The 1977 KR750 that dom­i­nated the TT

Kawasaki's gor­geous KR750 was the fac­tory's first big-bore pro­to­type racer and turned Mick Grant into an Isle of Man su­per­star

Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents -

The Isle of Man is a green and pleas­ant is­land, and it’s prob­a­bly never been as green as it was in June 1975, when Mick Grant won the Se­nior TT on a Kawasaki H1-RW and broke Mike Hail­wood’s eight-year-old record aboard a KR750. Grant’s new lap record – 109.82mph against Mike the Bike’s as­ton­ish­ing 108.77mph achieved while du­elling with Gi­a­como Agos­tini in the 1967 Se­nior – pro­duced a fa­mous re­sponse from Hail­wood, who was sat in the press box when the com­men­ta­tor an­nounced his record had been beaten. Hail­wood turned to his man­ager Ted Ma­cauley, grinned and said: “The bas­tard!”

Grant still loves Hail­wood for his re­mark. “It was the best ac­co­lade I ever had,” he says.

The sum­mer of 1975 was Grant’s first as a fully paidup fac­tory rider. Twelve months ear­lier he had won his first TT – the pro­duc­tion race on Tri­umph’s oily leg­end, Slip­pery Sam – so now it was time for him to re­ally make his mark. Sign­ing for Kawasaki seemed like a good idea at the time. The Green Mea­nies were still build­ing up to speed, at­tempt­ing to match the awe­some achieve­ments of Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha. But their bikes didn’t have the best of rep­u­ta­tions. The 750cc H2-R, based around the scary air-cooled H2 road bike, was fast but frag­ile, just like the air-cooled 500cc H1-R.

Grant hoped he had got his tim­ing right. Af­ter all, Kawasaki had promised a wa­ter-cooled 500 for Grands Prix and a wa­ter-cooled 750 for F750 rounds. He would use both bikes on the Is­land – the 500 in the Se­nior and the 750 in the week-end­ing Clas­sic.

‘IT WAS A CRACK­ING-LOOK­ING BIKE AND SO LIGHT, ONLY 130kg’

In fact the York­shire­man had a whole load of hor­ror com­ing his way: seized en­gines, bro­ken gear­boxes, snapped drive chains and 150mph tyre blowouts. Then again, these were only the same fears that haunted most rac­ers’ night­mares dur­ing the 1970s.

Three months be­fore the TT, Grant trav­elled to Florida for the Day­tona 200, where he met his brand­new KR750 for the first time. “It was a crack­ing-look­ing bike,” he re­calls. “And so light. The 750 was wa­ter cooled but it only weighed 130 ki­los. I don’t know how much Barry Sheene’s three-cylin­der Suzuki weighed, but it must’ve been about twice that.”

Kawasaki had been able to take a gi­ant leap for­ward be­cause the FIM had re­duced F750 ho­molo­ga­tion re­quire­ments, from 200 bikes to 25, so Kawasaki parked the H2-R and started again from the ground up, build­ing their first pro­to­type 750. The all-new, fully square (68 x 68mm) en­gine was sig­nif­i­cantly nar­rower than the H2-R and made 120 horse­power.

But it wasn’t all hunky dory. “The 750 had choco­late gear­boxes. The Amer­i­can Kawasaki team and our team never man­aged more than two or three laps of Day­tona with­out a gear­box break­ing. We could hardly start the race, be­cause we had run out of ev­ery­thing.”

None of the KRS that started made it to the fin­ish, even though Kawasaki had flown in mod­i­fied trans­mis­sion clus­ters. Not an aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning, es­pe­cially since Yamaha TZ750S took the first 16 places. And most of these were over-the-counter Tee Zees, avail­able to any­one with $4750 in their pock­ets.

