Reader restoration: Kawasaki ZXR750L
Careworn ebay ratter blossoms into a saucy Suzuka-rep superbike
ROB THOMAS STANDS back, pauses, and contemplates the striking red, white and blue custom paint on his 25,000-mile old 1995 Kawasaki ZXR750 L3. “I’ve even people say to me if I wanted a Suzuki, why didn’t I just buy one?” he says, smiling.
In fact 40 year-old Rob could easily have ended up with a GSX-R750 SRAD as a restoration project instead of the ZXR – back in 2015, when he was browsing ebay and looking at what was out there, there were plenty around for good money: “A friend of mine at work has a 750 SRAD; he paid £800 for it – 10,000 miles and it’s really clean. a lot of other mates have new bikes, but I just like the SRAD and ZXR; bikes of that era.”
Rob’s biking life is unconventional: at 16, his nan gave him his first bike – her Suzuki FZ50. “It was twist and go, kickstart on the left, shopping basket on the front. But I was desperate for a proper bike, so when I was 17 I got an RD125LC for £75 from a breakers. It’d had 25 previous owners. First time I opened it up, it blew a hole in the piston.”
But Rob never got around to passing his test. “Half an hour before, I dropped the RD and snapped the gear lever off. So I borrowed a Honda CG125 but I’d never ridden one before – I locked the front drum brake during the emergency stop and failed. then I never got around to retaking it.”
It wasn’t until the start of 2003 that Rob finally sorted it out: “I’m a refrigeration and air-conditioning engineer, and the company I work for wanted an engineer on a bike. they put me through my test, then bought me a Honda Deauville as a company bike.”
Rob ran the Honda for years, but by 2009 he was using it less and less. then, two years ago, Rob’s mate Grant bought a ZZ-R1100 out of the blue. “We’d been talking about bikes, and next thing I know he’s gone and got this Kawasaki from ebay – a 1994 model with 8000 miles. It’d been stood for years, but underneath the bodywork it was like brand new. But the petrol had turned to sludge and gummed everything up. So I helped him sort it out, and while I was doing that I thought, ‘right, I’m going to get a bike now’.”
Rob started browsing, choosing between an SRAD and a ZXR. “I was looking for a project,” he says. “And I wanted something from the era of when I was getting into bikes.” But instead of finding a Suzuki, the Kawasaki came up first, almost exactly a year ago in February 2016.
“It was in a bloke’s shed, up in Manchester,” says Rob. “Apparently he’d bought the bike three years previously, but it wouldn’t go into fourth gear. So he’d bought a spare engine for it, but then that one had a misfire and he couldn’t get it to run properly. So he took it out again – and that’s how the bike was sold to me: two engines on the floor and everything else in bits. From the advert you couldn’t even tell if there was any bodywork with it – so I emailed him and he said it was all there, but he couldn’t get photos of it. Me and Grant drove up, and on the way up there we phoned him – he said he didn’t actually live at the address, it was his mum’s house. So by now it was sounding well dodgy, but he promised me everything was present apart from the brake lever.”
When they arrived, it still didn’t look promising: “It was a dark, scruffy little shed with no lights and the door wouldn’t open – and it was a job to scratch about finding all the parts. But he was a really nice bloke, we got the ZXR all together and paid £495 for it.and when I got back home it was all there, apart from the mirrors for some reason – I even found the brake lever, in a box.”
The first thing Rob did when he got the parts back was clean them up, wipe the dust off, then loosely screw the bodywork to the frame to see what it looked like. “It’d had a green paint job by someone at some point,” says Rob. “It wasn’t too bad, and I could’ve got away with putting it back together as it was and touching the paint up. But I didn’t want to.the plan was always to pull it apart.”
