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Retrospective: Kawasaki KZ750-E: 1980 – 1982

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

Photo Credit: Clement Salvadori

Clement Salvadori
July 6, 2012
Filed under Kawasaki Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Kawasaki Motorcycles & Sportbikes, Retro + Vintage Motorcycle Reviews

(This Retrospective article was featured in the July 2012 issue of Rider Magazine)

Story and photography by Clement Salvadori
Year/Model: 1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E
Owner: Franco Teti, Los Osos, California

Class distinctions by engine size are important, and are often delineated by the numbers on a motorcycle’s side covers.

In 1980 the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) design, with an air-cooled, overhead cam, in-line four engine, was pretty much running the industry, and while the difference between a Honda 350/4 and a Yamaha 1100/4 was quite obvious, sometimes the differences were more subtle.

Kawasaki had never been one to follow the crowd. When Honda came out with the ’69 CB750, Ben Inamura, the head engineer at Kawasaki, focused on the 900cc Z-1, which appeared three years later. And then he developed the KZ650/4, with a bore and stroke of 62 by 54mm, for 652cc total. It was intended to have the handling of a 500, the power of a 750…and at less than two grand, be 10 percent cheaper than any 750/4. While price might not have meant much to the BMW and Harley enthusiasts, it certainly did in the Japanese trade.

The 650 worked for a couple of years, with the aftermarket helping things along by offering all sorts of hop-up equipment. But by 1979 the 750 class was by far the most popular, and 100cc was a lot to give away, so Inamura decided that he was going to have to go 750. This was to be no big redesign—no 16-valve heads, no new chassis—the KZ750 would simply be a bigger, better KZ650.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

Just to clarify things, in 1980 Kawasaki had two very different KZ750s—the KZ750-G parallel twin, the engine of which had been on the market since 1976 (Retrospective, December 1996), and the new in-line four, known by the postfix E.

Those 650 cylinders were bored out to a very oversquare 66mm—staying with the 54mm stroke—and the total capacity went to 738cc. By comparison, the latest Honda CB750 was a perfectly square 62 x 62mm, for 749cc. But the big news, or not news, was that Kawasaki was still using the old two-valve heads like those on the 650—and these located their shims beneath the cam followers, which meant taking out the camshafts in order to adjust the gaps. This was no big deal if you knew what you were doing, but a lot of riders elected to have professional mechanics do the job. Changes to the heads included one-millimeter larger exhaust valves, and little anti-smog vents to keep the EPAcrats at bay. This minimalist trick allowed oxygen to flow into the combustion chamber and mix with any unexploded hydrocarbons, creating carbon dioxide that was on the approved list of emissions.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

This anti-pollutant gizmo did not seem to harm performance. The KZ650 knocked out close to 50 horsepower, and adding less than 90cc made the dynamometer show more than 60 horses at the rear wheel, with peak ponies coming at 9,500 rpm. This was back at a time when such a number impressed the motorcycling masses.
The major changes, other than the bore-out, were the

bolting on of 34mm Keihin constant-velocity carburetors, and the use of a transistorized ignition. An interesting tidbit is that this new four-banger was first introduced in South Africa, a relatively small market, but obviously with the intent of allowing the bike to be consumer-tested before releasing it to the United States and Europe. Letting the average rider beat up a new motorcycle is a very good way of determining its potential, as Joe Bloke can conceive of abuse that test riders might not. Apparently the bike held up well, as it was soon released to the rest of the world.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

Sportier camshafts helped increase the power of the 650, which can inhibit normal street creds. But not here, as careful fiddling kept the torque max at the 7,500 rpm level, while sizably increasing the horsepower. Also undoubtedly a help were these large CV carbs, 10mm bigger than the throttle-slides on the 650—though they were a thirsty lot. Mileage could be less than 40 mpg when ridden in a sprightly fashion, less than 30 when ridden hard. If economy was on the rider’s mind, he could buy the KZ440 twin.

