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Channeling Top Gun: A GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
It’s been over thirty years since Tom Cruise blasted across the screen in an F14 Tomcat, in the cult classic Top Gun. But who remembers the motorcycle he rode in the film? We do: it was a red and black Kawasaki GPZ900R.

Photographer Paolo Sandolfini wasn’t even born when Top Gun came out, but he’s a nut for everything 80s. So when he got his hands on a GPZ900R, the pop culture reference was too hard to resist.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
Paolo bought the GPZ900R four years ago, after owning a GPZ750. Even though he had hated the 750, he somehow still wanted a GPZ. “I really wanted the Top Gun bike,” he explains, “because it looked really weird to me.”

Top Gun isn’t the GPZ900R’s only claim to fame. It was the first model in Kawasaki’s long-standing Ninja line, and was considered cutting edge when it hit showrooms. And with 115 hp from its liquid-cooled inline-four, it was good for a gnarly top speed of 154 mph.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
Paolo’s based in Parma, near Milan in Italy, and managed to source a 1984-model GPZ900R. But it was in dire need of attention. It was filthy, and the fairings were littered with dents and scratches. But he has an ex-race mechanic on speed dial and between the two of them, they brought the old GPZ900 up to spec.

Anyone who’s stripped a faired motorcycle can attest to how much real estate there really is to work through. But the guys soldiered on, painstakingly repairing every last ding. They didn’t quite restore it to spec though—Paolo’s mixed in a few subtle tweaks.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
You’ll notice that the integrated mirrors and turn signals are gone, and the screen’s been switched out for a smoked one from MRA. And the seat’s different too. Paolo sourced a solo NOS VTR saddle from Germany, had the upholstery redone in leather, and fitted it to the GPZ900R’s tail unit.

The bodywork was then sent off to an old-timer who specializes in painting race bikes. He shot it with the unmistakable Top Gun red and black, separated by hand-painted white striping. (Thankfully, Paolo opted not to paste the bike with decals, like the movie’s version.)

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
This GPZ900R is more than just a retro-fabulous re-skin though. Paolo’s also added a few choice performance upgrades, to make sure it goes as good as it looks.

He’s upgraded the cams, switched all the cooling hoses to silicone ones, and installed a set of Keihin FCR carbs with velocity stacks. The exhaust is a brawny four-into-one system from Devil. And even though part of the motor’s tucked away behind that chunky fairing, it’s been treated to a supreme clean-up job.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
As for the running gear, Paolo left the front suspension alone—but upgraded the rear with a new Bitubo shock. The brakes are NOS Brembo units, and the tires are an Avon Roadrider out front, and a 150-wide Bridgestone Battlax out back (a bump up from the original 130).

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
There’s also just the right amount of originality on Paolo’s GPZ900R to keep the nostalgia levels high. The instruments and switches are stock, but he’s installed a Domino throttle and fresh Renthal grips.

We applaud his restraint. This GPZ is a great nod to the source material, with enough variation to keep it exciting.

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
It’s also clean enough to eat off, which had us convinced it never gets ridden. But it turns out we were wrong.

“I don’t ride it like a historic bike,” Paolo assures us. “I treat it as a modern bike, revving and braking hard.”

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy
“That’s why I love this bike, because it’s really fast and everyone turns around to watch you!”

Let’s be honest: who else feels like cranking Kenny Loggins all the way up, and punching the sky while riding off into the sunset?

Paolo Sandolfini | Instagram | Images by Paolo Sandolfini, Iacopo Barattieri and Pietro Bianchi

Channeling Top Gun: A Kawasaki GPZ900R hot rod from Italy

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