It’s highly likely that Stan White’s Kawasaki Z1-R was the first of its type seen on British roads when he rode away from the dealer on March 3, 1978.
He only later discovered that it was not registered until March 8, the official UK launch date for the bike distinguished by its coffin-shaped fuel tank and ice-blue paintwork.
More than 40 years on, and Stan waxes lyrical about the remarkably original 70s superbike that will one day pass to his son, also Stan (we’ll call him Stanley for clarity).
“When I bought it, I loved the look of it, and I still do,” he says, sitting in his garden in Kent. “I think it’s an incredibly nice looking bike, but it’s also an incredibly impractical bike, with a two and a half gallon tank.
“Stanley is also absolutely in love with it. He wants that bike when I pass away.”
Although the Z1-R – introduced as a top of the range model above the Z1000 – won plaudits for its bold, angular styling, many potential buyers were put off by magazine road tests that criticised its handling.
What handling issues?
“A lot of people have commented negatively about the handling,” says Stan, “but I’m a big fella and I’ve never had any of the headshaking they say goes on.
“It hasn’t happened to me – it’s always been rock solid. If it was gonna shake it was gonna shake and it never did, but I’m not a hooligan…I’m not one of those that will go flying up the road and hit the brakes.”
Which is probably just as well as the brakes also came in for criticism, especially in the wet.
Road testers for Motor Cycle Mechanics magazine noted that “even light rain would destroy braking abilities – we were recording panic stops of well over 90ft from 30mph”.
This time, Stan can relate, his ownership almost getting off to the worst possible start when riding his new bike away from Godfrey’s Kawasaki in Cheam on that March day.
“I was halfway home to Bermondsey when it started to rain,” he says, “and I went straight through a set of red traffic lights because I couldn’t stop.
“The new brake pads are slightly conical on those and, as they come in they wear away to a bigger surface area. So there was a very small surface area in the middle of wet pads. It was an interesting moment.
“The brakes are still diabolical in the rain though, even now.”
Stan got round this deficiency by mostly restricting use to the summer, and allowing extra time for braking…
“I never was one for using the brakes much,” he says. “The discs are all original, and it’s only on its second set of pads in 49,000 miles.”
The Kawasaki owes its stunning condition to Stan’s dedication – not only in doing his best to keep it out of the rain, but also in a meticulous cleaning and maintenance regime that began almost as soon as he got it home.
The metallic stardust silver paint (the only colour available) is as it left the factory, the brake lines are all original, the stanchions are on the same fork oil seal set, and the bike is still on its original 4-into-1 factory exhaust, thanks to some very special treatment.
First, the exhaust’s collector box was sprayed inside and out with molten aluminium by Charlton-based Deccaspray, who treated exhaust systems for North Sea oil rigs.
Then Stan filled the rest of the exhaust system with Holt’s zinc paint, a rust inhibitor that’s heat resistant up to 400C.
“I put a cork in one end, filled it to the brim, then tilted all the paint out and left the exhaust on the floor with a fan blowing through it for a week,” he says.
Kawasaki Z1-R was mainly used for long journeys
“The other secret with the exhaust, I suspect, is that I didn’t do short journeys in cold weather. It was used mostly for longer runs in the summer, which is great for exhaust systems – it gets rid of the acid that can build up and rot it from the inside out with just short journeys.”
As for the sparkling paintwork, Stan claims it’s “not as good as it looks”, with pure beeswax applied every winter the magic ingredient.
“You put it on and it fills up all the tiny surface crazes,” he says, “then leave it over winter to dry and polish it up.”
Stan, 71, wasn’t always into bikes, driving an Austin A40 from Bermondsey to Waterloo, where he worked as a telephone engineer for Post Office Telephones (later BT).
“Then they put yellow lines down all round the telephone exchange I worked at, and I thought ‘I need to find a different way to get to work’,” he remembers, buying his first motorbike, a 50cc Honda, at the age of 21.
