From the iconic advertising phrase of ‘Let the good times roll’, the Kawasaki brand has become synonymous with powerful, stylish and category-leading vehicles.
Kicking off the celebrations of ‘50 years in the USA’ Kawasaki has tweaked its logo as well as some of its motorcycles. But the motorcycling community likes to look back nearly as much as it focuses on the future. With the biker fashions of the past such as bobbers and racers finding their way onto modern showroom floors, some would say the past and future are intertwined in or motorcycle world.
When it comes to the past as well as performance, few motorcycles in the last 50 years created the impact that Kawasaki’s 500 Mach III two-stroke triple did in 1969.
During the mid-1960s, the USA had become the largest motorcycle market with American riders demanding bikes with more horsepower and higher maximum speeds. Kawasaki already had the first 650cc, the Kawasaki W series but it didn't quite fit the niche Kawasaki was aiming for.
Coming right on the heels of the 350cc A7 Avenger, the Mach III, also known as the “H1” model the 500 Mach III vaulted performance to new heights and at an equally amazing price of just $999. Visually, the motorcycle featured a white sculpted fuel tank and blue racing stripe along the lower part of the tank as well as sporting special Dunlop K77 tires
Sharpening its point, the H1 quickly set acceleration records, with Tony Nicosia making a ¼-mile run of 12.96 seconds at 100.7 miles per hour aboard the raging triple.
A highly accomplished drag racer, Nicosia was also a Kawasaki service technician and development rider for the H1, which had been tested extensively in the Southwest – including near Nevada’s secret military base Area 51.
Admittedly, it takes riding talent to wring the most out of a motorcycle on the dragstrip, but the underlying machine has to be capable. Many agree the Mach III was. A leading motorcycle magazine at the time called the Mach's power-to-weight ratio the best "ever produced in a motorcycle meant to sell to anyone who has the money to purchase it."
1969 H1 500 Mach III - Source Kawasaki
The engine, developed through Kawasaki's N100 Plan, was a three-cylinder two stroke with a displacement of 499 cc. Fuel and air mixing was provided by three Mikuni VM 28 mm carburetors. Ignition was through a Capacitor discharge ignition which increased the 12 volt system to 400 volts. A thyristor-based switching system then increased the voltage to between 25,000 and 30,000 volts leading to more efficient fuel burning.
Its 499cc piston-port triple was like three highly tweaked two-strokes ganged together, with three Mikuni carburetors, three separate inductive pickups for its hot CDI ignition, and three individually tuned exhausts producing a kind of high-intensity acceleration no other production bike could match. As a result, the language of the H1 which could be considered a rapturous howl, became a common dialect in high-performance motorcycle circles.
Kawasaki notes the powerhouse brought many drivers to the saddle as muscle cars owners of the time, those who drove Corvettes, GTOs and Mustangs buying the Kawasaki Mach III once they had a taste of its performance.
The H1 model run lasted eight years, from the first drum-brake 1969-71 H1 and H1A versions through the disc-brake KH500 swansong in 1976. It wasn’t shifting tastes that brought the end for Kawasaki’s 500 Mach III, but emissions laws. It was replaced by the four-stroke KZ650 model.
In time, the audacious H1 became known by a number of nicknames, some of which are not repeatable in the pages of Clutch and Chrome. However, all recognized the incredible performance of its seething three-cylinder two-stroke engine, which helped make motorcycling an incredibly exciting sport in 1969 and beyond.
It also earned the phrase, ‘Long live the Kawasaki Mach III’.