We will sell no wine before it’s time.
So said Gallo pitchman Orson Welles, a long time ago. Nostalgia is like that. It takes time to develop. We are not usually nostalgic for last weekend.
But 20 years ago – this coming spring?
I feel nostalgia for what I can still remember as if it had been last weekend. That spring of ’02 when I bought my ’03 Kawasaki ZRX1200R, the only new vehicle I have ever bought – because it overcame my habitual reluctant to pay new prices for vehicles one can almost always buy later, used, for much less.
But then, they are not new anymore.
Someone else has already had a relationship with them, for good or not. The vehicle will never be just yours, alone – no matter how long you own it afterward. That’s ok, though, because most vehicles are after all just machines and we buy them for their usefulness to us. A truck with some scratches on the bedwalls is just as capable of hauling a pallet of bricks as the unscratched one inside the showroom – and you pay a lot more for the unscratched one, which you’ll end up scratching yourself, anyhow.
This was different – because it was personal. Which made it emotional.
God help you, then.
I have long owned another Kawasaki – one much older than the ZRX which became mine that long-gone spring of 2002. That one being the ’76 Kz900 I bought – used – because there were no new ones around for me to buy by the time I was old enough to. The big Zed One is an example of the first superbikes, which appeared like a derecho wind in 1973, creating a wake vortex that pulled everyone into a future of speed, power and durability previously thought impossible.
Almost 1 full liter of dual-overhead cam engine – at a time when the ultimate that had been available was three-quarters-of-a-liter and a single overhead cam, in the form of Honda’s CB750 – which preceded the Zed One 900 by a few years. It was a great bike, too – but totally outclassed by the almost-unreal Kawasaki. Here was a bike capable of running a 12 second quarter mile on the way to 140 on top.
And running 140 for hours.
That was not just “better” than the CB750, it mopped the floor with it. Few exotic cars – even Ferraris – could keep up with the Zed, until wind resistance came to the assist on the high side of that 140 MPH top speed.
Fast forward a few years and imagine a kid who is fascinated by bikes, ferociously consuming the motorsport news, in awe of racers like Eddie Lawson, the AMA champ, who rode a lime green Zed 1000 to victory in the early ‘80s.
I wanted that bike – or at least, something like that bike. And so I got my ’76 900 – the Toe Cutter Special – which was what I could afford to get, at the time. I still have it – and will never part with it until I part ways with this world. That bike was my first serious bike, the one I graduated into after a succession of smaller, less threatening machines.
You don’t learn to fly in an F4.
I rode a bunch of bikes and owned (and sold) more than a few along the way. None of them instilled a desire in me to throw all sense to the wind and lay down the bucks for one of them, new . . . until Kawasaki resurrected Eddie’s race bike just in time for me to be able to afford to buy the thing and young-crazy enough to be ready for the thing.
It wasn’t exactly Eddie’s bike, of course. Or even exactly the replica-racer Kawasaki offered for sale back in the ‘80s – when Eddie was racing and I was too young and too poor to do more than buy the magazines it was featured in.
It was better.
The DOHC four was now more than a liter. A 1200 cc monster lurked under the lime green tank – which was exactly the same color and striped just like Eddie’s bike. Water-cooled this time. A necessary thing, given the 120-plus horsepower now vs. the 90-ish, then. But it perfectly channeled the hulking, brutal presence of the original and then amped it up with a massive aluminum swing arm cradling a rear tier fatter than Eddie ever had.
That plus better brakes was pretty much all that was new. Which is why it appealed. The rest was straight out of 1982 – and now I was old enough to do more than read about it.
I bought it. Right off the showroom floor. No hesitation. No haggling. Just give it to me, god help me.
I knew it would be mine, whatever the cost.
There it was, leaning on its side stand, cocky like Sammy the Bull Gravano – waiting for the chumps to hand over their money. I’d ridden some faster bikes before – including the also-legendary Honda VFR Interceptor. But fast as they were, the experience was less threatening because those bikes were modern. They were faired. You didn’t have to fight the slipstream trying to hurl you off the thing at 140. They had suspensions appropriately matched to the capabilities of their engines.
The Rex had a bikini fairing – rightly named because it doesn’t cover up the good parts. Dual coil-spring/combo shocks bolted to its ballsy-looking swingarm and just-forks up front, not inverted. The sole concession to modernity was the set of dual discs up front. No ABS. No EFI. This brand-new bike (in early 2000s) still had four carbs – and no computer.
No catalytic converter.
I had to have it.
And I still do.
Somehow, twenty years have passed under the swingarm. But I have kept the Rex looking as resplendent as it looked that bright warm day in the spring of 2002 when I first threw a leg over and pointed it at tomorrow – where I suddenly find myself.
But I can reach back into yesterday anytime I like, just by throwing a leg over and heading out, once again.
. . .
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