“That was the start of it. I had that for six to nine months and somebody was selling a 250 Royal Enfield. I bought that and started using that to go to work and started thinking ‘this is quite good fun’.”
Getting bitten by the biking bug
The biking bug had bitten, and Stan took his test and bought a brand new Norton 850, which was “great fun – as you can imagine, things were somewhat different”.
Stan gave the Royal Enfield to his father, who had previously owned bikes and used it to get to a new job working in west London.
“Then two weeks later he went out and bought a brand new Triumph, much to the annoyance of my mother,” he says. “Now there’s the pair of us on bikes, big ones.”
He joined the Norton Owners Club, swapped to another new 850, and toured the countryside, including a trip to Zandvoort in the Netherlands for a track weekend.
But things were changing in the motorcycling world in the 1970s. The Japanese were building more sophisticated, advanced and, well, better machines than the British – and bikers were increasingly taking notice.
By the mid 70s, Stan says some of the Norton Owners Club members had turned to Japanese bikes, and he liked what he saw.
“We’d go to a rally and I’d get there with an oily boot – and they wouldn’t,” he says. “I could not solve the oil leaks on the Norton, and the alternator failed on the second one within three months.”
So Stan traded his Norton in for a new Kawasaki Z900, followed by a Z1000 and then the top of the range Z1-R, costing £1,769.
The Z1-R had “effortless power”
As well as its striking design, the bike was the first mass-market Japanese bike to feature a factory fairing, and also introduced self-cancelling turn signals working on a time and distance delay.
The same Z1000 engine was fed by 28mm carbs, and went into the same flexy-flier frame, dressed in bodywork that Cycle Guide described as “graceful, angular lines that flow so naturally from one area to the next that it sometimes appears to be all one piece”.
Kawasaki reported horsepower of 90 at the crank, with a claimed top speed of 134mph – one of the fastest production bikes on the road at the time.
Motor Cycle Mechanics wrote that the “most appealing aspect of the Z1-R was its effortless power”.
“This is a motor which you can turn on anywhere, in any gear and it will surge and pull instantly.”
Stan rarely used the bike for commuting, always having something else to ride to work on, from MZs to Honda CBs, saving the Z-bike for fun days out and trips to the Isle of Man TT.
“The heat was always taken off that,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind betting that about 48,000 miles of its 49,000 are pleasure.
Trips around the countryside
“On a sunny day like today I’d go roaming all over the countryside with friends, down to the south coast, all around and back again – make it a 100-mile run.
“I planned to go overseas at one stage, but you’re very lucky to get 100 miles out of the tank, and it doesn’t make any difference if you ride it reasonably or like a vicar in a Morris Minor.
“It was available in Germany with a four-gallon tank, and I’ve got one, but I’m not sure whether I could have put it on the bike because it’s got a mural on it!”
He did, however, make regular trips to the Isle of Man, including one that sticks in his memory from 1979.
“I was staying in a bed and breakfast with various people, including a local police officer, so we got to know him,” says Stan, smiling as he remembers what happened next.
“One day he announced he was doing point duty at the bottom of Bray Hill where the road went off to Peel. We knew he was going to be there, so the girl on the back of my bike – this was before I met my wife – took her dress off, which was the only thing she was wearing, as we went down Bray Hill.
“I pulled up by this policeman and said ‘excuse me officer, you got the time please?’ and he went ‘it’s a fine time to ask me… aaah, you can’t do that here!’ and with that I took off.
“It was quite easy to change BGK 46S to BGK 488 with a bit of black sticky tape, and I got round the corner and pulled the tape off.
“I had friends dotted all around, and the photographs appeared in Motorcycle News.”
Family TT trips
He met his wife, Lorna, in 1982, and she joined him on trips to the TT on the Kawasaki, as did Stanley when he was old enough to come along.
“When he was five, he came over with my wife by air and I took him around the Isle of Man on the bike,” says Stan.