Grant was de­lighted when Kawasaki said they’d fix the gear­box grem­lins for the TT – the last thing you want while rac­ing on Manx roads at mind-bog­gling speeds is a gear­box seizure. In­stead it was the H1-RW’S en­gine that seized, just mo­ments af­ter the start of the Se­nior. More than any­thing, Kawasaki wanted to win the Se­nior, which is why they had sent over a wa­ter­cooled ver­sion of their 500 triple. Iron­i­cally, its wa­ter­cool­ing was very nearly the bike’s down­fall. “The ACU made ev­ery­one stop en­gines 20 min­utes be­fore the start, which was no good for wa­ter-cooled en­gines, be­cause you would start the race flat-out with a cold en­gine. I got to Quar­ter Bridge and as I knocked it off the en­gine locked solid. I sort of ca­reered down there into the cor­ner. My ini­tial re­ac­tion was: ‘fuck it, I’m not walk­ing back!’ So I dropped the clutch and it started again on two-and-a-half cylin­ders. It was a damp sort of a day, so I thought I might as well see if it’d go the whole way around. The en­gine was quite peaky, the power didn’t come in un­til 8000, but I was chang­ing gear at 8500, just to be safe. I did a steady first lap and I was on the leader board, so I thought: ‘bloody hell, I bet­ter keep go­ing’. It was bizarre. Af­ter I’d done five laps I thought: ‘it won’t seize now,’ so I gave it the licks on the last lap and won it.” Kawasaki had won their first Se­nior TT. Now for the KR750. Grant loved this mo­tor­cy­cle, once its gear­box had been sorted. The pis­ton-ported en­gine gave a soft, friendly power de­liv­ery, which is just what’s needed on treach­er­ous road cir­cuits. “It was lovely to ride and al­ways a good Isle of Man bike. It just had so much torque that you didn’t have to rev the thing.”

Grant’s me­chanic Nigel Everett still has a soft spot for the big triple. “It’s one of my favourite bikes,” says

Everett, who later worked with Grant at Honda and Suzuki. “Kawasaki got ev­ery­thing right with it, the en­gine spec, ev­ery­thing. It was very, very light and very, very fast, plus it was easy to work on, quite ride­able and pretty re­li­able. The KR750 was the first of the proper race bikes that Kawasaki turned out; most of the stuff prior to that was a bit thrown to­gether.” The 750 worked so well around the TT that Grant broke Hail­wood’s record on the sec­ond lap of the 1975 Clas­sic and was hap­pily climb­ing the moun­tain for the sec­ond time when the revs went sky­wards and all drive dis­ap­peared. The chain had snapped. This DNF cost Grant a lot of money and he wasn’t happy about it, for a mo­ment at least. “The chain broke com­ing out of the Goose­neck. I was re­ally pissed off. Then I looked back down the road and a spec­ta­tor had jumped over the fence to pick up the chain for a sou­venir. Of course it was red hot,” Grant stops talk­ing and starts laugh­ing, a lot. “That put a smile on my face.”

But the 750 had more sur­prises in store. In Oc­to­ber Grant took part in a big in­ter­na­tional at Cal­i­for­nia’s On­tario Mo­tor Speed­way, a banked oval like Day­tona.

“It was the sec­ond or third lap and I was flat-out in fifth, crack­ing on, when I heard this bang. I thought the crank had gone, so I pulled in the clutch but the bike kept on slid­ing... oh no, it’s the gear­box. Ev­ery­thing hap­pened in slow mo­tion. I re­mem­ber go­ing through the air, think­ing: ‘oh shit, this is me gone’.”

Grant had suf­fered the same fate that be­fell Sheene at Day­tona seven months ear­lier – his rear tyre had de­lam­i­nated. A huge chunk of way­ward tread embed­ded it­self like an axe in the KR’S seat unit. There was only one dif­fer­ence be­tween the Sheene and Grant prangs – Grant walked (or at least hob­bled) away. The KR750 was kinder on the Bri­tish main­land. Grant won the 1975 MCN Su­per­bike crown and hoped bet­ter was to come as Kawasaki with­drew to their hum­ble race de­part­ment for the win­ter.

“When I rode for Honda a few years later I vis­ited Honda R&D and it was a mas­sive com­plex. Kawasaki had a wooden hut, out of which came the 750s, the 500s, the mo­tocross bikes, ev­ery­thing.”

Back on the Is­land in June 1976, Grant and his new, milder-tuned KR750 were 17 sec­onds faster than

‘THE PO­TEN­TIAL OF THE 750 WAS ENOR­MOUS. IT WAS BLOODY QUICK’

ev­ery­one else in prac­tice. “I’m not be­ing big-headed, but that year it wasn’t a mat­ter of whether I’d win the Clas­sic, but by how much. The most bul­let­proof thing about the KR750 was the clutch. So I set off at the start and the clutch was slip­ping be­fore I go to Bray Hill.

