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1982 Kawasaki KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica.

The Original Superbike.

By Craig Fitzgerald from the April 2008 issue of Hemmings Motor News. These days, “Superbike” gets tossed around as a generic term for any large-displacement, high-performance sportbike, but since 1976, it’s been a racing series sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association. Kawasaki got off to a slow start, not winning a race with its massive four-cylinder KZ1000 until the fifth race of 1977.

It wasn’t until 1980 that Kawasaki fielded a truly factory-backed team, with Eddie Lawson at the controls and Rob Muzzy behind the pit wall. In 1981, that team dominated AMA Superbike racing, laying the groundwork for Eddie Lawson’s legacy as one of the world’s greatest motorcycle road racers. And it made the KZ1000 one of the most feared track weapons of the era.

To commemorate Lawson and Muzzy’s championship 1981 season, Kawasaki built fewer than a thousand of what it called “the most performance-ready, street-legal Superbike ever,” in the form of the 1982 Kawasaki KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica. Looking at it quickly, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just a tarted-up standard KZ1000J2 with a fairing. True, the KZ1000R did share the standard bike’s 998cc, dual overhead-cam four-cylinder, unmodified from stock form, but the megaphone-style Kerker four-into-one exhaust delivered an extra two horsepower, bumping it to 102 at 8,500 rpm. It was mated to a five-speed transmission with a huge 530 chain connected to the rear sprocket. A four-row oil cooler from the GPz1100 kept the engine oil temperature under control.

Steering geometry and riding position were also significantly revised, to more closely match Lawson’s bike. Rake went from 27.5 degrees in the J-model to 29 degrees on the Replica, and trail increased from 3.89 to 4.50 inches, both for better stability at high speed. Kawasaki dug out the seat foam, lowering the bike’s seat height by half an inch, and the rear set footpegs from the GPz went four inches aft, and an inch up. Showa reservoir shocks in the rear complemented the revalved air-assisted forks for stiffer compression and rebound damping. Rubber came in the form of Dunlop’s K300, and a wider rear cast-aluminum rim helped improve its footprint.

The KZ1000R’s most immediate draw was its less-than subtle display of Kawasaki lime green. The fuel tank, fairing and lower “Lawson-bend” handlebar came from the GPz1100. And in case the green, blue and white color scheme wasn’t enough to remind you of what you were riding, there was a giant decal on the fuel tank, announcing Eddie Lawson as Superbike Champion.

The KZ1000R was only available in the United States in 1982 and 1983. In the 1982 season, Lawson won aboard a Kawasaki again, but by the time the 1983 KZ1000R came out, he’d left Kawasaki for Yamaha, so 1983 models were referred to as “Superbike Replicas.”

Our featured bike is owned by Tony Pearson, who writes the “Fix it Again, Tony” technical Q & A column in our sister publication, Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car. Tony’s bike is a 1982 model, with just 3,500 miles on the odometer, which he purchased in 1997, just as they started becoming true collectibles. Pearson notes that he’s seen rough Eddie Lawson replicas sell in the range of $6,000, but a low-mileage, unrestored original would run closer to $15,000. Since most of the good ones went to Japan in the 80s, nice ones are destined be worth their weight in gold.


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