Used Bike

Class '74 - Original superbikes

It’s 1974. Honda rule the world with their CB750, the first modern-day superbike. It’s taken Kawasaki three years to respond but now they’ve done so in style with the Z900. This scrap could be the most signifi cant in motorcycling history...

Our American friends were treated to the ‘Dream Four’ one year before the Brits, but it was back in ’67 after a trip to Europe that Soichiro Honda returned home to advise his engineers of their biggest challenge yet. Concerned that we were developing a 3-cylinder monster, he assembled a 20-strong mob, ordered an extra cylinder and told them to get cracking on the CB750. Guidelines included a high cruising speed, low vibration, exceptional comfort, stability, good braking and, of course, reliability.

So serious was this project, Honda actually withdrew from the World Grand Prix Road Racing Series after a successful ’66 season to concentrate on it. Sales were dropping Stateside (their most important market) and the Yanks were hankering for more cubes to lure customers back to the showrooms and away from cult British bikes. The reasonably successful Dream CB450 from the mid-’60’s didn’t offer the torque that US riders demanded. As with their huge V8 powered cars, the Yanks liked a lump with a thump rather than a high-revving precision tool that required a lot of gear changing and attention.

Project leader Yoshirou Harada observed the capacity fascination during a US scouting mission and combined with the rumours of the impending Triumph 750 triple, confirmed that the motor would have to match its capacity and pip Harley’s current 66bhp power output in their XR750. The resulting CB750 was unveiled at the Tokyo show in late 1968 and the frenzy began. Dealers assembled in Las Vegas were so blown away that the original forecast of 1,500 annual units soon became double that per month. The CB was huge.

Green with envy, Kawasaki scrapped development of their own 750 four in favour of huge 2-stroke triples. They launched swiftly but were too specialist to be able to compete, and they soon succumbed and revived the big 4-stroke project. The pressure was on and it was massive. They simply had to nobble their rivals or become an overnight laughing stock. Project T103 looked at using a 1-litre motor, but it was considered to be potentially intimidating so they settled for a 900 and commenced an intensive testing program in America to evaluate the motor with the help of Gary Nixon and Paul Smart. It was during this period that it was re-named Project New York Steak before launching the Z900 to a stunned American public in ’72, again one year before us salivating Brits.

With just enough time for the dust to settle, for a looming oil crisis to become a worrying reality and in an arena devoid of any real competitors, we have assembled the two rivals for the dust-up of the century. Although the Z9001A (commonly known as the Z1) has been available for a year now, it has already established itself as the weapon of the brave. It’s big, bold, fast, expensive and not yet selling in any great numbers over here, but is starting to fly across the pond. So what’s the beef? Have we been dealt too much muscle as an alternative to the user-friendly Honda, or are we about to witness  the new King?

Continue the 1974 road test 2/3

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