By Vince, Written Sep 2005
The Kawasaki GPz750R is a better known bike than many may at first think because it had a part in a top grossing Hollywood film. The bike was Tom Cruise’s mount in the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. But I had mine first.
The year was 1985 and I had recently met my wife. We shared a passion for bikes and as she was prepared to share her greenbacks with me we had the chance to trade up to a decent steed. Frankly I was fed up at the time with her ugly Suzuki GSX250. It’s narrow seat and uninspiring performance wasn’t suited to the two-up riding we did and I hankered after a big sportsbike.
My Honda CX500 was now a distant memory and I wanted the misses to appreciate the benefits of big bike riding. We considered a litre-sized machine as we felt the need, the need for speed and looked around for an interesting bike. There was only one, the Kawasaki GPz900R. It was the spiritual successor to the legendary Z900 series using a new water-cooled version of the firm’s famous four cylinder motor. It eventually grew a big reputation for speed and handling and for a time looked to take the legendary title from the Zed.
We looked at getting the 900 version but the 750 was really big enough, looked identical, had cheaper insurance and came in a gorgeous piano black and red finish that looked so much better than the dull 900 options, which is probably why Tom had one as well.
B328 WOW was one of the new generation of sportsbikes that came complete with full fairing. This, along with the heavy water-cooled motor in a frame set-up that preceded 500cc Race-rep styling meant for a long wheelbase and top-heavy tendencies. Combine this with a large turning circle and small diameter front wheel and the result was a bike that preferred speeds of three figures to three-mph and it was this characteristic that explains the first anecdote.
The bike was brand new when collected and had been prepped by the dealer. Because of the danger of theft by leaving the tax disc stuck to the inside of the screen the dealer had helpfully put it in a plastic holder but using a decision that could only be made by a blind grease-monkey connected it to one of the fairing screws slap bang in the middle of our shiny new black and red fairing. It was an eyesore that the misses and I vowed to eradicate just as soon as we got home to our screwdriver set, which as usual was waiting patiently in the shed ready for more screwing action. No I’m not going down that route!
Anyway, before we got home we had to visit various family and friends and show them what fantastic people we were by showing off our shiny new bike and one of the first was my wife’s auntie. We did the visit and were rewarded as expected with a nice cup of tea then set off on our merry way to the next (dis)interested family member. As we were leaving the auntie’s the trouble and strife decided to take the helm and I obediently climbed on the pillion seat. We pottered off and headed for the main road, a sharp left turn two hundred yards from auntie’s. The misses carefully pulled up to the junction and waited for a clear moment to join the traffic. A gap soon appeared, she let out the clutch then the water-cooled engine spluttered and stalled. She had hardly commenced the turn so was in mid lean with no power. We had dropped below the hard-deck and there was no choice but to let the damn thing fall over. Personally, I stepped off the back.
We were distraught. Our shiny new bike laying at 45 degrees, resting in the pavement, dribbling fuel. One day old and a new fairing seemed to be needed. We lifted her up [the bike, not the wife] and inspected the damage. One broken plastic tax disc holder – but that seemed to take the entire brunt. That blind grease monkey had inadvertently saved us 700 quid!
The story might imply that the love of my life is an incompetent buffoon on a bike and I must have been one Tomcat short of a carrier for letting her anywhere near the front seat but that cannot be further from the truth. After mastering the idiosyncrasies of the bike she went on to pass her Advanced Motorcycle Test on the beast, raising major praise in the bargain and could turn tight consecutive figure of eights on it at slow speed. In the same way I was mimicking Maverick at speed she was proving an equal exponent in the guise of Ice-Man. We later realised that the keeling over incident was caused by fuel starvation that occurred when leaving the bike for an hour or two after riding which resulted in fuel evaporation in the feed pipes to the carbs, well that and the top-heavy balance. Well at least that was the reason when I dropped the thing outside the in-laws a few hours later. Luckily I held it before it actually grounded this time as there wasn’t a tax disc holder on the right.
The GPz750R always was kept in quite spectacular condition, receiving almost as much cleaning as riding and stayed in pristine original condition. In fact it was so clean that when Ice entered it into a concours competition it won first place. Admittedly it was only a smallish local car-group competition but the judges did consider age and it was only one year old. Our friend with the 15-year old Beemer was not amused and claimed unfair play but the judges couldn’t fault our bike no matter how hard they looked. I told my mate with the BM that he should have at least washed it!
I too, took my Advanced Motorcycling Test on the bike and passed. I don’t recall much about the test apart from the poor weather and the tea at the Little Chef afterwards. In fact I recall many a Little Chef visit on the bike as it took us on adventures all over the country. It was a great bike to buzz the tower with. Cars were eaten alive with its rapid acceleration and our riding got quicker and quicker. It was built in the days before tyres became fatter than Pavrotti so it’s skill was in fast open road riding rather than track-day scratching although I did ground out the pegs on roundabouts sometimes.
In fact it was the incredible speed that eventually killed off our relationship – the Kwaker and me, not the misses. The buzz was getting too intense and risks were getting more and more hairy. I recall one of the last rides, destination unknown. It wasn’t hard to overtake cars on single carriageway roads, in fact it was easy to blip past two without dropping a gear such was the power. However, when dropping a peg or two in the gearbox acceleration was phenomenal.
Car drivers have no idea how different a big bike can be to a car when accelerating. Most car drivers haven’t experienced supercar acceleration which smash through sixty in fewer than six seconds. Bikes are twice this fast and the power is there from any speed. Enough to quite literally take your breath away. For anyone with fuel in his or her veins experiencing this is a must. And I used this force on many an occasion. Drop two gears and even if the road is short you can sail past cars, one, two, three at a time. When the road opens up, and providing there are no turns, getting past four or five at a time becomes possible and it’s addictive as hell.
