Kawasaki H1 500 Mach III

Kawasaki H1 500 Mach III 1960s Japanese classic motorbike

Kawasaki did not build its first bike - a 125cc two-stroke - until 1960. From the get-go, though, it was synonymous with high-performance, devil-may-care machines. Bikes like the Kawasaki H1, for instance. It officially hit the streets at the tail-end of the Sixties. But, it is one of those mythical machines which make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed. For, it was in that decade that the H1 was most ridden - usually, hell for leather - along the highways and byways. And, if the H1's handling was a bit 'imprecise' - which it was - hey, that only added to the fun!

The H1 had a power output of 60bhp - courtesy of a three-cylinder engine. The 500cc 'stroker' screamed all the way to a top speed of 120mph. It did so in a way that brought tears to the eyes of those brought up on a strictly 'Brit bike' diet. Heck, the sound it made was better than 'Bill Haley & His Comets'! The H1's meagre weight of 383lb certainly helped with its blistering acceleration. Revs peaked at 7,500rpm ... with a noticeable surge as they entered the power band.

Ironically, Kawasaki's first forays into motorcycle manufacture were influenced by BSA. By now, though, the Japanese giant had forged its own style. Middleweight though it was, the H1 passed muster among the big Seventies 'muscle bikes'. Naked aggression more than made up for diminutive dimensions. The Kawasaki H1 stirred '70s bodies and souls in equal measure!

Honda CB77

Honda CB77 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

Honda began life in Hamamatsu, Japan. In a wooden shed! So, similar beginnings to Harley-Davidson - in Milwaukee, USA. Of course - like Harley - what Soichiro Honda's company went on to achieve is the stuff of motorcycling legend. Not surprising, really. That small wooden shed was home to the 'Honda Technical Research Institute'. That was more than a title ... it was a mission statement!

It took three years for Honda to produce a proprietary machine. After that, though, there was no stopping them. That first 98cc Honda was dubbed the 'Dream' - pretty apt, given what the future held in store for the firm. Sales of the Dream - and others - were sound. That set the scene for the two bikes which would throw open the doors of the two-wheeled world to Honda - the CB72 and CB77. It was in '63 that the larger of the two - the 305cc CB77 - changed the face of biking. It came well-equipped for the task. The CB77 was locked in combat with the 'Brit bikes' of the early Sixties. It did not quite clock up the 'ton' - but with a top speed of 95mph, it came pretty close. And how it got there was equally impressive. The CB77's parallel twin engine revved out to 9,000rpm. The whole bike weighed in at just 350lb dry. Enough said!

Several factors gave the CB77 the edge over similarly-sized Brit bikes. Its well-designed engine was key. A 180° crankshaft allowed the two pistons to move up and down alternately - balancing each other out. The motor was secured by a tubular steel frame. To that were attached telescopic front forks - and twin rear shocks. Both wheels came with a set of sure-stopping drum brakes. The result was that the CB77 accelerated smoothly, handled well, and pulled up in short order. In other words, it was a classic all-rounder. On top of that, it was oil-tight and reliable ... something which could not be said of every British-made bike on the road! No wonder, then, that it was sold as the 'Super Hawk' in the States. The CB77 was Honda's first crack at a sports bike. Suffice to say, it would have its successors!

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 British 1960s classic motorcycle

The Royal Enfield marque may not be as celebrated as some of its 'Brit Bike' brethren. The company logo, though, adorned a long line-up of sturdy, but stylish motorcycles. A prime example was the Interceptor 750.

Power output for the Interceptor 750 was 53bhp. Revs rose smoothly to 6,000rpm. Those stats would no doubt have impressed American buyers - at whom the 750cc capacity had, in large part, been targeted. In truth, the excellence of the engine made up for 'deficiencies' in other departments. The front brake, for example, was not the strongest ... and the forks could have been firmer.

