The History of Kawasaki and it’s Founder
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Founded 1876

   Kawasaki Heavy Industries has come a long way since it was founded in 1876 by Shozo Kawasaki.

   Born in Kagoshima to a kimono merchant, Shozo Kawasaki became a tradesman at the age of 17 in Nagasaki, the only place in Japan then open to the West. He started a shipping business in Osaka at 27, which failed when his cargo ship sank during a storm.

   In 1869, he joined a company handling sugar from Ryukyu (currently Okinawa Prefecture), established by a Kagoshima samurai, and in 1893, researched Ryukyu sugar and sea routes to Ryukyu at the request of the Ministry of Finance. More info at bottom of page Here

   More than forty years have passed since Kawasaki started full-scale production of motorcycles. Our first motorcycle engine was designed based on technical know-how garnered from the development and production of aircraft engines.

   Our entry into the motorcycle industry was driven by Kawasaki’s constant effort to develop new technologies. Over the years we have released numerous new models that have helped shape the market, and in the process, created many enduring legends based on the speed and power of our machines. In 1996, we produced our 10 millionth vehicle, a testament to Kawasaki’s ability to meet the needs of a wide range of riders. As Kawasaki continues to "Let the good times roll," our latest challenges will surely give birth to new legends.

Motorcycle Production Begins 1949
Jump to   1950s   1960s   1970s   1980s   1990s   2000 to 2003


   Design of the KE- 1 motorcycle Engine is completed. (Kawasaki Machine Industry (the precursor to Kawasaki Aircraft Company), Takatsuki factory). Aircraft engineers" began the development of the KE (Kawasaki Engine) in 1949. Mass production starts in 1953. The air-cooled, 148cc, OHV, 4-stroke Single has a maximum power of 4 HP at 4,000 rpm.


   "Production of the KB-5 Motorcycle Engine starts. (Kawasaki Aircraft Company, Kobe Plant). Its responsive torque at low and mid rpm, and outstanding characteristics give it a good reputation among riders. For the next 10 years the KB-5 received a number of updates and provided the base for Kawasaki’s 125cc motorcycle engine. In the same year, the Meihatsu 125-500 was released, equipped with the KB-5 engine.


   In 1956 the Meihatsu 125 Deluxe debuted. 1957 marked the production of the improved version of the KB-5 engine, the KB-5A. This was also the first year the "Kawasaki" logo was stamped into the engine side cover.

   Meihatsu 125 Deluxe was said to be "A Durable Kawasaki Engine" The Meihatsu 125 Deluxe (Kawasaki Meihatsu Industries) achieved a top speed of 81.5 km/h at a motorcycle industry magazine test, setting a record for its category. In a separate test the Kawasaki engine proved phenomenal durability by running for 50, 000 km without breaking down.



    In 1960 Kawasaki completed construction on a factory dedicated exclusively to motorcycle production and sales of the Kawasaki ’125 New Ace’ commenced.


    In 1961 sales of the Kawasaki brand motorcycles, the Kawasaki Pet and Kawasaki 125B7, commenced. Using the most advanced materials of the time, the curved surface compositions of these motorcycles gave them a high-sense of design.


    In 1962 sales of the Kawasaki 125B8 commenced. Developed and manufactured exclusively by Kawasaki Aircraft Company, the B8’s low-end torque, quiet engine and supreme durability earned it the reputation as the No. 1 practical use bike.


    In 1963, the B8M Motocrosser took the top 6 positions in the Hyogo Prefecture Motocross Tournament.

The Fearsome "Red-Tank Furore"

    With all the Kawasaki bikes completing the race, the race team proved that the "Kawasakis are strong machines in tough circuits". Later at the Fukui Prefecture Motocross Tournament, the Kawasaki machines won all the race events and at various motocross tournaments held in West Japan, Kawasaki machines were victorious in most of the events - despite not competing the past year. The outstanding achievements of the "Red-Tank Furore", named for it’s red fuel tank, earned it a fearsome reputation.


