.25” x 9.75.”
  • Publisher: Veloce Publishing, Parkway Farm Business Park, Middle Farm Way, Poundbury, Dorchester, DT1 3AR, England (www.veloce.co.uk)
  • Veloce Publications are distributed in North America by: Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Books can be ordered by e-mail at: qds@quartous.com or call: 1-612-344-8100. See: www.quartoknows.com
  • ISBN: 978-1-787112-17-9
  • MSRP: U.S. $50.00 U.K. £30.00 $65.00 CAN