Springboard to stardom
In today’s World Superbike world, 160 horsepower would be regarded as pretty tame. 20 years ago, 160 horsepower trying to burst out of a conventional tube frame, with virtually standard suspension and brakes, was almost a recipe for disaster. The Moriwaki Kawasaki 1000 was such a device. It took courage, as well as skill, to tame a monster like this, and young Wayne Gardner had both in abundance.
The story really began in 1978, when Kiwi upstart Graeme Crosby took the Aussie superbike scene by storm with a Kawasaki Z1000 fitted with mods that were variously the brainchild of his sponsor and mentor, ex-racer Ross Hannan, and the flair of the fledgling Japanese Moriwaki Engineering concern. Inside the engine were larger valves, stronger springs, special camshaft, breathing through 31mm Kehin carburettors, with Krober ignition and a Kawasaki-supplied close-ratio gearbox. The crank was standard apart from spot welding on the crankpins to the flywheels to stop movement – a mod that Kawasaki itself later adopted. The clutch basket was also welded up as the standard springs were no match for the 150 horsepower being fed to it. To give the transmission a slightly easier time, the standard cush-drive arrangement in the rear hub was retained. To change the steering head angle, Z650 Kawasaki triple clamps were used, with longer rear shocks on the standard steel swinging arm.
When Crosby left for Europe, Paul Feeney took over the Moriwaki. In 1980 on December 14, the Australian Superbike scene shifted to Sandown Park for the Swann Insurance International Series and the final round of the Australian Road Raceing Championships on a day which saw Melbourne produce all of the weather elements, and Mamoru Moriwaki flew from Japan to watch his creation in action. Despite the conditions, Feeney demolished the Superbike field, but what made the biggest impression on Mamoru was the young bloke who won the keenly-contested Unlimited Production race. Wayne Gardner was aboard noted racing car engineer Peter Molloy’s Honda CB1100R, and he humbled plenty of big names with a classy ride in the Australian Unlimited Road-Racing Championship. Standing in the pits, Ross Hannan recalls Mamaru Moriwaki saying, “That boy can ride”.
He was right. After the race, Moriwaki made a point of meeting Gardner in the pits. “ I went down (to the pits) to congratulate him on his ride and to talk to him about coming to England with me. I remember looking him in the eye and seeing a special fire there. I thought that one day this boy will be the best rider in the world.”
A deal was done to take Gardner and the Moriwaki to Europe for 1981, via America for the Daytona 200. In the Superbike race, Gardner finished an excellent fourth behind Wes Cooley and Crosby on Yoshimura Suzukis and Honda’s rising star Freddie Spencer.
From the sunny climes of Florida it was over the pond to a brisk and breezy Cadwell Park in Northern England for Wayne’s UK debut. With its wide, flat handlebars and no fairing, the blue Moriwaki looked decidedly unrefined beside the fully-faired British bikes, and was the subject of more than a few snide remarks in the paddock. But from the moment Wayne took to the track, the snickering stopped. Starting from seventh on the grid, he sliced his way through the field to beat Crosby, defending British Superbike champion Dave Potter, Honda’s number one Ron Haslam, as well as his own team mate Roger Marshall. In the second leg, he finished a close second to Dave Potter.
By the time the series reached its conclusion at Brands hatch in October, Wayne still had a mathematical chance of taking the title, but a misfire dropped him to eleventh, allowing Kork Ballington on the square-four 500cc Kawasaki to push him back to third in the final points table. It was his British final outing on the Moriwaki, although he finished the year on a triumphant note by winning the four-race, two-round Swann Insurance International Series in Australia on the Daytona bike. He had done enough to be offered a Honda Britain contract for 1982, and the path to the World 500cc title had now been forged.
Some years later, Wayne decided to recreate the blue and yellow motorcycle that had catapulted him into the elite ranks. He began with a stock 1980 model Kawasaki Z1000 – the project taking several years to complete.
“The Moriwaki was the bike that really kick-started my career,” Gardner recalls. “It had stacks of horsepower and pretty ordinary handling, but I loved it. At the end of the (1981) season, I really wanted to keep that bike, but it went back to the Moriwaki family museum in Japan, so I decided to build my own. I made it a close a possible to be an exact replica of the bike I raced in Britain, right down to the specially scalloped seat. I registered it and rode it on the road for a while. What a weapon!”
Wayne’s original machine had evolved somewhat from the Crosby model, with an alloy swinging arm, Lockheed brakes and some frame gusseting. The engine had also received a few tweaks to bring the power output up close to 160 horsepower, and this was the form that the replica took. Fitted with Dunlop Racing Intermediates, the howling Moriwaki, in Wayne’s capable hands was the machine to beat on ‘social runs’ through the made-for-motorcycle roads in the hills around his native Wollongong.
In 2003, Wayne decided that the old monster should be seen again, and loaned the bike to the National Motor Racing Museum at Bathurst, where it now resides. Standing alongside later and more svelte examples of the Superbike evolution, the Moriwaki looks lumpy, mean and menacing. One can only imagine what all that power felt like scrabbling for traction around a fog-bound Cadwell Park 25 years ago.