Monday, April 02, 2012
Top Gun: Kawasaki GPZ900R
After the very successful Z1, which Kawasaki launched in 1972, the company started development work on its next ‘superbike’ in the late-1970s. For this, Kawasaki evaluated various engine options, including V4, V6 and inline-six configurations, but ultimately decided to go with their tried-and-tested inline-four format. The result was the 1984 Ninja GPZ900R, the quickest, fastest production machine of its time.
The GPZ900R was fitted with an all-new, 908cc liquid-cooled, 16-valve DOHC inline-four with chain-driven cams – the first such engine ever used on a production streetbike – that produced 115 horsepower at 9,500rpm and 84Nm of torque at 8,500rpm. The bike’s top speed was about 250km/h, and during its press launch in December 1983 – at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California – the then reigning AMA superbike champ Wayne Rainey put in a few fast laps on the new GPZ. His best lap time on the stock 900R streetbike was a 1:16, which wasn’t too bad compared to the 1:10 he did on the Team Kawasaki GPZ750 racebike.
A week before the press launch, professional motorcycle drag racer Jay ‘Pee Wee’ Gleason also did a 10.55-second quarter-mile on the stock GPZ900R and said he thought he’d be able to get the time down to 10.4 with more testing. Phenomenal, for a stock mid-1980s sportsbike, and clearly quicker and faster than both the Kawasaki GPZ750 Turbo as well as the GPZ1100.
The GPZ900R’s running gear was cutting-edge stuff by early-1980s standards – six-speed gearbox, hydraulic clutch, diamond-type steel tube chassis, air-assisted anti-dive front forks (with progressive damping that varied according to the speed and distance of front wheel travel), fully adjustable air-assisted rising-rate ‘Uni-Trak’ rear suspension and drilled brake discs front and rear. When the bike was launched, it came with 16-inch (front) and 18-inch (rear) wheels, though this was later revised to a 17-inch front hoop. And while the front tyre size remained at 120/80, rear tyre size went up from 130/80 to 150/80.
A modern, competent sportsbike, the GPZ900R probably did not need too much help in the sales department, but it got a big marketing boost anyway in 1986, when Top Gun came along. In the movie, hotshot fighter pilot Tom ‘Maverick’ Cruise is shown hooning around on a GPZ900R when he’s not flying F-14A Tomcats across the Indian Ocean. Fighter jets, cool leather jackets, cool sunglasses, hotshot pilot with equally hot girlfriend, a pulsing 1980s soundtrack and the GPZ900R – Top Gun went on to become a massive hit and along with the movie, the 900R gained cult status, cementing its position as a motorcycling icon of the 1980s.
In the years that followed, the GPZ900R was followed by the GPZ1000RX, ZX-10 and ZX-11 / ZZR1100, but none of these could replace the 900R. With revisions to its wheels, tyres, brakes and suspension, the GPZ900R remained in production till 2003, which was quite a feat. Even today, we think the bike looks super-cool in its own 1980s way, and enthusiasts in Japan build some pretty amazing 900R-based specials that look and sound awesome. And, yes, we still want one in our garage.
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