Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Kawasaki H2 Love by Phil Green




Today, we're handing over duty to guest blogger Phil Green. To say Phil is a petrolhead is a bit of an understatement. From articles delving into the issues of Spitfire carburation (the fighter plane, not the car), to a full Stag restoration (yes, the car), and a smattering of restored motorcycles, Phil's love of things with wheels and engines is obvious.

In this post, Phil takes us through some of his 'adventures' in motorcycle restoration. Whether you're considering a restoration of your own, a classic bike lover, or simply on your coffee break, grab your cup, put your feet up, and read on …

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It was a key step almost always undertaken by people of my generation when buying a secondhand car or motorcycle ... purchasing The Workshop Manual. Automatically following the act of acquiring a new vehicle came the primeval urge to understand how it worked … and therefore how to fix it!

The one and only time I ever departed from this sacred routine was back in the early 1980s when, quite incredibly, I purchased a Workshop Manual for a motorcycle that I had never even seen due to its rarity in the UK, and actually had no plans to buy at the time. I'd never seen this manual on sale before, but such was my fascination with Japanese two strokes, I went ahead and splashed out on a manual for a vehicle I did not have. The manual was for a Kawasaki H2 750 Mach IV. 

My background is engineering and, as I progressed up the managerial ladder, I spent more and more of my time pushing around paperwork, rather than engineering, and problem-solving, which was a cause of much frustration to me. Purchasing a house in 1999 with a tandem garage was the turning point, and a 1971 Triumph Stag restoration was my saviour in subsequent years. A few years ago, I had the Stag on the road (come on, they are never really finished), and my thoughts turned to other possible projects.

I have always been a two stroke freak, and grew up on Yamaha parallel twins, but the large Japanese two stroke triple models were out of production when I passed my driving licence, and seemed unattainable for some reason at the time even though the secondhand option was a possibility.

As the Stag continued to consume less and less of my time, I began toying with the idea of returning to my first love, and decided I should look around for a project bike to restore. Engine capacity had to be as big as possible and definitely a two stroke from the 70s. The ideal candidate appeared to be a Suzuki GT750, or ‘kettle’ as they are affectionately known in the UK. I began researching and scanning advertisements of bikes for sale, and was shocked by the prices these 40-year-old-plus bikes were commanding. It would appear that prices were being driven up by demand from my generation attempting to relive their youth, or (as in my case) owning a machine they could only dream of when younger.

In actual fact, there were two candidate models I had in mind for a new project: either a Suzuki GT750 or a Kawasaki 750 H2, although I felt it very unlikely that I would locate the latter model as relatively few had been imported into the UK back in the 1970s. In fact, even though I had the Workshop Manual tucked away somewhere in my attic, I could not remember ever having seen or touching such a bike, even at the numerous shows and race meets I attended back in the day.

I generated several automated searches online, but the demand for these bikes and the prices paid for them were severe obstacles. I did not want a finished bike. It was essential it was a restoration project as I get such enjoyment from doing the work myself. I had done everything I could on the Stag, even spraying the bodywork in a single-width garage, and I can honestly say it was, well, let’s call it 'character-building,' though I would not have missed every torturous step forward, and occasional step backward, for the world.

Frustratingly, my search continued for several years without success, during which I became aware that many project bikes were actually being imported from the USA where they existed in much larger number than in the UK. Ideally, I wanted a bike that was complete rather than a box of bits. I always felt it was safer to buy a complete bike and take it apart to check that all the parts are present, and there are no difficult-to-source items missing.

After a few agonising near misses with GT750s and one H2, I did manage to finally source a 1976 Suzuki GT750A in January 2020, much to my delight. Incredibly, I found it on eBay, which is hideously competitive, but the stars were aligned that day and I barely hesitated before pressing the ‘Buy It Now’ button. The bike was an unrestored Canadian import that clearly had not run for some time, but would turn over with compression, and appeared complete, apart from lack of an airbox.

The bike came with a NOVA (Notification of Vehicle Arrival) which I have since learnt is essential when importing a vehicle in terms of possible tax liability, but no original ownership documents. This caused a slight problem when I tried to register the bike with the DVLA, but, a quick phone call later, the department was happy with the bike’s history and the dating certificate I had sourced from the VJMC (Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club), and I was promptly issued a V5. Okay, the first logbook issued was for a Kia 750 (?) which was swiftly corrected, but I did find the whole experience relatively straightforward. I needed a dating certificate for the bike from the VJMC in order to ensure that I received an age-relevant number plate, which would classify the bike as an historic vehicle and therefore free from road tax (and MOT, as it transpires).

Transporting the Suzy through my house to the garage was an experience I do not think my son and I will ever forget (the outside route was not possible because of a 90 degree passageway and single doorway into my garden). Even though I had checked the dimensions of the Suzy, it felt huge when trying to push it up the steps and through my front door. To this day, I am not clear how the handlebars went through the front doorway. I sat astride the bike whilst my son pushed and, suddenly, we were inside! We then transited the living and dining rooms before exiting into the rear garden via French doors. The lack of a working front brake added to the ‘excitement’ going down the garden steps to my small shed where the bike was stored.

