A mean machine in its day, the Kawasaki KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica is a collectible classic today.
Kawasaki KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica
Years produced: 1982-1983
Total production: 750
Claimed power: 79hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 128mph (period test)
Engine type: 998cc double-overhead cam, air-cooled inline four
Weight (dry): 247kg (543.5lb)
Price then: $4,400 (est.)
Price now: $8,000-$11,000
MPG: 36.6 mpg (period test)
“What makes it stand out is its color. The green paint is a perfect example of what used to be cool — it’s like a time capsule. Back then a Kawasaki was a Kawasaki; it was green, and it didn’t look like a Yamaha or a Honda. Back then, the color made the bike.”
As a well-known classic motorcycle restorer and the proprietor of Bator International, Glenn Bator regularly buys and sells some very exotic bikes like Indians, Mondials and Vincents. But here he is, excited about a 1983 Kawasaki KZ1000R. “It brings back memories of high school — I used to watch guys riding bikes like this, and I lusted after them,” Glenn says of the collectible classic Kawasaki motorcycle.
But then, this isn’t just any 1983 Kawasaki KZ1000R — it’s a limited run, special edition Superbike, named after Eddie Lawson, four-time winner of the 500cc World Championship during the 1980s, the 1981-1982 AMA Superbike champion and the 1984 AMA Pro Athlete of the Year. Lawson retired from full-time motorcycle racing in 1990, but came back in 1993 to win the Daytona 200 for the second time.
During his Superbike career, Lawson raced Rob Muzzy-tuned Kawasakis. Kawasaki was justifiably proud of its star rider, and in late 1982 came out with a performance street bike with Superbike styling — the KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica (ELR), a bright green street version of Lawson’s bright green 1981-1982 Superbike. Only 750 were built.
The origins of the Eddie Lawson Replica go back to 1972 and the Kawasaki Z1 903cc Four. The double-overhead cam roadster was a star performer of the time, and it wasn’t just fast in a straight line; it also handled well over twisty roads. Handling was a weak point of Japanese motorcycles of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and the performance of the Z1 surprised many riders.
After its successful launch, Kawasaki kept the popular Z in its lineup, civilizing it a little more every year. But as the late Seventies came into view, tightening emissions standards and increasing performance competition between Japans’ Big Four had Kawasaki worrying their four would be left behind by bigger, faster bikes from Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha.
So Kawasaki started experimenting with larger bikes, and in 1977 the Kawi four grew to 1,015cc, a move that netted both improved performance and lower emissions. After introducing the six-cylinder, 120hp Z1300, Kawasaki stepped the four down to 998cc for the KZ1000J. This bike, appearing in 1981, was intended to slot into European endurance and F1 racing classes, and provide sporty performance on the street.
The engine’s crankshaft bearings were still rollers, as used on the earlier Z1, but the engine cases were lighter, as was the pressed-together crankshaft. Still air-cooled and with two valves per cylinder, compression was raised from 8.7:1 to 9.2:1 and the KZ sported larger valves, larger ports and a Hy-Vo type cam chain. Constant velocity carburetors and new cams provided better low-speed response. Vibration was damped by rubber engine mounts, and straight-cut primary gears (with a slight tendency to whine) and a large nine-plate clutch transmitted power to the five-speed transmission. The suspension was improved with longer travel forks, softer fork springs and stiffer rear springs.
Other changes included a boost in alternator output, allowing owners to light up their bikes like a Christmas tree, or at least power a heated vest. And last but not least, the dual horns were now loud enough to make semi-conscious car drivers pay attention.
The KZ1000J was the basis of the KZ1000R, which soon became known as the Eddie Lawson Replica or the ELR. Tests of this limited edition machine started showing up in contemporary magazines in late 1982. The ELR had flat-track style black handlebars behind a rectangular bikini fairing, a dished black seat and a black engine. A Kerker four-into-one exhaust system (with street legal baffling), a small oil cooler, Dunlop K300 series tires and Showa shocks designed to look like the Works Performance shocks on Lawson’s Superbike racer added extra performance. The stock KZ1000J was a sporty performer in its own right, so the ELR was close to top of the line as a canyon carver.
Aside from the exhaust system and the black paint, the engine was the same as the stock J. Kawasaki also built 30 real production racers, designated the S1, and passed them out to a few chosen racers. Contemporary tests showed that the ELR was plenty fast enough for the average street warrior.
Back in the day, test riders found that although it felt very light, the ELR was only 3lb lighter than the standard KZ1000J, weight being subtracted by the Kerker exhaust system and added by the fairing, the bigger tires and the oil cooler.