First, Rob fitted and ran the engine that had the misfire. “It was only because the clips at the top of the plug caps were corroded away to nothing. I cleaned them up, and it ran no problem.” Rob couldn’t resist a sneaky ride up the road: “Just a couple of times, to see what it felt like…”
Back in the garage, the ZXR was pulled completely apart. First to get the treatment was the aluminium frame and swingarm. “I stripped the original paint off using industrial paint stripper – literally, you slap loads of it on, leave it for 10 minutes, it bubbles up, then I took it outside on the drive and jet-washed it off.any bits that were left, I just did it again and got it off with Scotchbrite.”
Rob sent the stripped frame and swingarm off to Morley Brothers in Cambridge for painting. “I talked to a lot of people about the merits of powder coating or using wet paint,” he says “The original finish was paint, and Morley Brothers recommended using it instead of powder. If you scratch powdercoat it tends to chip, while paint is easier to repair.”
While the frame was away, Rob stripped the ZXR’S wheels the same way, then repainted them himself with spray cans. Rob went over them with Halfords primer, then a couple of cans of white, then a lacquer top coat. “It’s impressive, the finish you can get with a rattle can, if you’re careful,” he says.
Next up were the forks; Rob replaced the seals and changed the oil, masked the bottoms off, then got them painted the same colour as the frame. “I took them over to the painters in my works van. But first I had to pop over to do a job at theamerican airforce base at Mildenhall – the security there is pretty tight and, while I was out of the van, a guard spotted the fork legs on the seat and thought they were a pair of bazookas,” laughs Rob.
Other parts were cleaned up; Rob polished the clip-ons, buffed-up the switchgear, clocks and levers, fitted new grips and ’bar-ends, got the headlamp and fairing stays painted, fitted new head bearings and de-yoke protectored the top yoke.the frame came back from painting; Rob hung it from the ceiling of his garage and bolted on the suspension.the
“A guard saw the forks on the seat and thought they were bazookas”
shock was in good condition, so Rob just cleaned up the linkage and fitted new bearings.and with the wheels on, the rolling chassis was taking shape.
Rob wanted to keep the original motor – the one with the sticking fourth gear – with the original chassis. “I started stripping it down, took the clutch out and the sump off,” he says. “In the bottom of the sump I found the end of a circlip – and on the back of the clutch basket there was a ring gouged around the outside, made by the shaft the selector forks slide on. It’s locked by a single M6 bolt and a flat metal plate; the thread had stripped off the bolt, the plate swung out of the way, and the shaft had dropped down.the forks had worn the dogs on third and fourth, and that’s why it wouldn’t change gear.”
It sounds a hardcore job. “Not really,” says Rob, waving a ZXR service manual and smiling. “It’s all in here. I’m pretty mechanical; I can look at things and figure it out.”
It also sounds like an expensive problem to fix. wrong again: “I bought everything; input and output shaft, all the gears, the selector forks, shafts, and the selector drum, all delivered for £40 off ebay,” says Rob.
But that, apart from valve clearances, was as deep into the ZXR’S motor as he felt compelled to dive. “Because the motor splits horizontally, I didn’t have to take the top half off – and as it was only a gearbox problem, there was no need to go any further.”
More rattle can finish was deployed: “I degreased the motor, then sprayed it with Halfordsvht aluminium paint.”
With the engine back in the frame, Rob took care of details. He unwound the loom tape, checked the wiring, cleaned the connectors and re-wound it all. Mini indicators were dumped in favour of pattern replicas. Brakes were stripped, new pistons fitted, and the calipers spray painted by Rob’s own hand.
Eventually Rob’s attentions turned to the bodywork. It wasn’t in bad shape, but had the usual splits, cracks and bodged repairs. true to form, instead of paying someone else to fix it or buying extra parts, Rob learned how to plastic weld and repaired the panels himself.
And then there’s the paint scheme. It’s broadly a replica of the ZX-7TT-F1 racer on which aaron Slight and Scott Russell won the 1993 Suzuka 8-Hour event (see page 38).
