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Ultimate Zed Head

Published: 15 October 2015

Updated: 06 October 2015

“I just love Zeds, always have. My idea of a cracking afternoon is to sit down with Dave Marsden of Z Power and look at all the old parts microfiches”

o says Dave Orrit, Kawasaki Zed collector, restorer and perfectionist. Now, as ‘cracking afternoons’ go, personally, I could think of better, because as nice as the two Daves are, my idea of post meridian perfection involves either women or booze or preferably both.

But, this one comment, which slipped out, perfectly sums up Dave and his amazing collection. He’s had to take obsession to new heights to be able to do what he’s done. And just what has he done?

In front of us are around 16 bikes. There are others, but these Zed Gems in front of us are what we’re here for. Some are finished, some are not, but it’s almost like myself and photographer John Noble have been sent back in time to a Kawasaki dealership from the 1970s: Z1s, a Z1000, an H2, a Z650 (same colour as snapper Noble’s, he’s salivating now) and a rare as you like Z1-R TC turbo.

Magic, every one, but why Zeds, Dave: “It was the classic nose up to the showroom window I suppose. On my ninth birthday my dad bought me a Raleigh Wisp. It was a wreck but he gave me a tool kit and left me to it. Other bikes followed: a Lambretta, Tiger Cub, BSA Bantam and from there the usual Fizzie at 16, RD250 at 17, and then an RD400C. It was about that time when the green Z900 A4 had just come out and the local BT engineer parked it outside the telephone exchange and that was beautiful. It was gorgeous and that started it for me. I think people remember the Zeds because as good as the Honda CB750 was, the Kawasaki just blew everyone away. That’s where it started from, really.”

Blow everyone away it did.
The Z1 debuted at the Cologne show in September 1972. It boasted a 903cc inline four, double-overhead cam motor, which produced 82bhp and a top end of around 130mph. Despite a price in the UK of £1088, it became the machine to have. Model variations included the Z1-A in 1974, Z1-B in 1975 and the Z900 in ’76 before being replaced by the Z1000 in 1977.

“I had my first Zed at 21 years old,” says Dave. “But then I concentrated on off road – scramblers, trials, breaking bones, the normal thing. I had my Zed for a while but then got into four wheel motorsports such as rallying. I did club rallies with Escort Mexicos, RS2000s, HS Chevettes and eventually I drove for the Shell Oils team in the UK British championship, so I was fairly handy. Life moves on I suppose, so you buy a bigger house, family etc, but I sold my bike – a Z900 – a UK bike and I shouldn’t have sold it, but even afterwards the Zeds were still in the back of my mind. About 10 years ago I got offered a Z1 bought it off a mate and that started all this. It’s been the last few years that everyone else has been mad on Zeds, but it’s been there in the background for me all the while.”

Even when he didn’t have a Zed, Dave would have a bike of some sort. EXUPs, Blades, VFRs etc to name but a few: he’s also had an RC45 and RC30; “…but it cooked your goolies on a summer’s day and a good 600 would blow it into the weeds.”

So, after all that it was back to his first love.
“There’s always been a Zed or two in me. I started to get interested when people would mention them, or say they’d seen one. I got interested in eBay a good while ago before everyone was on it and I’d be looking at them.”

If there’s a phrase that sums up Dave, his work and his collection it’s one he uses a lot himself: ‘point perfect.’ It is how he works, how he likes his bikes and (judging by the lack of clutter) how he likes his workshop.

He says: “I can’t help it. I just have to have things perfect. Even down to things like the retainers on the rev counter cable. It’s something you hardly see as it attaches to the cylinder head. Most aftermarket ones are simply grooved but I have to have the cross-knurled ones, which marks out an early bike. It’s the first thing experts look for when they pour over my bikes. It has to be right.”

So, ‘Point perfect’ means original parts – if Dave can find them. He knows they cost, but if he knows it’s not original, original refurbished or new old stock, he’s not happy. He gets animated: “These original indicators are £55 each. That’s £55 just for the indicators, not the stems as well. Four pattern indicators with stems are £60. An original front mudguard can go for £200, while a pattern replacement can cost just £80-£85. You can tell if it’s original or not by looking at it side-on. The original is pressed and you cannot see any joins, but the pattern part, if you look closely you’ll see faint welds and pressing marks.”

