The Mach III was the second bike to make clear the
intention of the Japanese makers to compete in all capacity classes;
tiddlers and middleweights were no longer the only market segments they were going to fight over. Honda's CB450 sounded the first
alarm bells in 1966 and was immediately compared with its biggest British comtemporaries and not found wanting. The 450 was a strong first
foray into the big bike market but didn't have the capacity, horsepower or image to represent a real sales threat to the English makers.
It was up to Kawasaki's first triple and Honda's 750 four to begin reshaping the motorcycling landscape for ever.
And with the Mach III Kawasaki was able to build on its existing reputation for performance orientated two-stokes and
define itself as the "performance" company of the big four. This perception is still valid today though diluted somewhat due
to the intense competition of the other three Japanese makers, there being little to chose between the competing supersports bikes
that are the modern heirs to the market segment first exploited by the
Kawasaki and Honda. The press of the day were very favourably impressed
with the H1, enthusing over its power and acceleration, the finish and
build quality also came in for compliments.
It's hard to
imagine the impact the triple made back in the day, three cylinders were
exotic enough but the huge
performance it brought within reach of anyone with a grand to spend and no fear
was a genuine revelation. And because Kawasaki got the fundamentals of
the powerplant right it
delivered this grunt all day, everyday. The bottom end ran on six
bearings, CDI took
care of ignition chores and oil injection meant no premix hassles at the
Technologically the 500 was a move away from previous Kawasaki
two-stokes, not only because of the extra cylinder but also because
induction was now by conventional carburetors and piston porting instead
of the disc valves that had been Kawasaki's calling card up till then.
The ignition system was supposed to be the way of the future and we were
told that all bikes would mimic the Mach III and have CDI systems before
too long. The advantages and intricacies of the system were dwelt on at
great length by any journalist who swung a leg over the bike during the
first couple of model years. This was high tech stuff and was another
example of Japanese industry integrating new technologies into mass
produced products at an affordable price. Of course it wasn't all beer
and skittles. Even though the handling was praised in the press after
the first roadtests later experience showed that the triple could get
out of control in a big way if cornering at speed wasn't treated with
care and respect.
Only in the forth year of
production was a disk standard and did braking become a
non-issue. The much vaunted CDI also came in for attention as some units from the first year's production weren't totally water-proof.
From the H1D of 1973 the bike was restyled and brought bang up to date.
The previously clunky look gave way to a slick tank, well
inegrated ducktail and upswept pipes. These changes plus the famous "tongue" tank decals
gave it a fresh, exciting appearance, and made it , in my opinion, one of the
best looking bikes of its day. In fact the complete triple range received the
same treatment with equally happy results. I can't think of a styling
more in tune with its time, it embodied the gaudy excesses of
the first half of the 70s to a tee.