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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 27th June 2008

1983 Kawasaki Z750 L3

Kawasaki's air-cooled fours of the mid-1980s offered an 'entertaining' mix of outright power, too much mass and not quite enough chassis. Alistair Rutherford remembers his first big bike...

Back in the late 1980s it was still possible for a young fella to buy and run a big bike. At least, it was if you were working and sponging off your folks by still living at home. I was looking to replace my ailing Z400. It was belching out clouds of oily smoke; to use a technical expression, its top end was comprehensively 'Donald-ducked'.

My local shabby but honest bike shop had an assortment of ageing Jap fours and tired commuters on their dingy forecourt. An expression of mild interest in a faded 30,000 mile Kawasaki Z750 led to being tossed the key and an invitation to take her up the road. When the monoshock Unitrack GPz750 came out in 1983, the twin-shock original lost the firecracker red paint and gained some chrome becoming the cooking L3 model, an example of which I now beheld.

From the days when everyone fitted a rack and crash-bars... 1983 Kawasaki Z750L3 - And proud new owner...

At first, I was just a wee bit discomfited. The Z750 was a high and mighty lump of metal that featured a huge slab of a petrol tank and slinging a leg over the seat stretched the cranefly-like build I had back then. The motor ticked over with throaty menace; 'Are you man enough, sonny?'

Took a deep breath, pulled myself together, and let the clutch out with the lightest touch of gas. Off she rolled with no trouble. There was actually not much power just off idle, coming in with a gentle surge at about 3000rpm. Easy does it. I headed for the motorway where in no time the big Z was purring along at a nonchalant ninety. I would have needed to stretch out like Rollie Free on his Black Lightning to attain the same speed on the 400. Exiting via the slip road I kicked down a couple of gears and gave it a handful. Whey-hey! Sold.

Making the Z750 mine took 900 quid and the 400, all I had in the world. When I got her home my ex-biker father doubted I was up to the job of controlling the beast. However, he lost no time in blagging a ride and declared himself impressed. What the old man didn't know was that the five year old Kawa had thirteen previous owners, a fact that I only discovered when I belatedly examined the registration document.

The rack has gone; a wise move... 1983 Kawasaki Z750L3 - 13 previous owners not shown...

I dealt with this unsettling information by promptly forgetting about it. However, our relationship got off to an inauspicious start. Off to work the next morning, choke on, ignition on, idiot lights glowed, and I pressed the button. There was an almighty screech and the bike jumped like an old maid who'd been goosed. I managed to half catch the brute as it fell so damage was limited to a now banana-shaped clutch lever. Dumfounded, my repeated attempts to start the thing only resulted in a flooded engine. I had to borrow my brother's Honda Lead scooter to get to work; as I had been telling anyone who would listen about the wonders of my Kawasaki superbike, the wags had a field day.

I soon learned that the Z750 was fussy about the amount of choke it needed from cold, either revving sky-high or stubbornly refusing to start. It took a bit of practice before I was able to judge exactly how far out I had to pull that quaint knob under the carburettors.

There was another snag. For some reason the centrestand was missing and I looked up the previous owner on the off chance he might still have it. He turned out to be a maniacal dwarf who lived on a council estate that reminded me of Escape From New York. He regaled me for half an hour with tales of mono-wheeled mayhem on my bike.

Probably interpreting my appalled speechlessness as admiration, he reckoned he had the stand somewhere and agreed to look it out for a tenner. Somewhat to my relief, I never did hear from him. It began to dawn on me that the Z750 had led a very hard life with each new owner even more brutal than the last.

Never mind, as I revelled in what was to me rocket-like performance. The motor was a gem, smooth and docile yet producing arm stretching thrust at the twist of a wrist. It sounded good too with an intoxicating wail when it came on cam, augmented by a bristly-chinned growl on the overrun. On paper, the motor produced almost as much power as the legendary Z1. Unfortunately, the Z750 appeared to have also inherited its infamous handling characteristics.

Not long into my ownership and still getting used to the bike I backed off the throttle a smidgen as a left-hander tightened up. Suddenly it was as if the entire chassis had done a vanishing act, leaving the bike's remaining components to cope as best they could. For a moment, it looked as if my last act on earth was going to be an involuntary bowel movement. Somehow, the Z managed to sort itself out. After putting my jeans in the wash I gave the bike a thorough check over thinking that a vital component had failed. Nothing was obviously amiss.