The most prominent change from the J was the steering head angle, increased to 29 degrees of rake and 3.9in of trail. Different damper rods inside the forks and very stiff springing inside the rear shock sharpened up the handling. These relatively small differences from the stock KZ added up to a bike with a very different feel. “It is a hard-edged, somewhat noisy, rough-riding beast of a motorcycle,” said one magazine.
Period testers liked the looks, the acceleration, the riding position, the seat and the cornering clearance, but hated the Showa shocks. Brake dive was noted as minimal, although some riders wanted a more linear response from the three big brake discs. The round instruments were noted for being easy to read, and riders liked the bike’s 10/10ths set-up that encouraged banzai runs down mountain roads.
In 1983, Kawasaki came out with the KZ1000R2, which, according to one magazine, “has everything you need to go faster than you should.” Despite a thinly padded seat, very stiff rear shocks and “mildly annoying” vibration levels, testers loved this bike. New for 1983 was adjustable rear shock damping and a 1 inch longer swingarm, which did little to change the handling.
Kawasaki had earlier introduced a new range of fours, the GPz550, 750 and 1100 motorcycles, with an improved top end. The R2 got the GPz1100’s cylinder head and cams, which, with larger valves, boosted power 5-7hp. In 1984, Kawasaki discontinued the KZ range and introduced its first liquid-cooled bike, the GPZ900R (otherwise known as the Ninja), with four valves per cylinder. Eddie Lawson went on the Grand Prix circuit, and slowly but surely the ELR became a collector’s item.
Our photo bike (see Image Gallery) came from a private collection. And while unrestored, and in good cosmetic and running condition, it needed a little TLC and some detailing when Glenn acquired it. “Like a lot of bikes in large collections, this one had been sitting for a while. The carburetors were gummed up, the gas was flat, and so was the battery. But most Japanese bikes continue to use Mikuni carburetors, so it’s not too hard to get parts for them,” Glenn says.
From his experience repairing bikes like this, Glenn says that maintaining the ELR should be little different than maintaining any Japanese bike of its day. “Japanese four-cylinder motorcycles are all very typical regarding tune and service,” Glenn says. “There are some differences on the cam setup and on the valve adjustment, but if you are trained on 1980s Yamahas, you won’t have any problem working on Kawasakis. You might need a special tool or two and a good assortment of shims, but valves didn’t tend to go out of adjustment until the engine was worn out, anyway.”
With the battery charged and some preliminary work done on the carburetors, the ELR started easily. The pilot jets still need some attention, so the bike ran rough at idle, but, as Glenn says, “once off the pilot jets, it ran like the Green Streak that it is. It needs the carburetors more thoroughly cleaned and a full tune and service. Once I’ve gone over it a little bit, it should be ready to fly. The gearing is surprisingly low, but the handling is typical 1980s — a little top heavy. The engine sounds terrific, but I didn’t push it too hard because I was concerned about the old tires — it really needs new tires.”
Glenn Bator graduated high school and started working for Japanese motorcycle dealerships as a line mechanic, then graduated to service manager. He became interested in restoring motorcycles, especially older American bikes, and eventually found a job with a private museum. He now runs a thriving restoration shop, and buys and sells motorcycles for investors and collectors.
In addition to his classic bike business, Glenn promotes two classic motorcycle shows, the El Camino show in Los Angeles and the Hanford show in central California. And he has observed growing interest in older Japanese motorcycles and more of them being entered for judging at competitions.
“I have noticed a slow transition away from early American motorcycles. Those bikes are now more likely to be in collections and museums. As early American motorcycles have increased in price, it becomes harder and harder for the average person to afford one. A similar trend is happening in classic car collecting — interest in old cars is waning as they become less affordable.
“On the other hand, Japanese motorcycles are what many people in their 40s grew up with. The bikes are reasonably priced, and parts are available for the majority with a little sleuthing. And you can have many restored on a middle-class income. Like early American and early European, people tend to focus on rarities and the first and last year of models. The ELR is a milestone bike — made for only two years it is eye-catching and rare.”
“It manages to meet noise standards ... but the noise is deeper, more penetrating, and impossible for the rider to ignore ... It quickens the pulse. It raises expectations. ”
— Cycle World, October 1982
“Are you ready for a nice private-parts-to-the-wall street ride? ... something that’s so illegal it’s probably a crime just to think about it? Kawasaki’s Eddie Lawson replica bike rates high, very high on our arsenal list.”
— Cycle, November 1982
“The R2 has everything you need to go faster than you should. It has among the finest OEM tires we’ve tried; they stick like Velcro and send the rider up-to-the-millisecond news about what’s happening at ground level.”
— Cycle, August 1983