If this sounds anal to the edge of pointlessness, you’d be wrong. There’s a pride in what Dave does. And he feels his collection is how it should be done. He’s angered by people cashing in on the popularity of Zeds and selling bikes that just ain’t right. He fires up his PC and gets eBay up on the screen. In front of me is what I would say is a nice, tidy Z1. “It looks OK, but then you see that the switchgear is wrong and the clocks aren’t correct. That’s fine, but read the advert and this guy is telling people it’s straight and original. It isn’t. You need to really know your Z1s to spot these things, but it does make me a little angry to see people selling bikes that just aren’t right.”

Dave also likes to make sure the bikes are used properly, not just trailered to shows. “One bike is just so perfect and – although it has oil in – it will never have fuel in it or be used. I’ve been offered £25,000 for it but I’d never sell it. So, I have a daily rider which I use. Everybody loves them. When I go to bike meets I have a crowd of people around me just as I get off the bike. Once my daily rider won an award at a show that I didn’t intend to enter, the organisers just wheeled my bike in and it won!  I don’t like just showing bikes, I want to ride them, it’s what they are about. People at shows can see you can build a nice bike like this, but these bikes are beautiful to ride too. One of the best bikes to ride is my Z1000. Kawasaki lost the plot a bit with that bike though, as they went to the four-into-two exhaust on it. If they stayed with the four-into-four on that model it would still fetch top money, instead it comes in at half the money of an A4. Amazing really, but that 1015cc motor is a lovely engine and much of it is the same, but you pick up the cam cover off a Z1000 engine and a Z1 the Z1000 weighs twice as much. They refined it, made it smoother, etc, so they made it smoother but by the same token many of us like to ride the more raw-feeling bike.”

From showing and restoring old Zeds, Dave has also dabbled in importing the odd bike or three. He explains: “Rick Brett and my mate Andy Robertson found a good way to bring these bikes into the UK from the States. Andy’s a bigger maniac than me on the Zeds, really. I’m not a dealer, more a collector and lover of Zeds. Lots of the ones we find are junkers, but you can see the honest bike underneath. That’s the hardest trick and it’s hard to find original bikes. Get ones with the matching numbers, when I say that they won’t match – chassis No.1 will not have engine No.1 in it – but you can tell the year from the chassis and engine number. As long as the numbers match that way, that’s fine. Then you need to see if the fork bottoms match, that the bottom and top yokes are correct, that it has the correct swingarm. It’s hard, but often you can find a gem.”

Dave takes us along a row of Zeds. “Look at this one – it is point perfect. Sure, it’s got a faded tank, and a cigarette burn in the seat, but it’s a gem, it’s honest. It also has the twin disc conversion and the 5/8 master cylinder, so I guess today you’d say that this bike was ordered ‘fully loaded’ at the time. It was no expense spared and it has had just one owner. Yes, you can restore them, but I like a bike with history. That bike is the one. If there was one bike I had to keep it would be that one. Under the seat you’ll see the foam under there and the tool kit and the manual. It’s got everything. If I had to get rid of all the rest, I would, but I’d keep that one even though it’s yet to be restored back to its former glory. It’s spot on.”

So, this is the bike he’d keep if he was forced to downsize, but is there anything else he’d want instead?

“Well, there are the V-bikes, 29 bikes otherwise known as the ‘New York Steak’ bikes. They were painted like Honda 750s with the blue with the gold stripe on. The engine numbers on all these bikes you see here start with ‘Z1F’ for frames and ‘Z1E’ for engines but these 29 very rare machines start with V1F and V1E… Only 29 were made, they were given to dealers in the USA in May 1972 and the instructions were to ride them to destruction – effectively it was the final big test before production. My friend’s got one. It’s got a H2 triple front caliper, swingarm, yellow needles on the clocks, subtle differences but he’s doing a very ‘proper’ sympathetic restoration. None of the V-bikes had Kawasaki badges on they were disguised so they could ride them across America. The bikes did 8000 miles but all they wore out were sprockets, brakes and chains. We don’t know of how many of these bikes are still around, we know of one owned by Greg Walker in the States. I found an engine on eBay in the USA with the V1 number but I got outbid on it: that would have been nice to have. We think there’s only three or four left, so that’s rarity for you. I was once offered fifth bike Z1 off the production line but it would have cost me sixty or seventy grand.”