“There’s a top box that fits on and panniers that fit down the side, so I got like a parachute bag and put footballs in either end. That sat on the top of the panniers and, having done that, I put him on the bike and he’s now trapped so if he falls asleep he can’t go anywhere. The bike’s been in his blood since then.”
Stan has kept riding the bike in recent years, taking in trips to the Ace Cafe in north London as well as his countryside jaunts.
“I’ve been there several times, and I like to use the kick start to see the reaction when the bike springs into life,” he laughs. “Everyone is used to people starting up with a key, when you’ll hear the starter motor turning over before ‘vroom’ and away they go.
“I kick it over and it’s just ‘vroom’, no starter noise, and they’re ‘what the hell’? A kick starter for a lot of bikers these days is like ‘what, a kick start’? It’s quite funny.”
Kawasaki gets plenty of attention
Attending on general bike nights, rather than classic nights, ensures the Kawasaki gets plenty of attention.
“The best I ever heard was when somebody came up to me and said ‘do you know what mate, that’s a really fantastic restoration you’ve done’, and I said ‘it’s never been restored, and I’ve had it from new’,” he says. “His face was unbelievable.”
If you look very closely, and you really know your Z1-Rs, you can spot some non-factory touches, alongside the very obvious rear rack.
The side stand has a metal spigot welded on, covered by a BSA gear lever rubber, to make it easier to use; a genuine Kawasaki front mud flap has been fitted; and the non-retracting kick start – introduced for the model – has been replaced by a retractable one from the earlier model.
“You had to fit the kickstart, tighten the nut, start it, then take it off and put it under the seat every time you used it,” he says. “If the engine stalled you had to repeat the process, swearing louder and louder, so I decided to just take the rubber cover off and put on one from the previous model.”
The only mishap the bike has suffered in its four decades was a cracked fairing – the only part of the bodywork that’s been replaced – when Stan parked nose-in to the kerb, forgot to put it in gear and it rolled forward and fell over.
A combination of Covid restrictions and a problem with his left leg have hindered Stan’s use of the Kawasaki in the past 18 months, but he’s looking forward to getting back in the saddle as his leg improves.
“I’ve not been able to walk properly since Christmas,” he says, moving a little easier now thanks to a course of physiotherapy. “I was out in the street and all of a sudden I fell flat on my face, and lost the use of my left leg – it just packed up.
“I then fell downstairs and smashed my knee! The problem was in my back, causing nerves to be trapped.
Getting back on the saddle
“It’s getting better, so I’m absolutely planning on getting back on. It’s still painful to bend the knee for too long, so maybe it’ll be slightly shorter rides.”
Like his father, Stanley, now 37, got into motorbikes in his 20s, focusing first on cars before suddenly telling his dad ‘I’m going to get a bike’.
“He’s got a Peugeot 306 GTi6 running 454bhp, so he spent a lot of time playing in cars,” says Stan, buying his son a 1961 BSA Golden Flash about three years ago.
“He’s an absolute fan of Heartbeat on the TV, and he kept saying ‘I love that BSA the cop rides’. I knew the bike but I said ‘what bike is it?’ and he showed me one on eBay – ‘oh that’s the one’. “Unbeknown to him, I bought it. It was delivered here at 8pm when I knew he’d be upstairs in his room. I asked him to give me a hand in the garage, and when he came down there was an open-face crash helmet on the seat on the bike and his face was a picture. I said ‘that helmet doesn’t fit me’. But we both ride all the bikes.”
The bike’s future is in safe hands, but Stan plans to keep riding for as long as he can, on a bike that means so much to him after all these years.
Is he a sentimental sort?
“It would break my heart”
“Oh God, yeah – if something happened to that it would break my heart, it really would,” he says. “That’s a part of me after 43 years. I’ve had a lot of fun looking after it, as you can see.
“I had to laugh when I sent the logbook off when it was 40 years old and it came back: ‘Historic class of vehicle’. I thought ‘I was 28 when I bought that, where does that leave me?’
“It represents freedom to me, and memories of going out with my wife and friends, and that’s what I’m still enjoying.”