    Popularity of the W1 (650cc) (650W1 in Japan) in the US gained Kawasaki world-wide recognition as a big bike manufacturer.

   Also in 1966 sales of the A1 (250cc) commenced. It was the first bike in its class to be equipped with an air-cooled, 2-stroke, paralleled twin, rotary disc valve engine. The A1 demonstrated phenomenal performance.

Noteworthy GP Racing Achievements

   In the final race of the 1966 FIM World Championship, Kawasaki’s first 125cc GP racer, named the KAC Special, finished in 7th and 8th. In the All-Japan Championship, the A1R (250cc) finished 2nd. In the 1967 Singapore GP, the A7R (350cc) took 1st and 2nd while the A1R finished 2nd and 3rd.

   In the Japan Round of the 1967 FIM World Championship, the KA-2, a liquid-cooled, 124cc V4 equipped with the world’s first all rear exhaust mechanism, took 3rd and 4th and showed off Kawasaki’s technological prowess.


   In 1968 sales of the H1 (500cc) (500SS Mach-III in Japan) commenced. The air-cooled 2-stroke triple cylinder is the fastest machine in its class with a top speed of 200km/h. Nicknamed "Bronco", the H1 marked the beginning of Kawasaki’s Speed King Legend.

Expectant World Champion Shines

   In the FIM World Road Racing 125cc Championship, Dave Simmons scored victories in both the West German GP and the Isle of Mann TT and won the series championship on his KR-1.



   In 1972 overseas sales of the Z1 (900cc) started. Sales of the domestic version, the Z2 (750cc), started the following year.

It was the birth of the Power King Legend

The Z1, with the world’s first air-cooled, DOHC, In-Line Four cylinder engine and other impressive specs, became the world’s most powerful motorcycle. Code-named "New York Steak" during its five-year development, the mouth-watering motorcycle was a huge hit from the moment of its release. The domestic Z2 enjoyed tremendous popularity in Japan.

Overseas the Z1 reigned as the "King of Motorcycles" for a number of years. Z1 mania still present today. In Japan, the popularity of the Z2 among motorcycle magazine readers catapulted it to No. 1 and the "Myth of Z was born".


   In 1977 sales of the Z1-R (1000cc) commenced. It was a real-style café racer and the Z1-R’s stylish appearance received great praise overseas.


    In 1978 sales of the Z1300 commenced. Weighing-in at 1300cc, the liquid-cooled, 4-stoke, DOHC In-line 6-cylinder "Dreadnaught" was the largest Japanese manufactured motorcycle engine. Its release at the Cologne Motor Show marked the beginning of the Kawasaki Monster Legend.


    In 1979 sales of the Z400FX commenced. It was the first air-cooled, 4 stroke, DOHC In-Line-Four in its class and the "FX" made a name for itself. It’s large frame, compact engine and no-compromise quality made it a big hit.


   In the same year, the Z750FX and the Z250FT were released and Kawasaki enjoyed a favourable reception.


   Also in the same year, the first Japanese mass-produced belt-driven motorcycle, the KZ440LTD, was manufactured for the US market. This was one example of Kawasaki’s "Spirit of Embracing Challenge".


   The same belt-drive technology was used in two domestic models, the Z250LTD, and the Z400LTD starting in 1983.



   In 1980, overseas sales of the Z1100GP commenced. It was the first model in the supersport GP line-up to feature DFI (Direct Fuel Injection) and an oil cooler.


   In 1981 Kawasaki won the manufacturer’s title in the FIM World Road Racing 250cc class Championship for the fourth year in a row. The machine that won was the KR250. A. Mang won the title in both the 250cc and 350cc classes.


   Also in 1981, sales of the AR50 commenced. This bike was Kawasaki’s first 50cc sports model and it was also the first 6-speed motorcycle in its class.


   In 1982 sales of the Z400GP, a domestic model in the GP line-up, commenced.

