Kawasaki W1 – An Early British-Themed Japanese Motorcycle

Recently there have been a couple of comments on my website that mentioned the Kawasaki W1.  This was an early Kawasaki motorcycle, introduced in 1966, exported to the USA and other counties that was based on a design based on the British motorcycles of that era.

Kawasaki W1 (2)

An Early Kawasaki W1

Kawasaki began to produce small engines that were used in other motorcycles in the early 1950s.  Eventually, by 1961, Kawasaki was making its own motorcycle and they subsequently joined up with Meguro Manufacturing, who was also making motorcycles, to make what eventually became the Kawasaki motorcycles line.  Kawasaki began to market motorcycles in the USA in 1964 following the successful lead of Honda.

In 1966 Kawasaki introduced the W1 with a vertical  2-cylinder 624cc engine.  This motorcycle had the largest engine in any Japanese motorcycle at that time.  The design of the motorcycle and the engine were based on existing BSA motorcycle designs.

The engine had a single Mikuni carburetor and was coupled to a 4-speed transmission.  The shifter is located on the right side of the motorcycle which was the style for British motorcycles of that time.  Nowadays all shifters are located on the left side of the motorcycle.

The Kawasaki W1 shown below is a later model which is distinguished from the earlier models as the later models had the gauges integral with the headlight bezel.

Kawasaki W1

The British Design On The Kawasaski W1 Influence Is Substantial

A somewhat updated model, the W2SS was introduced in 1968.  The W2SS was a little more sporty design, but still had the same 624cc engine, but with two carburetors.

Kawasaki W2 Advertisement

Kawasaki W2 SS Advertisement

The Kawasaki W2SS was also available with upswept exhaust in addition to the “pea-shooter” exhaust shown here.  This model was known as the W2TT.   As noted, the Kawasaki W2SS had two Mikuni carburetors.  The original Kawasaki W1 was dropped after 1968, but there was a followup model known as the W1SS.

Kawasaki W2SS

A Kawasaki W2SS

The Kawasaki W1 and its derivatives were not particularly commercially successful.  The line was dropped after 1971.  Most people decided they would rather have a real BSA motorcycle as compared to a Japanese bike that looked like a BSA.  This was a time when the Japanese reputation for build quality was just being established and the British idiotic self-destruction of their motorcycle industry had not yet been fully discovered by the outside world.

I don’t recall seeing a Kawasaki W1 in person and I don’t think that there are many still running in the USA.  The images and information used in this post came from the following sources:

  • The Illustrative Motorcycle Legends: Kawasaki by Roy Bacon
  • Pictorial History Of Japanese Motorcycles by Cornelis Vanderheuvel
  • Standard Catalog Of Japanese Motorcycles 1959 – 2007 by Doug Mitchel
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1 Response to Kawasaki W1 – An Early British-Themed Japanese Motorcycle

  1. In 1969 I owned a blue 1968 W2 SS. They were copied from the ‘pre unit’ BSA twins. They were the preferred bike by the Japanese police for years and eventually came with a disk brake. It became awkward when the H1 triple 500cc was faster and less expensive than their 650 cc twin. Sadly I did not keep it, but I was 16! A friends Bonny seemed a bit faster, but the W2 was durable, years later the Kawi dealer commented they NEVER saw the inside of the crankcase of one, a comment no English shop could claim 6 months after opening. A key to the greater durability was the use of roller bearings on the rods, English twins were plain bearings, and with poor oil pumps and no filters, the rods were doomed. Many British rods poked out the crankcases! I always assumed the use of roller bearings was due to the companies familiarity with 2 stroke crankshaft assembly- unlike Honda that started with 4 stroke designs, the other Japanese makers built 2 stroke models first and then put roller cranks into most of their 4 strokes for years.

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