Vetter Kawasaki KZ1000

Kawasaki KZ1000

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.

Kawasaki KZ1000
Kawasaki KZ1000

  • The Phantom

    Brutal machine. The engine physically looks like it could glove up and knock the stuffing out of any of the modern engines : )

    My guess is that the oil cooler worked in that position in spite of its location rather than because of it… the relatively upright riding position would not be conducive to good airflow over the tail and the oil cooler would have been working in turbulent air rather than an actual ‘airflow’. But happy to stand corrected if there’s someone with a better understanding of moto airflow out there.

  • J Goodison

    This bike help cement the Kawasaki legend in the USA. An absolute fire breathing beast.

  • mingh

    i’m with the Phantom on the oil cooler. In my novice mind i’d strap it either right under the number plate to the fork clamps, or between the fuel tank and engine head. But it sure looks cool and purposeful

  • 4Cammer

    Maybe I am just getting old, but this bike interests me more than anything currently on the MotoGP grid. As for the cooler, my Buell has the cooler mounted on the left side of the bike right below the frame/fuel tank out in the wind and incorporating a scoop. Always seemed like a good solution to me, and the XR1200 has it is the same location, minus the scoop and a bit more easily damaged.

    And IIRC, the fella that owns this bike has a hell of a collection.

  • David Enfield

    This might sound daft but was the oil cooler there for sneaky downforce ?

  • manny

    This is one sweet bike id rather be riding this bike over a new style bike any day .this bike gave birth to the super bikes of today.

  • Gaza

    I have the luck of being able to grab one of these Kz for a song, and am doing research to figure out what to do with it.
    There seems to be a lot of talk about the oil-coolers mounting position, and all I can say is that it’s a really good idea.

    I can grasp what the fellow was thinking about. In an effort to get cool air to flow past the fin’s, mounting it away from any heat source is the best option.
    Mounting it behind the rider not only keeps it safe from debris, but also keeps a steady stream of air passing through the fin’s versus a constant blast of air. I can see where the possibility of down force might come in to play, but I do’t think it very likely.

    This is a motorcycle in it’s truest racing form, before the massive aerodynamic carbon-fiber industry took off. Maybe even the end of an era? Let’s just say that I am getting even more enthused about picking this bike up.