Created as Kawasaki Motors (UK) Ltd, the company was formed by Managing Director Mick Uchida and Director, Kit Kitayama and operated initially from the Holiday Inn, Marble Arch. Quickly transferring to its first permanent HQ at Staines, it enjoyed warehousing close by at Bedfont, Middlesex.
In this first year of official distribution, Kawasaki had just fifteen road bike dealers in the UK who sold 1230 units in 1974 from a range comprising just six models.
That said, those six models were iconic to say the least, and paved the way not only for the current crop of machines, but also for the UK foundation of Kawasaki’s legendary status as the pre-eminent manufacturer of highly engineered performance oriented motorcycles.
Already with an understanding of racing as a promotional tool, Kawasaki establishes one of its most famous racing partnerships, that between Mick Grant and the fearsome 750cc H2R two stroke, three cylinder racing machine. “Speed trapped” in later years at over 190mph on the Isle of Man TT course, the H2R in both early air-cooled, and final water-cooled guises, was instrumental, along with motocross product, in the creation of the association between the lime green colour and Kawasaki racing endeavours.
Initial sales efforts and customer demand saw sales increase 450% and the dealer network expand to encompass 50 dealers.
Off-road product was also new to the UK and marketed by Kawasport, a company founded by trials ace Don Smith (who also helped design the KT250 trials machine) and Alec Wright, the latter who would go on to become a significant driving force within the company and create the Team Green racing and ownership programme.
Somewhat of an icon at its launch, the 903cc four cylinder Z1 range leading machine won the coveted MCN “Machine of the Year” award for a record fourth time in 1976, the last time it would win in this guise before evolving into the Z900.
Alongside publicity for the larger machine, the UK public also caught its first glimpse of the new KH250, a three cylinder two stroke machine that was the first “proper” motorcycle that many riders owned. (At the time, 17 year old’s could ride a 250cc machine with L plates attached until they passed their motorcycle test)
To accommodate the extra sales and administration effort across all products, the company moved west along the A4 to Deal Avenue, Slough, where it was to remain for some years.
Sales of motorcycles in the UK were continuing to grow and Kawasaki, like others, benefited – especially from the growth in the sales of “commuter” machines such as the KH125 and Z200.
On the track, Mick Grant wins an historic GP victory on the KR250 racing machine at Assen in Holland. An innovative “tandem twin” two stroke design the KR250 and larger KR350 had the cylinders mounted one behind the other creating a very narrow and aerodynamic machine. In America Reg Pridmore becomes AMA Superbike Champion on his air-cooled Z1000.
Now expanded to sixteen machines, the motorcycle range is topped by the 1015cc Z1R (the first machine in the world to come with a bikini fairing as a standard fitment) complimented by the smaller but no less significant Z250, the first bike specially designed by Kawasaki for the UK market.
A busy year for Kawasaki, 1978 also represented the centenary of the founding of the original Kawasaki business, a shipyard created by Shozo Kawasaki in Tsukiji, Tokyo.
With the now established KR250 and KR350 racing machines, Kawasaki wins both classes in the world Championship with Kork Ballington and Mick Grant mounts the top step of the podium on the Isle of Man, winning the Classic race at the TT event on his H2R and setting a lap record of 114mph average. Reg Pridmore repeats his AMA Superbike Championship win.
With sales just shy of 15,000 units, the Kawasaki range is headed by one of the largest, and certainly most impressive machines yet to emerge from Japan, the mighty six cylinder, water-cooled Z1300.
New managing director, Seth Nagamoto takes the helm at KMUK while rider, Kork Ballington does the “double” again and wins both the 250 and 350 world Championships
Team Green, the most famous name in off-road sport in the UK, is established by Alec Wright and the first off-road training schools for customers are conducted.
Sales of over 22,000 units are helped by a comprehensive range of four cylinder, four stroke machines including the Z400, Z500, Z750 and the first fuel injected motorcycle retailed by Kawasaki, the Z1000H. Anton Mang takes over the KR reigns and wins the 250cc world championship.
Government legislation and higher rates of tax threaten the motorcycle market and the attraction of two wheels to learner riders. Kawasaki introduces two sports mopeds, the road going AR50 and off-road styled AE50.
The year also marks the arrival of the KLT200 trike, the first all terrain vehicle (ATV) that the company has imported into the UK. In his stride after a debut win year, Mang wins both the 250cc and 350cc world championships for Kawasaki on the KR tandem twins. Eddie Lawson becomes AMA Superbike Champion.
Chuck Nakajima takes over as Managing Director of KMUK and Kawasaki enjoys market dominance as number one in the UK motorcycle market over 126cc category with a 27% market share. Mang wins again and becomes the last ever 350cc world Champion as the class ends. Eddie Lawson repeats his AMA Superbike Championship win.
The range leading GPz1100 is voted “Machine of the Year” by Motor Cycle News, while the mighty KX500 single cylinder two stroke is introduced as off-road range leader.