Dave says for the mortals amongst us, get what ever spins your crank, be it a Z1A, B, Z1000 or Z1300. He says: “The original Z1 has a black engine and was produced from August 1972 until August 1973, 20,000 made and the original allocation of that number was just 38 for the UK. That’s why that one is so rare. It’s what the purists want as it’s tax exempt, it has subtle differences, smooth carbs etc, so you pay more. The Z1A is next in price, Z1B, then the Z900 is not quite worth as much again. Z1s command top money. A Z1B starts around £7000…but for me they all have something special about them. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

Dave's collection (just a small sample...)

Kawasaki Z1-R TC Turbo
“America only had these…250 in black, 250 in silver. Kawasaki weren’t selling the Z1-Rs in the States so they did this to them. The TC on the side doesn’t mean Turbo Charged it means ‘Turbo Corporation.’ They built the turbos. The bike itself wasn’t sold with a warranty. I imported it, it’s already got an overbore kit on it but one day I will have this at 180bhp. My good mate Steve Chew has done the engine work on it.”

Kawasaki Z1
“This will never be started up it’s a work of art. I found it with cast wheels on eBay. The owner said it had been stored for 29 years. This is a UK bike and had been dragged. I painted the frame with aerosols to get the right finish. All parts are genuine. It’s point perfect and I’ve been offered £25,000 for it.” 

Kawasaki Z1 1972
“This has CR carbs on it and it’s from Canada. It has a 4-into-1 on it. It has matching numbers frame and engine. It’s going to be another restoration project. I bought it last year. It’s an early bike from 1972.” 

Kawasaki Z1 1973
“15,000 miles from new, it’s a rider. I’ve used it for the last three or four years bought it standard from my mate Steve. It’s a UK bike. It’s just having a service and the exhaust is off.” 

Kawasaki Z1 
“It’s another original bike it has all the right parts. It has the smooth carb bodies and has had the twin disc conversion and the 5/8s master cylinder. Just one previous owner from the States. It’s one of my favourites.”


Kawasaki Z1A
“That one is a restoration project another one owner bike from the USA. Going to be stripped down and get a full restoration and engine build.”

Kawasaki Z1 
“US bike, this came from just crankcases and a frame. It’s already won three awards. This is a zero miles bike.”

Kawasaki Z1 1972 
“Sept 1972 bike in for restoration which will go into my collection. Another one owner bike from the USA: a nice honest bike.”

Honda CB750 1969 K0
“I know – it’s a Honda, but it’s another one owner bike, 16,000 miles. It runs well but needs a restoration. It’s going to be in candy red.” 

Kawasaki Z1300
“An exercise in excess, this is an A1 so it’s 1978/79. Every collection should have one! This was in a museum for 15 years but now I’ve got it to love, cherish and ride it.”

Kawasaki Z1 1972
“This is a 1972 bike made in the first week of production so it has smooth carbs on it. Restored as a rider – this is the one I won the Nabs Head show Unlimited class.” 

Kawasaki 750 H2 C
“UK spec bike, 6000 miles from new, not restored but a lovely rider. Not perfect but it’s got a story to tell.”

Kawasaki Z900 A4
“This came from the States last year concours rebuild. Frame and bike painted. Genuine exhausts for it from the time. Rebuilt wheels etc. Another lovely bike.”

 Kawasaki Z650 B1
“One previous owner to me 3500 miles from new a nice honest bike. It was originally registered just a few miles from me.” 

Kawasaki Z1 B 
“This is from the States – one previous owner, a dentist. He took pictures of it as we loaded it in the van. He had it from new and it has 13,000 miles from new. For some reason this is the fastest bike in the collection.”


Dave's Z-List top restoration tips

 1. Get advice! If I wanted a Kettle, I’d ring the club. So do the same with your chosen restoration project or when you begin your collection.

2) Get to know an expert or a dealer. I use Z Power (many of us do) and Rick Brett at RB’s. They have both the experience, knowledge and parts for your Zed.

3) Use genuine parts where you can. Expensive, but for a reason.

4) Advice is good, yes, but also don’t take other’s info as gospel! We can all get it wrong…

5) Find the best suppliers you can when it comes to jobs you can’t do. Find the best chroming/plating firms, painters, engine-builders. Again, speak to the club to find these people. All this stuff is art…

6) Get it right first time. So take your time.

7) Buy the bike you really want. You’ll not finish a project you haven’t got your heart in.

8) Check the logbook. If it’s a UK bike the date it was first registered and first registered in the UK should match.

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