TRAIL BY FIRE
When Terry McCabe bought a Kawasaki Z1A in working condition from a mate for $800 in 1987, it was just as well he had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead. Rob Blackbourn recently spoke with Terry to get the lowdown…
Terry McCabe’s used Kawasaki Z1A turned out to be a nice thing. But after a year or so of enjoying riding it Terry had to store it in his father’s workshop while he was working away from home for an extended period.
Although he was going to miss the bike it was going to be safe and sound sharing the space with, amongst other things, his father’s 1928 Harley-Davidson, a BSA Bantam and a couple of classic cars – an Austin 7 and an Oldsmobile.
Fate stepped in belligerently one day in 1989. His Dad was kicking over the old Harley when it backfired in a big way, hard enough to break one of the exposed inlet rockers. The freed pushrod then punched a hole in the fuel tank and spilled petrol onto the already-hot engine.
It started a fierce fire that was almost immediately out of control. His father escaped but the workshop was destroyed and everything inside was badly burned.
When the workshop was rebuilt the remains of Terry’s Kawasaki were pushed into a corner and a cover was thrown over them. And there the Kawasaki languished for a couple of years. Let’s hear Terry’s explanation of how he resurrected the bike from the ashes…
LET’S GET STARTED
“In 1991 I brought home a basket case 1976 Z900, which spurred me on to start on my Z1A.
“I began with the painstaking process of stripping it down to the bare frame, and as I did that it became obvious that everything on the motorcycle that was plastic or alloy had been melted by the heat of the fire. The frame was duly sent off to be sand blasted and powder coated.
“With the wheels dismantled I got the rims re-chromed and the cad-plating on the spokes re-done. I re-laced the wheels myself and an old mate of mine, John Foster, trued them up.
“The engine was covered in melted plastic and alloy so cleaning it required many hours of pressure washing, plus lots of work with a toothbrush and mag wheel cleaner – I didn’t glass-bead the cylinders because I didn’t want to lose the factory finish, which is impossible to replicate.
“Many, many more hours were involved in cleaning up the alloy side casings with wet-and-dry sandpaper. All the polishing was done in-house.”
FINDING THE PARTS
“I used the Z900 as a bargaining tool to swap or purchase parts for my Z1A as there are lots of differences between the two models. I actually found a bloke restoring a Z900 who had some Z1A bits – he was very handy. With no internet in those days there were a lot of phone calls and trips to Melbourne involved. Whitehouse Motorcycles in Albury and Z Power in Wollongong were also good sources for parts. Then the used parts I obtained over a two-year period had to be restored; this often involving re-plating.
“Karl Richardson of KJR Coachbuilding in Albury restored the original four-into-four exhaust system. I’ve since bought a new set of pipes. The seat was done by Tony O’Connor from Eldorado Seat Restoration in SA. The instruments were restored by KTT Services in Croydon, NSW. I have no idea of the kilometres the bike has done because the speedo had not been working for years when I purchased it from my mate; the replacement speedo was rebuilt but by law could not be reset to zero. The original tank was re-used; the paint job was done by the late Adrian (Slim) Wilson (RIP) of Albury.
“The engine was never touched during the rebuild process – I adopted the old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ theory – although the main reason was that I couldn’t afford it at the time, having recently been married, having bought a house and then having a baby on the way.”
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
“One Friday night in the back shed, in 1993, the moment finally arrived to try to start the engine. It had last run four years previously before experiencing a fire hot enough to melt the carbies off it.
“With two of my mates – mechanic Tony Ryan and, for moral support, Warwick Britton – I hooked the bike to the battery out of my wife’s car with a set of jumper leads.
“As a carpenter by trade I had no idea how to set the twin points. So Tony did that and I put the fuel in the tank. When Tony hit the start button the starter wouldn’t mesh properly, so it was kick-start time.
After three or four kicks the bike finally roared into life – not bad after it had been sitting there idle for all those years. We celebrated with quite a few VBs from a fridge that had been well-stocked for the occasion.”
RIDING A RESTORED CLASSIC
“I’ve really enjoyed riding the Z1 over the years since the restoration. Who wouldn’t enjoy riding a Z1?
But for me there is something extra special about being back on mine, a bike that I had almost lost when it was just about destroyed in the fire. It was worth all the time and money and effort that were needed to bring it back to life.
“Years after getting the bike back on the road I had the top-end of the engine reconditioned and last year the clutch basket and plates were replaced. But the bullet-proof (and fire-proof) bottom- end is still original to this day.”
Thanks, Terry – that’s an amazing story and a lovely result. Thanks a lot for sharing it with MT’s readers and for providing photos for the article.
THE TROPHY CABINET
Terry has taken his lovely Kawasaki Z1A to many motorcycle rallies over the last 18 or so years. It is a highly awarded bike, having won a number of trophies in various categories, including these
- 1998 VJMC Annual Rally – Best Bike (1971 – 1975)
2001 & 2007 Albury Wodonga CEMCC Butterball Rally – King of the Rally
2010 Illawarra CEMCC 25th Anniversary Rally – King of the Rally
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