Big news of the year for road riders is the introduction of the GPz750 Turbo, a machine which, like the Z1, would go on to become a revered collector’s item in future years. Wayne Rainey becomes AMA Superbike Champion.
The world’s first sports bike to boast a liquid cooled, 16 valve, four cylinder water-cooled engine, the GPz900R is introduced. It wins not only the production TT in the hands of rider Geoff Johnson but is also voted UK “Bike of the Year” by MCN readers.
Kawasaki continues as UK market leader in sales of over 126cc road motorcycles.
A new and significant class is created by Kawasaki with the introduction of the GPz600R.
Four wheeled ATV product is imported for the first time and the emphasis on use passes from leisure to agriculture and public amenity.
In the off-road sphere, Kawasaki Team Green sweeps the board winning all the UK schoolboy championships plus the AMCA 125 and 250 titles.
Managing Director, Shuji Mihara takes over and the GTR1000 touring machine reaches our shores scoring an immediate hit with long distance riders.
Kawasaki UK establishes a bonded warehouse and distribution depot in Eastleigh, Hants.
Road bike sales are boosted with the introduction of the GPX750R and GPZ500S, both machines become an instant sales success in their respective classes.
Waterborne enthusiasts welcome the twin seater X-2 which, by year end, has doubled Jet Ski watercraft sales for the company in the UK.
Sales of road motorcycles climb by 15.6% and market share approaches 20%.
As range leader, the radically styled ZX-10 with its aluminium “E-Box” frame wins the MCN “Machine of the Year” award.
Rider Kurt Nicholl wins the 500c British Motocross Championship on a KX500.
The company moves to its current premises in Bourne End, Bucks, while market share reaches 21%.
For the first time since the legendary 1970’s two stroke triple machines, the company wins MCN “Machine of the Year” with a two stroke, the twin cylinder 250cc KR-1.
Kawasaki’s Akashi factory near Kobe in Japan, celebrates it 50th anniversary while Mr Yasuo Akisada takes over as Managing Director of KMUK.
The ZZ-R1100 and ZZ-R600 are introduced, the former becomes MCN “Machine of the Year”, while the latter enjoys sales and racetrack success in the hands of Kawasaki Team Green rider, John Reynolds. Doug Chandler wins the AMA Superbike Championship.
The “Retro” styled Zephyr range is introduced in 550 and 750cc form and Team Green rider, Paul Malin, is the youngest ever winner of a 500cc MX GP at 19 years and 86 days in France.
Kawasaki commercial products range in the UK is boosted by the introduction of the MULE 1000 and 2110 utility vehicles.
Kawasaki continues to dominate motocross sales and remains market leader with the aid of the successful Team Green concept.
The Zephyr 1100 is launched exploring the range into three machines with 550, 750 and 1100cc capacity. Scott Russell becomes AMA Superbike Champion.
KRC, the Kawasaki Riders Club is launched offering free membership for all Kawasaki new bike buyers in the UK.
K-Care Insurance is launched providing tailored insurance solutions for Kawasaki road bike owners.
Scott Russell powers his way to win the World Superbike Championship for Kawasaki on the Muzzy ZX-7.
The Kawasaki cruiser range grows larger in terms of both machines and capacity with the introduction of the water-cooled VN1500 V-twin.
The British 125 motocross championship is claimed by Team Green rider, Neil Prince.
Kawasaki in Japan celebrates having manufactured their nine millionth motorcycle. Kenji Kawano joins Kawasaki Motors UK as Managing Director.
Another cruiser, the VN800, is introduced along with a raft of Genuine Kawasaki Accessories.
Along with the introduction of the sports touring GPZ1100, Kawasaki fans celebrate Belgian rider, Stephan Everts World 250 MX crown.
Another in a long line a famous machines makes its debut, the stunning ZX-7R.
Kawasaki win off-road once more by securing the World 125cc MX championship with Sebastian Tortelli. Doug Chandler becomes AMA Superbike Champion
Yet another machine designed especially for Europe reaches UK shores. The 499cc parallel twin ER-5 immediately wins favour with learner riders, commuters and a growing number of women enthusiasts.
The year also sees the introduction of the Eddie Lawson AMA Superbike race styled ZRX1100. Doug Chandler repeats his AMA Superbike Championship win.
The mould breaking ZX-6R is reincarnated and immediately raises the performance and styling standard of the middleweight Supersport class.
Off-road, Sebastian Tortelli dominates to win the coveted world 250cc motocross title for Kawasaki.
Retro styled parallel twin W650 launched alongside classic fully valenced 800 and 1500cc Drifter cruisers.
Waves are created with the introduction of the state-of-the-art Ultra 150 two person performance Jet Ski personal watercraft producing 150bph!