Even modern busy roads help the motorcyclist in a strange way. Because there are so few chances for an average sub-1400cc tin-box to get past another car drivers tend to drive in a monotonous mode, not ready to pounce when the road does open up. They think that even if they wanted to pass by almost certainly there will be someone coming the other way. So they drive on the bumper of the car in front, not looking any further ahead than the bootlid of their predecessor. I sometimes think that you could cause multiple suicide just by driving slowly then off a cliff as every car in the queue behind will follow. For a keen biker all these cars are collectively known as mobile chicanes. And one day I came across one of these target rich environments, a slowly moving train of cars and decided to overtake two or three of them.
Said cars were all pootling along in a queue at about 45mph, with me following. I rounded a corner, knowing that the road would probably open up and I might get past a couple, so I dropped a couple of cogs. Before the corner had unwound I saw the straight and had passed my first victim, this gear took me past the second as well and the third now looked a likely sure-fire bet. By now I was probably travelling about 70mph so passing the others was quick but at this stage a keen car driver may have started to spot the overtaking opportunity and I was on the highway in the danger zone.
Idle drivers never check their mirrors so the good rider is keeping a keen eye on all the tell-tale signs of overtaking, and none of them usually include actually indicating or looking. The signs are in an exhaust puff of smoke, a twitch of the front tyres, possible re-positioning, putting a second hand on the steering wheel, all that sort of thing. In short second sight. Luckily for me car three was so close to car four that I assumed the towrope was invisible so I treated cars three and four as one. By now the revs had reached the point where the dial turns from black to red but I wasn’t looking anywhere but the road and cars ahead. The slight tail off in power gave me the incentive to snick up a gear and I snicked away.
Passing car four I was probably travelling near to 90mph but now a lorry had trundled into the distance. I read this as a good sign. The lorry wasn’t travelling fast so I now knew how much space I really had, after all an empty road could mean a potential fast car, one blocked by a moving lorry is a calculable, albeit reducing, gap. Add to this the presence of oncoming vehicles usually dissuades cars from overtaking. I had an open road, the best view, a line of cars who weren’t about to overtake, a gap to aim for and a powerful bike that was singing tunes only racers usually experience. I flew past cars five and six like they were stationary and in all fairness comparing my speed to theirs this wasn’t far short of the truth. In fact it now looked like I could actually get past them all.
It is a strange fact that for some reason we all secretly believe that if only we could pass one more car or lorry then we might actually be at the front of the queue with no more traffic ahead, ever. On the kind of road only seen in car adverts. Common sense trashes this theory but common sense didn’t make me pass six cars at these speeds. That was caused by adrenalin and I had it in bucketfuls at this moment. One more vehicle lay ahead, the box van heading this little queue.
Naturally I made the narrowing gap, I’d been through the fire and came out the other side glowing – but only just. You probably wouldn’t be reading this now if I hadn’t. I glanced at the speedo after I swept through the gap and it was coming back down, through 125mph. I had just passed seven vehicles in one twist of the throttle in a space where no car could get by, exceeding the limit by a factor of more than two. And it was raining.
I was Maverick, I didn’t want to be Goose. I told the misses and we sold the bike. I’ve never owned another sportsbike since then.
Although on those hot summer nights when I feel like playing with the boys I get that loving feeling…
The soundtrack to this webpage is available on Columbia Records
Footnotes and Feedback
Note originally added December 2006
Since delivering this fine piece of writing I have received word from sources abroad that Mr Cruise’s bike was probably a nine-hundred.
According to my source’s knowledge the seven-fifty wasn’t marketed in the land that used to be passed from Red Indian father to son.
This fact was delivered by a Kawasaki nutter [Niek’s words, not mine] from the Netherlands so it may be double-dutch.
Are you reading this Stateside? If so pop into your local dealer and quiz him mercilessly until he squeals out the truth. Then let me know.
Or are you in the movie industry and know the truth? In which case stop arseing around reading this and sign me up to write your next blockbuster.
Or are you Tom Cruise, in which case stop arseing around and send me Nicole’s number.
More note originally added March 2011
A lull in my schedule allowed me some time to net-hop and I typed in Honda CX500 to see how far up the Google chain [my bikes] webpage was.
During my search I came across a link to the Internet Movie Cars Database. Here I hastened to the Kawasaki GPz750R and 900 links and discovered that it seems Niek seems indisputably correct.
The bike that TC rode in TG was a 9 but as suspected was mistaken for a 7-5 because it was a special in 750 colours for the movie.
imcdb gives some info on the matter but the full convoluted and strange story is told by Mik Anderson who seems to be an obsessive fan. And without these types the net would be rubbish.
Author: Vince Poynter
From the Bikes section of the vinceunlimited.co.uk website dated 3 May 2018
First Published: Version 2.02 in Sep 2005
The four images show my red and black Kawasaki GPz750R motorcycle shortly after being purchased brand new, stood on the crest of Toot Hill, Romsey, with me posing by it’s side. All photographs taken by my wife around the beginning of Aug 1984
The movie Top Gun had a US release in May 1986 but wasn’t released into the UK until Oct 1986
The soundtrack to Top Gun was released by Columbia Records in 1986
The Internet Movie Cars Database resides under the URL of imcdb.com
Mik Anderson’s article about the GPz900R featured in Top Gun can be found at http://mikandersen.dk/index.php/top-gun-motorcykel/top-gun-bike-english-version 2018