In 1976, the Englishman Reg Pridmore won the AMA Superbike Championship on a BMW R90S. The following year, he became the first man to win an AMA race on a Japanese bike: at Pocono in Pennsylvania. Pridmore scored this landmark victory on a Racecrafters Kawasaki, and went on to take the Championship for Kawasaki, another first for a Japanese brand.
For the 1978 season, Pridmore switched to the Vetter Kawasaki team. They gave him a brand new bike: the stunning KZ1000 you see above. And despite not winning a race, consistent podium finishes on the KZ1000 took Pridmore to his third straight title. At the age of 39, he’d become the oldest AMA Superbike champion—and the only Englishman to ever win the Championship.
The late Pierre DesRoches was the man who built the Vetter Kawasaki, and its DOHC inline four was a serious piece of equipment. Displacing 1015 cc and rumored to produce a sizzling 140 horsepower, the heavily reworked motor featured Yoshimura cams and pistons, and a close-ratio gearbox. Other performance bling included Axtell heads with larger valves, a heavily modified carburetor that was said to flow 85% better than stock, and a gorgeous hand-made Bassani exhaust. A unique Lockhart oil cooler was mounted on the rear guard. “I love where Pierre mounted that oil cooler,” Vetter himself reflected. “It looks distinctive, and is out in the airflow where it could do some good.”
According Pridmore, “Pierre wasn’t just a superb engine and chassis builder, but just the sweetest guy—quiet and friendly to everyone. He built me a wonderful racebike that season: it was fast, it handled really well and the engine was indestructible. We were really consistent that year.” The “big four” Japanese motorcycling giants carried on to dominate the AMA for 16 years, until Superbike World Champion Doug Polen broke the Japanese stranglehold, winning for Ducati in 1993.
Images via the excellent Vintage Superbike website.