“I was Googling ‘Red and blue ZXR’,” says Rob. “I saw the photo of the Suzuka bike, and knew that was it. I mocked up different versions just working out where the lines would go, because the Suzuka race bike had different bodywork to the L3. In the end the paint shop did the fairing, tank and seat unit in pearlescent white, then gave it back to me with a roll of edging tape. I fitted it to the bike, then spent ages marking it all up.the paint shop chose the actual colours, after I showed them a few pics.the red is actually the same as used on the ZXR750 H1.”
With the bike nearly complete and a new stainless Blackwidow exhaust system (5kg against the stock system’s 11kg), Rob went for a test ride. “It just wouldn’t rev past 6000rpm,” he says, explaining that he’d also noticed soot in the exhaust. “It was running way too rich – the carbs had been Dynojetted. With the airbox off on idle, I could see the fuel spitting back out of the carburettors. I checked online, took some advice, and ordered 160 main jets instead of the 180s that were already in there. with them in, it revved right out but had a massive flat spot. So I drilled out the Dynojet’s air restrictors, raised the float height to drop the fuel level, and it was instantly crisper and more responsive.and when I rode it, no more flat spot. I’m inclined to think it’s about there.”
Rob still has plans to get the ZXR on a dyno but, as the sun begins to break out from behind a cloud, he’ll have to make do with me instead. Keys please, Rob...
“I saw a photo of the Suzuka 8 Hour bike and I knew that was it”
Rob looks a little nervous as I wobble out onto the road on his box-fresh build. He has several good reasons: the ZXR’S Dunlop Qualifiers are brand new, the roads are soaking and covered in cack, and the furthest the ZXR has been ridden since it was finished a few weeks ago was to the MOT centre and back. So there’s a healthy scope for disaster.
But, apart from getting the Kawasaki filthy, he needn’t worry.the bike he’s put together feels exactly as it felt when I last rode one in 1995; at low speed the suspension is as firmly supple as if Kawasaki UK had only yesterday prepped it in their workshop.well-balanced and well-behaved, the ZXR steers positively but isn’t over-frettingly sensitive. Brakes are smooth and potent; gearbox snicks through its ratios with oily, practised ease (in fact it’s way better than I remember the ZXRS of old being – the ’boxes were usually a bag of spanners).
As the Kwak prowls stealthily away from Rob’s garage over wet tarmac, its riding position is about as extreme as it gets; arms fully extended across the long tank to low, low clip-ons, with no suspension in the elbows and full body weight on the wrists. I can bear it for about 10 minutes, but after that it’s speed up or die. Kawasaki didn’t muck about with compromising in 1995.
Speed up, then.the ZXR’S motor is a mechanical musical – the whirr of camchain and valve-gear mingle with the primary drive whine and delivers a spiralling melodic meshing as the revs rise. It’s a beefy, hearty noise, more fundamental than the politely silenced fizz of a modern inline four. It sounds like engines are supposed to sound. It sounds like performance.
Shifting on a bit through the gears, picking up speed and wind blast to balance the body, and Rob’s ZXR makes more sense the faster it goes. Suspension smoothes out, the engine gets into a stride, and the plugged-in, fully committed riding position becomes perfectly poised to attack. If ever a bike was built for blitzing round a hot racetrack, the ZXR is it. It’s wasted on the roads and I’m cursing our timing; the Kawasaki begs to be hammered in the dry. I know it’d be outstanding.
Before long it’s time to head back to Rob’s garage – the few miles in the wet can’t obscure the ZXR’S potential and it’d be criminal if it doesn’t find it way onto a track at some point in 2017. Rob says he has plans to ride it into Europe this summer – good luck with than on your wrists – but if you ask me, a trip to Cadwell, Oulton or Donington would suit the Kawasaki better. In fact it’s a shame Suzuka isn’t a little bit closer…
Morley Brothers, for painting the frame, subframe, swingarm and forks bottoms (01223 423048, morleybrothersltd.co.uk) Grant, my mate, for all his help
Rocker solid The Uni-trak rocker was serviced, while the tie-bars and shock were in good enough fettle to go back on the bike after a thorough clean.