   In the same year, overseas sales of the Z1000R commenced. The legendary model was a limited edition replica that commemorated Eddie Lawson’s 1981 AMA Superbike Championship victory. Based on the Z1000J, the "Lawson Replica" featured the latest technology, like an oil cooler and lime green colouring.


   Also in the same year, overseas sales of the GPz1100 commenced. The new sports model featured DFI and Uni-Trak suspension. The following year, sales of the other models in the series, the GPz750 and GPz400 commenced.


   In 1983 the Z750 Turbo was released. Often referred to as "the pinnacle of air-cooled machines" at Fuji Speedway and a like, this model was Kawasaki’s first turbo-charged supersport.


In the same year the GPz900R was released in Monterey, California at a press introduction and test riding session. Sales of the first "Ninja" (US naming) commenced the following year.

Ninja named "Bike of the Year"

   The GPz900R rocked the world when it was first released. The new model was equipped with Kawasaki’s first liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine (max power of 115 PS) and a light, compact chassis. With a top speed of the more than 250km/h and a 0-400m time of 10.552 s, the GPz900R rewrote the motorcycle record books and took the top spot as the world’s fastest bike. When sales started in 1984, the GPz900R was named "Bike of the Year" by magazines all over the world. Its side-drive cam, diamond frame, unique full fairing and other features distinguish it from competing models and earned it great popularity. The GPz900R received various refinements over the years. It continues to be manufactured today and it still retains its popularity.

   Also in 1983, sales of the domestic GPz750R commenced. From this point on, many Kawasaki motorcycles feature liquid-cooled DOHC engines with 4-valve heads.


   In 1984 sales of the Vulcan 750, Kawasaki’s first V-Twin American-style Cruiser, commenced. In the same year sales of the KR250, a replica model of Kawasaki’s FIM World Championship-winning racer, commenced.


   In 1985 sales of the Eliminator (900cc) commenced. The new Sports-Cruiser used the engine from the GPz900R.


   In the same year sales of the 250 Casual Sports commenced. Nicknamed the "CS", it featured a liquid-cooled DOHC Single cylinder engine.


   Also in the same year, the first Japanese mass-produced belt-driven motorcycle, the KZ440LTD, was manufactured for the US market. This was one example of Kawasaki’s "Spirit of Embracing Challenge".

   Also in 1985, overseas sales of the KDX200 commenced. The new Enduro model had an air-cooled Single cylinder engine that featured the newly developed KIPS power valve.

    As well, sales of the GPz400R commenced. The GPz1000RX, GPz600R, GPz250R and the fairingless FX400R completed the supersport line-up.

Instant best Seller

   The GPz400R’s excellent brakes and suspension and its original design made it extremely popular. It became a best seller as soon as sales commenced. Kawasaki’s unique sports bike philosophy, evidence by the modern design of its newly developed aluminium frame, set the new motorcycle apart from competing racer replica brands. The GPz400R enjoyed the position of "Best 400" for many years.


   In 1986 sales of the GPX7550R, a full-fairing supersport model, commenced. Sales of the GPX250R and the GPX400R commenced the following year.


   In 1987 sales of the KS-I (50cc) and the KS-ii (80cc) (both small-sized dual-purpose models with air-cooled single engines) commenced. The new machines allowed riders to enjoy both on-road and off-road fun. The bikes marked the beginning of the "Superbikers’ Mini Racer" boom.


   In 1988 Atsushi Okabe won the All-Japan Motocross Championship for the second year in a row riding a KX125SR.


   In the same year overseas sales of the ZX-10 (1000cc) commenced. The new machine featured an extremely rigid aluminium E-box frame that was inherited from Kawasaki works racing motorcycles. With a light weight of 225 kg, it had a top speed of 270 km/h and guarantied Kawasaki’s position as the fastest motorcycle in the world.

Also in the same year, sales of the ZX-4 (400cc) commenced in Japan.


