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It’s all rather conventional and horribly dated now, but right on cue in 1972. The Zed’s chain-driven overhead cams worked the valves over four air-cooled cylinders measuring square at 66 x 66mm bore and stroke. The engine’s roller-bearing bottom was a departure from Honda’s plain bearings, but the DOHC 903cc again proved superior in strength and durability. Even heavily tuned. Head-to-head comparos against contemporary performance models from Europe exposed the Z1’s lack of sporting balance...a problem not really addressed by Japan Inc. until late in the decade. Sturdy but limited, the traditional suspension components were fine tuned or replaced..

Along with the Honda four, Kawasaki’s double cam became the engine of choice for special frame builders in the 1970s, counting Egli, Rickman, Harris, Bimota, and Seeley  among those who based production around the Z1 multi. In the USA Kawasaki earned a run of AMA titles and countless pro and privateer wins On the other end of the radar, Kawasaki’s 1000J is remembered as one of the best police motorcycles ever put into service. Some are still in use. The Z1 didn’t handle like a Desmo, didn’t enjoy Honda’s  dealer network and didn’t match the BMW in scarf-flying panache, but as a bare knuckle fighter it never backed down or away from a fight. As long as there are riders to remember it, the Z1’s place in history is secure.

The Good, The Fast, and The Ugly

Moto Guzzi Le Mans CX100  It was an otherwise normal working Monday when Guzzi brother Bill 'Billoni' Ross dialed my number. “Hey man” he began, dropping his bombshell..Son Alex and I were returning from a customer call in Phoenix back to our factory in Coolidge, squeaking along in our well-worn and perpetually overloaded Scion xB toaster, “I’m selling my CX100,” he said as we cleared the suburbs. “You’d expressed interest so I’m giving you first shot.” Even before Bill had finished speaking I was juggling facts and finances in a mental frenzy. Seven seconds later the decision was made. “Yeah” I responded. “I want it”.

Having more experience the Germans, English and Italians had all earned numerous titles by going faster than the competition with less power, and the secret’s in the details. Short, stout and engineered to correctly handle load, European chassis building wrought platforms that were far more stable. Powered by simple engines tuned for mid-range and geared for highway speed, the Euro package more than compensated for any horsepower difference, and components like Brembo brakes and premium suspensions tipped the scales further toward the Euros. The tradeoff of cost and fewer dealers was accepted by some but rejected by more, yet the price of admission hasn’t dropped.

Motorcyclists are an opinionated bunch, and those preferences often move past simple brand loyalty. Divided by era, each generation of enthusiast looked up upon the legends of that day. For many, that day never ended. Radically different, these three standouts nevertheless share a common theme of excellence; each important and exceptional in its own way. 

This example, a 1939 SS80 will be a feature bike in an upcoming issue of RealClassic magazine. The owner, master mechanic TJ Jackson has been so busy knocking out museum quality restos for customers there’s been time for little else…yet patience is a virtue. Clearing the ignition hurdle should give a running example to aim lenses at, and TJ does point this classic Brough Superior down the road. Another rarity. We have a history, this Brough and me. I first shot it in 2001 and consider TJ's SS80 unique. No motorcycle was ever more handsome.

Serving in a variety of café cruiser and touring guises, the Z1 calls back to the day of the all-purpose standard motorcycle, by basis of its modular engineering. Later versions, including the Z1000 M.K. II are vastly better and more affordable, but the original DOHC is the one we’re talking about. Speaking of value, have you priced a well-kept 1973 Z1 lately?   

This one has history. To the best of Bill’s knowledge the original owner painted it, crashed it then took it along on a move to San Diego. Trailered to a So Cal repair shop the estimate to bring the long dormant Guzzi back to life was given, but sensing some hesitation the shop owner offered to call in a local Guzzi expert and Bill was rung up. Cashing out, an offer was accepted and the black CX100 came home with Bill. It was sold again, then brought back by Billoni after some renovations had been completed. I can report it’s a gem on the road; that smooth, capable, 949cc twin mixes Tonti magic with De Tomaso’s wind-cheating ‘Modena’ angles to sail over distance and rail through the sweepers. Count how many 1979's you see fully loaded and two up next time you’re out then get back to me, but isn’t that the point? The excellence of the Brough, Kawasaki and Guzzi is deserving of  honor, and many others. You'll see those and more addressed in future editorials. Nolan Woodbury

So while it’s a mistake to overlook exclusive builders like Ace, Indian or Coventry, the Brough Superior earned its place in history by offering performance exclusive to the brand. The scene is defined by a long, low stance that stretched the fenders into different area codes. Tapered saddle tanks hung over the top tube in chrome or gloss black. Sewn leather tool boxes melt into lamps glowing in soft metallic hues. The engine –some with four cams- hung majestically, fed by a massive carburetor(s) lighthouse magnetos and fuel your camp lantern couldn’t burn. Dual or shotgun exhausts finalized the intent. Perfect. Timeless.

So why is the Brough good, the Z1 fast and Guzzi’s USA-only CX100 ugly? First off, that isn't the term I’d use to describe it, but there are many who do. At least when compared to the original edition 850 Le Mans of 1976, which the CX100 replaced in the USA for 1979. Designed and constructed during a magical European manufacturing period between 1973 and 1980 the CX100 joined Guzzi’s V7 Sport, the Desmos, BMW S/RS superbikes and Slater-built Laverdas as members of the sporting elite.

Kawasaki Z900 Following Phillip Vincent and Phil Irving’s Black Shadow into the performance hall of fame, Kawasaki’s 903cc Zed was far different than anything not built in Japan. A difference maker, the Z1 was so much better than Honda’s breakthrough 750 four you’d think the engine giant would’ve responded sooner. The truth of it shows that sales proved there wasn’t a reason to, so credit the 750 for that. Cutting edge speed through the gears was the Z1’s game. Cycle called it The King, even after Suzuki’s 16v edged past the bumped-up Z1000, as did the CBX and Yamaha XS-Eleven before that. No matter, for in public opinion the Z1 became the recognized symbol of speed, and it’s still that way. That’s why the Zed is legend.

Brough Superior Kicking off in the 1920s and lasting until the start of World War II, George Brough produced exceptional motorbikes for the discriminating motorcyclist. You probably already knew Brough used proprietary engines from J.A. Prestwich and Matchless in both overhead and side-valve configurations, and that the Super Sports SS80 and SS100 (designating miles per hour) were tested to achieve or better that speed rating upon delivery. Fewer stop to consider that rural Brough owners rarely enjoyed a paved road, and insiders say Brough’s ‘The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’ slogan was bestowed after officials from the car plant admired a polished show-Brough during a visit to Haydn Road. Most are polished keepsakes now.