Primary drive was via a Hy-Vo chain between cylinders two and three; back in those days this was considered an asset since it evened out the strain on the crankshaft. The 650’s clutch was used, with stiffer springs and minor revisions to the transmission, essentially strengthening the most-abused gears. And the final-drive chain went from a 530 to a 630. But the total weight of the bike went down a couple of pounds…brilliant. Curb weight was a shade under 500 pounds.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

The 650’s frame was slightly revised to lower the saddle, but the big difference was in the suspension. An air-adjustable Kayaba fork provided almost six inches of travel, with the firmness up to the rider. Angle was 27 degrees, trail 4.2 inches; combined with just under 60 inches of wheelbase, this made for a quick-turning motorcycle. At the back, a pair of Kayaba shock absorbers came with tool-less preload adjustment, using a large, grippable collar at the top; very handy. These allowed four inches of axle travel. Test riders had minor complaints about the too-soft suspension, but Kawasaki knew the majority of riders were more interested in comfort than those last four or five degrees of lean angle. And the racing-inclined could make their own modifications.

Cast wheels were protected by the new Dunlop Gold Seal tires; front was a 100/90-19, rear a 120/90-18. Triple 10.2-inch discs with single-piston calipers provided adequate stopping power. Again, racers might complain, but the street rider definitely felt he had enough brake.

Throw a leg over the saddle and settle in. Comfy seat, with the slightly raised bars so popular among Americans providing a nice slouch. Ignition on, push the button and the two mufflers kept the noise muted. These were the same mufflers as found on the 650.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

Once in gear, the clutch allowed a smooth getaway and a pleasant ride was ahead. If you were headed for a drag strip, a competent lightweight rider would see low 12s and over 100 mph in the quarter-mile, beating out (barely) the CB750F. But the prices of the two were now pretty equal, with the KZ at $2,750, the CB at $2,850. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Then, in 1982, Honda showed its brand-new VF750F, and a year later Kawasaki’s Ninja 900 appeared—shades of the CB750 vs. Z-1 900. Does history repeat itself?

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

1981 Kawasaki KZ750-E.

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5 Responses to “Retrospective: Kawasaki KZ750-E: 1980 – 1982”

  1. Mike Jett on July 23rd, 2012 6:52 pm

    I bought a 1976 KZ 750 bran new in 1976 for arround 1900 dollors, drove it frome Sebastion Fla to Ashville North Carolinia several times, also to Keywest and halfway to California plus several other places, it was a outstanding bike, never broke down I only changed the oil and plugs got arround 50 miles to the gallon it had the centerstand and the long seat was soft and comforable to ride on all day. Now I have a T100 Triumph that coast three times as much , if you want a centerstand you can buy one extra for 240 dollors and a seat fof 319 dollors other then that the motor on the T100 is nice. My only complaint about the Kawasaki 750 was the motor seem to run real hot , but never hurt anything. All the bikes now want to put a real low seat height and thats crazy . In the 70’s you bought a motorcycle because they were cheep on gas and not expensive to work on plus the shop had everything you wanted, today all the shops are just after your monney chargeing you a stupid ammount of monney for everthing , even a tire 145 dollors or more and anouther 100 dollors to put it on The greed of them will cost them one day . I could go on and on but I’le stop it here Have a nice day Mike.


  2. Larry on February 24th, 2014 12:46 pm

    Does anyone know anything about the KZ750E with driveshaft. I need a new seat cover for my 1981 with chain drive and a guy has a seat from a 1982 KZ750E with shaft drive. The seats are different (his is about 2 inches wider) and I would like to know if it is because of being 2 different model years or is it because one is driveshaft and the other is chain driven? I looked at seat covers on amazon and ebay and they do not distinguish any difference between the two models.


    Les Reply:

    E-bay and Z-1 Enteprise should be able to help with the seat cover. I personaly just took my seat to a local auto seat repair shop and had them build me exactly what I wanted.

    Best of luck.


  3. Kenneth zendrich on November 8th, 2014 12:49 am

    Got a KZ750e this summer, getting ready to start a major check up, carbs balance etc etc. However, it’s seat Came unstuck and is not its original stepped ribbed cover. Anyone know where I can get one for it?….. Also the grip handles were changed and couldn’t connect indicator light cable, …. Can the original handle bars be still found?




  4. Lani on May 19th, 2015 4:27 pm



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