   In 1989 sales of the ZXR Series, including the ZXR750 and the ZXR400, commenced. These supersport machines had styling identical to that of the Kawasaki works racers. In the same year sales of the Zephyr (400cc) commenced.

Zephyr Causes Market Sensation

   Developed mainly by young Kawasaki engineers, the Zephyr’s design concept was to create a "real" bike that "got back to the basics". Released in the middle of the racer replica boom of the mid 1980’s, the Zephyr’s refreshingly simple design, low and mid range performance, air-cooled four-cylinder engine, and the prevalent idea of "fun riding" change the market as motorcycle fans swiftly respond to the new machine. Sales exploded and the Zephyr was declared the best-selling 400cc machine up until 1992. The boom period was named the "Myth of the Zephyr".

   When sales of the Zephyr 750 and Zephyr 1100 started in 1990 and 1992 respectively, they also created great sensations.


   In 1990 sales of the Kawasaki flagship model, the ZZ-R1100, commenced. In the same year, sales of the ZZ-R600 and the ZZ-R400 (models in the same series) commenced.

First Ram Air System Hits the Market

   At the time of the debut, the ZZ-R1100 had an unbelievable maximum power of 147 PS. To increase engine power output, it employed the first "Ram Air System" - a duct at the bottom of the front face that directed air directly in the air cleaner. The "monster bike" also featured the first speedometer with a 320km/h dial. For the next six years it is the world’s undisputed "King of Speed".


   In 1991 sales of the Balius (250cc) commenced. The new naked sports model featured a liquid-cooled DOHC 4-cylinder engine.


   In the same year sales of the Estrella (250cc) commenced. The new classic sports model features an air-cooled single-cylinder engine.


   In 1992 the Kawasaki ZXR560R won its first Daytona 200 AMA Superbike title and Scott Russell won the rider of the championship award. In the same year, sales of the Xanthus (400cc), a road sports model with innovate styling, commenced.


   In 1993, during the FIM Endurance World Championship, Kawasaki racers won the Le Mans 24-Hour Race for the first time riding on the ZXR-7. In the same year overseas sales of the Ninja ZX-9R (900cc), commenced. The new supersport model featured an aluminium frame.


   Marked the fourth year in a row that Kawasaki won the FIM Endurance World Championship series. The bike that earned Kawasaki the title of "Endurance King" was the ZXR750R. In the same year sales of the ZRX (400cc) commenced. The new naked sports model combined straight-line powerful styling with a refined version of the ZZ-R400’s engine.


   In 1996 sales of the GPz1100 ABS commenced. The new supersport model featured an anti-lock braking system.

In the same year sales of the Zephyr c (400cc) commenced. The new road sports model featured an engine with 4-valve heads.


   Also in the same year, sales of the Vulcan 1500 Classic commenced. The new American-style Cruiser featured a v-Twin engine and was considered the world’s largest displacement mass production motorcycle.


   As well, sales of the ZRX1100 commenced. The new Large-displacement road sports model features a bikini cowl.


   In 1997 sales of the Super Sherpa (250cc) commenced. The new multipurpose off-road models was and still is the ideal wilderness partner.


   In 1998 sales of the D-Traker (250cc) commenced. Featuring a liquid-cooled 4-valve Single-cylinder engine, the D-Tracker created a new category of motorcycle. In the same year, sales of the Z650, a re-release of the popular W1, commenced.

Classic beauty in a Modern Machine

   Following a "new Nostalgic" concept, the new sports model’s appeal lies in its elegant simplicity. The W650 combines the beauty of a redesigned air-cooled Vertical Twin engine, elegant high-class styling and a compact chassis. Its instant popularity among a wide variety of riders made this model a hit.

2000 to 2003


   In the year 2000, overseas sales of the Ninja ZX-12R (1200cc) commenced.

New Millennium Flagship

   Ninja ZX-12R - the flagship model of the Kawasaki’s supersport Ninja Series. Intended to be the successor to the King of Speed throne, the NinjaZX-12R featured the first mass-produced aluminium monocoque frame, an advanced technology liquid-cooled DOHC 16-valve In-Line Four cylinder engine with a maximum power of 178 PS, an aerodynamically crafted chassis and numerous other unique features.