All eyes are on Kawasaki as it introduces its most advanced Supersport machine ever, the ZX-12R. Using technology only previously seen on F1 cars and in aircraft, the semi-monocoque chassis is matched to a hugely powerful engine and aerodynamic cowling. The combination results in a fast, powerful, nimble and stable machine that justifiably heads the Kawasaki stable and gains universal plaudits. Yoshio Sanjo takes over reigns as KMUK Managing Director
Launched in Spain to the European press the half-cowled ZRX1200S and ZR-7S pre-dating the current fashion for this type of machine by several years. Riding the Ninja ZX-6R, Australian, Andrew Pitt becomes the Supersport world Champion.
Continuing the long line of sports tourers established by the 1100cc models, the ZZ-R1200 is launched in Southern France. Kawasaki.co.uk, the web site for the UK market, is launched. The innovative new Z1000 wins the Motorcycle Designers Association Open category award. Kawasaki Motors UK Ltd becomes the UK branch of KME, Kawasaki Motors Europe. Kawasaki enters the Moto GP Championship with a 990cc machine.
Z1000 goes on general sale in the UK and, along with the radical design of the new ZX-6R, re-establishes Kawasaki as the cutting edge brand with both journalists and customers. Shunji Tanaka, the designer of the Mazda MX-5 sports car, joins Kawasaki with a mission to reinvigorate the Kawasaki product design studio, K-Tec, and promises more innovative designs to come.
Kawasaki re-enters the high end Supersport fray with the formidable ZX-10R designed as a cutting edge high performance machine for skilled riders. The ZX-10R makes an ideal Superbike race machine in its debut season in the hands of a variety of private teams and the KMUK supported Hawk Kawasaki team.
Another radical design from Tanaka and the K-Tec team, the Z750 represents a breath of fresh air for the naked middleweight sector which is gaining importance in the UK sales charts.
Proving that they can do “big” when required, Kawasaki stuns with its 2000cc VN Cruiser with unique “Gatling” style headlamp.
Acknowledging the trend for four stroke motocross machines, the factory reveals its new KX250F four stroke customer machine.
Partner to the already successful Z750, the half cowled Z750S is announced.
After a twenty year break Kawasaki wins again at the Isle of Man TT with rider Ryan Farquhar securing a win in the Production 600 TT on the 599cc Kawasaki ZX-6RR, the machine later returns to Japan to be displayed at Kawasaki’s own museum.
Olivier Jacque scores a magnificent second place the at Shanghai Moto GP event.
Kawasaki stuns the world of motorcycling with a cutting edge contemporary urban design, the ER-6n. A 650cc parallel twin, the ER-6n successfully appeals to new motorcyclists, those who already have a licence and want a fun machine and the still neglected female market.
A half cowled version of the “naked” ER-6n, the ER-6f announced to appeal to more sporting riders – both machines are Euro-3 compliant and have an ABS option.
Reinforcing their credentials as “the performance manufacturer”, Kawasaki announce the ZZR1400. A powerful and stylish Supersport tourer, speculation is rife at the Paris motorcycle show launch regarding power and acceleration figures… factory insiders stay tight lipped on the subject !
Entry level cruisers are important to all manufacturers. Kawasaki unveils its VN900.
Off-road riders and Team Green dealers are impressed by the range leading KX450F four stroke and its alloy framed stablemate, the updated KX250F.
The famous GTR name is used after a gap of over a decade for a stunning new 1400cc Sports Touring machine with such innovations as Variable Valve Timing, a slipper clutch and monocoque style chassis. Setting new standards for touring handling and performance, the machine is an instant hit. In a departure from traditional thinking, Kawasaki announce the Versys, a 650cc machine based on the ER-6 engine and chassis but with a “go-anywhere” look and feel. The name is said to represent “Versatile System” and the style soon catches the imagination of UK riders. In motocross, the MX1 class KX450F is launched. The Essex based MSS Kawasaki Team are appointed as Kawasaki UK’s Superbike squad.
Kawasaki in the UK return to the quarter litre class with the Ninja 250R. A category that had effectively been “forgotten”, the pent up demand from customers both new to motorcycling and returning to two wheels is overwhelming. With costs spiralling in the world of racing, Kawasaki takes the difficult decision to withdraw from MotoGP.
With the GTR a sports touring hit, Kawasaki addresses the V-Twin touring market with the impressive 1700cc Voyager, the first “full dress” machine to emerge from the Japanese manufacturer. In another first, the Voyager, with its on board entertainment system, is also the world’s first motorcycle to be iPod compatible via an accessory lead. Adding to its success with the Ninja 250R, Kawasaki UK also starts sales of the KLX250, and enduro styled entry level machine with off-road looks and strong on road ability.
A raft of new machines is announced the 2010 season. The avant garde styling of the latest Z1000 wins widespread praise, so too does its engine and chassis performance at its Spanish launch. It is quickly dubbed the best Japanese street fighter machine so far. Likewise, the re-launched 1400GTR is praised for a raft of updates including traction control, linked braking and even more creature comforts such as heated grips and a “memory” equipped electronic windscreen. For entry level bikers, the new KLX125 off-roader and D-TRACKER SuperMoto style machine are both welcomed as genuine prospects as “first rungs” on the Kawasaki ownership ladder.