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Column: A little money, a lot of fun

2010-08-30 10:27

One-off 850cc five-cylinder “Kwacker”.

Dave Fall

Look at the number of exhaust pipes and width of the motor across the frame on an interesting bit of kit that was spotted on the Isle of Man a year or two back. Something strange about it all, methinks!

Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki is unquestionably one of the “big four” motorcycle producers today — but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late sixties they tended to be rather staid and not terribly exciting — can you believe that someone would actually build a copy of the British BSA A10 twin (one that didn’t leak a drop of oil and would always start first kick no matter how long it had been standing), and even sell them in reasonable numbers back to the Brits and the Yanks? How sad is that!

All the rage

Two-stroke machinery was all the rage 40 years ago; just about every manufacturer worth its salt would build them. Kawasaki decided to go one better while hitting the big-time simultaneously, with an outrageous piece of kit called the 500 Mach III Triple.

The gentle folk who rode motorcycles back then couldn’t believe their luck. Here was a top-quality Japanese manufacturer who offered a three-cylinder, two-stroke, five-speed bike that could blow away everyone and everything... Provided there wasn’t a bend up ahead to negotiate!

The bike could explode through the drag strip quarter mile in 12 very quick seconds — even today that achievement would earn you a pat on the back. Trouble is, the handling was truly dreadful. The front forks weren’t really up to the job of holding the bike straight and true and in the direction of intended travel, while factoring in the weedy shock absorbers behind that might as well have come from a pogo stick factory.

But for the sheer adrenaline rush that only a two-stroke can give you, it’s little wonder that once on the powerband there were so many buyers for a Mach III — not least among them a well-known Natal motorcyclist called Kork Ballington, who loved them and went on to become a world champion for the brand.

One off

A big brother version, the “Purple People-Eater” 750cc bike was available for those who wanted even more from Kawasaki, but the one-off 850cc five-cylinder “Kwacker” pictured above with its five exhausts (that’s 170cc per cylinder), must surely take the cake for speed junkies! I talked to the owner of this very non-standard machine on the Isle of Man and bought him a well-deserved beer. Obviously a gifted engineer, he had cleverly grafted an additional cylinder on to either side of a standard Mach III motor, extending the crankshaft and much more.

I asked him his quarter-mile time at the Ramsay Sprint where I had first spotted him earlier in the day and he told me: “For the first 150 metres and under hard acceleration it’s not possible to keep the front of the bike down. Then all hell breaks loose as you fast approach the finishing traps where, if you care to take your eyes off the road and glance down at the clocks, the bike is indicating around 210km/h. Trouble is, I’ve then got to think about stopping the brute!”

What a pity then that for a number of years now two-stroke machines have been banned in the US and elsewhere, certainly those intended for road use anyway. The engine fitted to the Mach III wasn’t overly technical in its build construction — apart from the separate and very clever lubrication system for the bottom half of the motor to keep it from blowing up!


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