One of those things, I thought, and was not put off from charging headlong up the A9 in an attempt to find out the Z750's top speed, egged on by a pursuing Golf GTi. At an indicated 120, with the howling motor promising more to come, the handlebars began to shimmy back and forth like a fiddler's elbow. Easing off the throttle slowly calmed the bike down and I let Milk Tray Man pass as if I had planned it this way all along.

Thinking back, a chassis that looked like a couple of bicycle frames welded together with front forks resembling knitting needles was not going to be up to the job of keeping 80bhp and 500lbs in line. The front suspension featured air-adjustment, another Eighties gimmick that had no effect whatsoever, but fitting new rear shocks did make the Z more stable at high speed. Ultimately I learned to ride around the Z750's handling foibles by tipping it slowly into the corners and exiting on a rising throttle. I also had to accept that its safe maximum speed was not much more than the ton.

Classic Stuff on Now...

Despite these heart attack-inducing moments I could not keep off the big Kawasaki and the miles and months flew by. Then one dark night on the way back from a mate's remote cottage the bike began to misfire while the headlight dimmed to a glow-worm's output. The Z750 did get me home but by then the battery was almost completely flat.

Luckily, I only had to push the quarter-ton dead weight a couple of miles to the dealer's premises. The cheering diagnosis was that a new rectifier would soon sort things out - a phenomenal 200; presumably it was made of solid gold. Bleating pathetically that I didn't have that sort of money they took pity on me and an old Honda unit was persuaded to fit.

It did the trick and all was right with the world until the Z750 suffered a dramatic power loss during what had been a perfect summer's evening ride. Sounding like a sick tractor the bike managed to limp home, the engine dying the instant I came to a stop. My futile attempts to restart her only succeeded in burning out the starter motor. Terrific, if a swear-box was at hand I would have been simultaneously bankrupt and a millionaire. Even I could tell it was serious and another epic shove ensued. Much more of this and I would end up with shoulders like an Olympic rower.

The butcher's bill was a totalled valve and a cracked cylinder head. A used cylinder head, several new engine bits and labour came to about 200. As I counted out the notes, I half-heartedly tried to convince myself that it could have been so much worse.

Back from the dead and running well, the Z750 was nevertheless degenerating towards rat-bike status. By my admittedly not very high standards, I had been looking after her but the finish was crumbling like a sandcastle at high tide. Worst was the petrol tank where rust was spreading like a particularly virulent case of acne. I purchased some aerosol cans of Vauxhall metallic blue, the closest match I could find, and resprayed the tank and plastics. Actually, my father did the work while I 'supervised'. Thanks largely to my advice and encouragement, he did a rather good job, although once applied the colour was nothing like Kawasaki's original.

Unfortunately, the gleaming tank and plastics now made the frame look as if it had been dredged from a canal. Not being able to strip the bike down I did my best with T-cut and touch-up paint. Our handiwork transformed the Z750's appearance, if you didn't peer too closely.

'Our handiwork transformed the Z750's appearance, if you didn't peer too closely' 1983 Kawasaki Z750L3 - A fine bike in its day.

I can't recall much about running costs other than I could afford it and that was all that mattered. But heading off to college in Wales meant a dole lifestyle and a zero maintenance regime for the poor old Z, except that I occasionally sloshed some soapy water over her. Despite this and the 50,000 officially recorded miles (I'd been a bit tardy in replacing a broken speedo cable) the bike gave me no trouble, hauling me to and from Wales and serving as my daily transport there.

By the time I returned to the real world, bare-arse broke, the bike obviously required major investment. The drive chain was totally worn out and the tyres weren't looking too clever either. More worryingly she was starting to use a fair bit of oil with a tell-tale blue haze from the exhaust on start up. Insurance, tax and MoT were all imminent. Reluctantly, I put the Z750 up for sale. I even had to borrow the cash for the ad in the local paper.

I hope that this story does not give the impression that my ownership of the Z750 was a tale of woe. It was my first big bike and by the standards of the times a powerful machine, with charisma and presence on the road - or at least I thought so. I pitched for eight hundred and was content to accept 750 but I had to work on my stiff upper lip when the Z750 left with her new owner. Happy days.



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