   In 2001 sales of the ZRX-1200 commenced. The successor to the ZRX1100 featured an increased displacement and came in one of three styles; the half-cowled ZRX1200S, the bikini-cowled ZRX1200R and naked ZRX1200.


   Bikini-cowled ZRX1200R


   Naked ZRX1200


   In the same year sales of the Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak commenced. The sporty new Cruiser combined a long and low chassis, high performance components and custom styling.


   In 2002 sales of the ZZ-R1200 commenced. An evolution of the famous ZZ-R1100 superbike, the new supersport tourer combines superbike performance, sport touring comfort and avant-garde styling.


   In the same year sales a kids enduro model called the KLX110 commenced.


   Also in the same year, sales of the 250TR commenced. The domestic-market retro street bike gained popularity among young riders


   Sales of the Ninja ZX-6R (636 cm3) and the Ninja ZX-6RR (600 cm3) commence. Designed to be the quickest circuit bikes in their class, these completely redesigned Sixes feature many components usually found only on race machines.


   Sales of the Z1000 commence. Released 30 years after the legendary Z1, the new "Super-Naked" combines top-level supersport components with a design that is unmistakably Kawasaki.

More about Shozo Kawasaki

   Having experienced many sea accidents in his life, Kawasaki deepened his trust in Western ships because they were more spacious, stable and faster than typical Japanese ships. At the same time, he became very interested in the modern shipbuilding industry.

   In April 1876, supported by Masayoshi Matsukata, the Vice Minister of Finance, who was from the same province as Kawasaki, he established Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard on borrowed land from the government alongside the Sumidagawa River, Tsukiji Minami-Iizaka-cho (currently Tsukiji 7-chome, Chuo-ku), Tokyo, a major step forward as a shipbuilder.

   In 1894, he was appointed executive vice president of Japan Mail Steam-Powered Shipping Company, and succeeded in opening a sea route to Ryukyu and transporting sugar to mainland Japan.

   Cargo-Passenger Ship Iyomaru

   In 1897, Kawasaki Dockyard completed a cargo-passenger ship, Iyomaru (727 GT), its first ship after becoming a publicly traded company. During the 10 years of private management between 1886 and 1896, the Company built 80 new ships, including six steel ships such as Tamamaru (about 570 GT). Since the first steel ship was built in Japan in 1890, ship material had rapidly modernized from iron to steel. The beginning of Kawasaki Dockyard is thus the beginning of Japan’s modern shipbuilding industry.

   Shipbuilding Buoyant with Successive Deliveries and New Contracts


   1902 - Mikawamaru of Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line) enters the dry dock, the first ship to be repaired in the dock.

   Shozo Kawasaki had fully realized that the Company’s shipyard needed a drastic increase in capacity since Kawasaki Dockyard was established in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. He planned to construct a dry dock by reclaiming land next to the shipyard. In 1892, a land survey began, and in 1895, boring tests were carried out. After the incorporation of Kawasaki Dockyard, Kojiro Matsukata pursued the plan.

   Construction work faced rough going due to the extremely weak foundations of the site on the Minatogawa River delta. After a couple of failures, a new technique was adopted to harden the underwater foundation by pouring concrete. Six years later in 1902, the dry dock was completed at last, costing three times as much and taking three times longer than the construction of a dock under normal conditions.

   Size of the dry dock: Length: 130 m, width: 15.7 m, depth: 5.5 m Maximum size of ships that can be docked: 6,000 GT

   The dry dock (currently No. 1 Dock, Kobe Shipyard) was listed as a Registered Tangible Cultural Asset of Japan in 1998.

   Today Kawasaki is a multi-national corporation with more than fifty holdings (manufacturing plants, distributions centers, and marketing and sales headquarters) in most major cities around the world.

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