“The po­ten­tial of the 750 was enor­mous. It was bloody quick and would rev to 11,500, but that could give us prob­lems. Some F750 races were 100 miles long and the crank would some­times only last 90 miles, even though they ran oil pump and pre­mix. That’s why they changed things for 1976 – dif­fer­ent port­ing and dif­fer­ent pipes brought the revs down to 9500 and there was power from noth­ing. Fan­tas­tic.

“We had three stages of tune. For Bri­tish races and the TT I ran the mid­dle spec. We only used the top spec once, at Met­tet in Bel­gium – al­though it made the bike un­be­liev­ably quick, the thing was im­pos­si­ble to ride. And we only ran the ba­sic set-up once, at Mal­lory. I beat Sheene with that and he was con­vinced we were run­ning an over­size en­gine. That spec was great, like a trac­tor, so long as there were no straights.” In 1977 Grant and the KR750 fi­nally got it right at the TT. They won the Clas­sic at record pace and by three-and-ahalf min­utes. But the race was a near-run thing. Once again the weak link was the fi­nal drive chain, which stretched badly, forc­ing Grant to ease off in the fi­nal miles. This was af­ter he’d been timed at 191mph on the down­hill run from Creg ny Baa to Bran­dish. Many think the fig­ure was pure fan­tasy, but not Everett. “We worked out the gear­ing and it was right,” he says.

The KR was fast, but the com­pe­ti­tion was also gath­er­ing speed. Suzuki RG500S and can­tilever-framed TZ750S were fill­ing grids. For 1978, Grant’s main aim was to ex­or­cise the chain prob­lems that al­ways threat­ened on the Is­land, which had be­come a mam­moth pay­day – Grant’s 1977 Clas­sic win had made him £6000 richer (that’s £35,000 to­day).

“We al­ways had mas­sive chain prob­lems. I thought it was the rub­ber-mounted en­gine, caus­ing too much twist. Nigel had to ad­just the chain ev­ery time I came in for fuel. For 1978 I got [leg­endary chas­sis ge­nius] Ron Williams in­volved on the quiet. He re­moved the bushes on my bike and made the en­gine mount­ings metal-to-metal.”

This time it was en­gine vi­bra­tion that nearly robbed him of Clas­sic vic­tory. The vibes were so bad they frac­tured the KR’S rear-brake mount. No rear brake was one prob­lem, run­ning out of fuel was an­other. Grant had ear­lier run dry in the Ju­nior race, so his crew told him to stop for a splash-and-dash be­fore the Clas­sic’s last lap. But if he pit­ted, a scru­ti­neer would spot the prob­lem and stop him con­tin­u­ing, so he gam­bled on stay­ing out. At the fin­ish he had a litre of fuel to spare.

The 1978 Clas­sic was one of Grant’s great­est TT rides and raised the lap record to 114.333mph, thanks to the KR’S easy-go­ing char­ac­ter. “I re­mem­ber go­ing around Gin­ger Hall and over the top, three gears higher than I should’ve been, still ac­cel­er­at­ing and flat­ten­ing out the bumps. It was such a lovely bit of kit.”

And that was the end of the road for Grant’s KR750. “By this time the en­gi­neers in the lit­tle wooden shed were spend­ing all their time on the KR250 and 350. And any­way, the RGS were out and Yamaha had got the job sorted, so we were knack­ered.”

ABOVE: In nicely colour co-or­di­nated 1975 Se­nior win­ner’s sash BE­LOW: Grant loved the KR750 once the gear­box was sorted

1 1 Granty leads Peter Williams and the John Player Nor­ton 2 Mick flanked by Chas Mor­timer (left on a Sarome Yamaha) and John Williams on an­other TZ in 1975 3 Pulling a wheelie pow­er­ing up­hill on the KR750 4 Land­ing the 500cc Kawasaki H1-RW at Bal­laugh on the way to win­ning the ’75 Se­nior 2 3 4

ABOVE: Hurtling down Bray Hill on the KR750 in 1977, about to bot­tom out the ex­pan­sion cham­bers

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