In time, Royal Enfield suffered a financial meltdown. Sadly, it was one from which it never recovered. The Interceptor range had been in production throughout the Sixties. While it might not have been at the forefront of Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology', the Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 nonetheless showcased some of the best of British innovation, in that dynamic decade. The rights to Royal Enfield were subsequently licensed to India - and the marque became part of the 'retro revival' marketing boom. The Royal Enfield brand now has the kudos of being the longest-surviving motorbike manufacturer. Long may that continue!

NSU Supermax

NSU Supermax German 1950s classic motorcycle

NSU started out making bicycles. It built its first motorcycle in 1901. The German firm went on to release a steady stream of successful bikes - right up until the early Sixties. On both road and track, NSU were at the forefront of motorbike design and development. As such, they deserve their place in two-wheeled history every bit as much as their illustrious compatriots, BMW. Well, almost as much, anyway!

Actually, NSU began by knocking out knitting machines. Only then, did they branch out into bicycles. Cars, too, would subsequently be added to their manufacturing arsenal. NSU hit pay dirt when, in '29, they recruited Walter Moore - who had also worked at Norton. He helped shape NSU's first bike to be fitted with an overhead-camshaft engine. The result was not entirely dissimilar to the Norton CS1. That prompted wags at the British firm to opine that NSU was short for 'Norton Spares Used'! Ignoring such ribaldry, NSU pressed on regardless. By the time of the Second World War, they had become one of the world's biggest bike manufacturers.

Probably, NSU's finest hour came in the form of the 250cc 'Supermax'. First launched in '55, it lived up to its billing. The Supermax did pretty much everything well - or better! Acceleration and braking were equally impressive. Handling-wise, too, it was bang on the money. The bike's exceptional performance stemmed from a combination of its single overhead-cam motor, pressed-steel frame, and leading-link forks. The Supermax sailed to a top speed of 75mph. Such excellence, though, came with a high price-tag attached. Sadly for NSU, not enough motorcyclists were prepared to pay it. So, the '60s would see in a switch to car production. But not before NSU had sealed themselves into the annals of bike racing. In '53, Werner Haas won both the 125 and 250cc World Championships for NSU. He was the first German to achieve such feats. In '54, Haas took the 250 title again. Indeed, '55 saw NSU take the 250 crown for the third time in as many years. For sure, then, BMW always had a rival. NSU, too, produced a panoply of prestigious motorcycles, over the years. And none more so than the sublime 250 Supermax!

Panther M100

Panther M100 British 1930s classic motorcycle

A mere glance at the Panther M100 is enough to reveal its most striking asset. Seldom can a motorcycle engine have been quite as 'skewed' in its design as that of the M100. Its 'Sloper' motor did just that. It was tilted forward some 45°. If there was any concern about that interfering with oil circulation, it was unjustified. The M100 was nothing if not reliable.

The long stroke (100mm) of the 598cc Sloper served up an abundance of torque. That was handy - as many an M100 was pressed into side-car duty. As often as not, that came in the form of a 'Watsonian' single-seater. And if you were the one wedged snugly into the 'chair', the M100's top speed of 68mph was probably quite quick enough!

Panther were based in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England. No surprise, then, that their products were solid, rugged and dependable. Panther started out as Phelon and Moore (P&M). The first Sloper-equipped bike appeared in 1904. Others were to follow. The single-cylinder push-rod powerplant came complete with two air-cooled overhead valves. The dramatically-inclined unit was - and is - guaranteed to draw a crowd, among connoisseurs of classic motorcycles. The way in which the Panther's exhausts swooped down from the steeply-banked ports bordered on the exotic. And that from a motorcycle born and bred in Yorkshire - not a county traditionally associated with exoticism. This was at a time when a motorcycle and side-car were standard family transport. Above all else, then, the Panther M100 needed to get from A to B - and back again - with the minimum of fuss. That it accomplished ... and in style, too!

Kawasaki H1 500 Mach III

Kawasaki did not build its first bike - a 125cc two-stroke - until 1960. From the get-go, though, it was synonymous with high-...