So, I had bagged the Suzuki! But I needed to sort out the garage access and better storage. During the first lockdown, I managed to get another set of French doors installed between my workshop and garden, and also removed a wall, allowing a motorcycle to be wheeled straight through from garden storage to the front of the house. Even though Suzy was temporarily in a very small, shed, I did start the restoration process. In all honesty, it kept me sane during the spring/summer lockdown as, unexpectedly, I had to survive lockdown alone! 

I began to consider longer term storage for Suzy whilst she was being restored, and when she was on the road again (hopefully, next spring). As I began to ponder the ideal dimensions of a new workshop/storage shed in my garden, a germ of an idea began to form … why stop at one bike … why not size the storage for at least two?

Many friends and family were shocked when the Suzuki arrived, but a few long-term friends were not surprised at all as they knew my history. A couple of them knew of my fascination with the H2, but even they were completely unprepared by what I did  next ...

Unbeknown to most, I had retained my H2 online searches, just in case. Over and over again, I saw completed, highly-priced bikes for sale, but very few project bikes. I got close once when I became aware of an H2 for sale on the south coast that had yet to be advertised. Ahead of the pack for once! But photos supplied by the seller confirmed that the frame had been cut to make a café racer which for me, was a big no-no. I wanted originality of nothing.

And so it went on, with none of my friends really aware of just how serious I was about adding an H2 to the Suzuki. Yes, some knew I still pined for an H2, and sent me links to various relevant photos and videos online, but none realised just what was going on in my head. I had decided to give up on the UK and search overseas, but initial attempts to find an overseas agent were fruitless. Whichever way I looked at it, trying to buy a bike overseas without seeing it, from someone I did not know, and having it shipped to the UK was a huge risk not to be undertaken lightly.

Things suddenly fell into place in June 2020 when a message and photo appeared in a Kawasaki Triple Forum on Facebook. The message read “Anybody fancy a project bike?” and the photo showed two H2s in various states of disassembly on the back of a trailer in New York State, USA. I quickly took the plunge and responded that I was interested, following up with a personal message explaining my desire to find a suitable H2 project.

To his great credit, the seller contacted me again in July to give me first option on one of the two project H2s he had available.There followed several weeks of photos and email exchanges where I questioned everything I could think of. I studied the photos very closely, and I mean VERY closely, blowing them up on the biggest screen I could.

Phil Green and his Kawasaki H2

To cut a long story short, in July I thought 'what the hell!' and agreed to buy the bike. In the meantime, I had realised that the seller was President of the Kawasaki Triple Club, and a renowned expert on all things relating to Kawasaki triples. Even though I did not know him before the transaction, I always felt that he was being very straight with me with everything I asked. But I did  take a big swallow before sending over a deposit – for a bike I had never seen, to a guy I had never met, who lived overseas ...

The purchase price included shipping to the UK, delivery to my home address, and arranging the NOVA and V5. Following payment of the deposit, I tried to relax, but could not help occasionally firing off emails requesting updates. The bike took a long road trip from Michigan to Wisconsin, where it was placed in its container for the journey overseas to the UK.

While all this was going I told absolutely no one at all about what I'd done … well, apart from one friend in Australia and also, strangely Jude at Veloce. Jude had asked why I was purchasing The Kawasaki Triples Bible from Veloce when I did not have a Kawasaki triple … and so I confessed, swearing her to secrecy, but I kept all my other friends and family very much in the dark. Perhaps I was worried it would all go horribly wrong and I would be left with egg on my face.

Come October, I received a phone call from a number I did not recognise, interrupting a work Skype meeting. For some reason I answered the call, even though I did not recognise the number. It was a motorcycle transportation company, advising me that it had an H2 to deliver to me!

And so, on October 13, 2020, I became the proud owner of a 1972 Kawasaki 750 H2 project bike ... boy, did I shock a few people when they finally found out. Would I have done this crazy thing if it hadn’t been for the weirdness of lockdown? Who knows …?

The H2 now sits in my new storage shed patiently awaiting my attention. She will have to wait until after the Suzy is completed, though. 

In the meantime, just where is that Workshop Manual I purchased back in 1980 …?


The Kawasaki H2  
                                                       
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If you'd like to share your stories of restoration successes – or nightmares – or if you've written a post on a subject you think would make for a good guest spot on our blog, email us with your ideas and we'll take a look!

As you might expect, given that our first books were workshop manuals, we have a great selection for anyone working on their own resto project, from two wheels, to four … even three!

With over 80 to choose from we can't list them all here, so click this link …

https://www.veloce.co.uk/store/Workshop-c35031288

… and you can see all our workshop manuals – everything from busses and bikes, to scooters and Reliant Regals! 



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