Kawasaki and motorsport, that sounds strange but it did happen… Well, not really but they tried getting into motorsport, and here’s the story of that factory backed effort.
Known for their power sports products, ATVs, engines and of course their motorbikes, Kawasaki is much more than that, they also do tankers, train, hydraulic equipment and the list goes on and on… One of their effort and that is where the roots of that motorsport attempt are was their introduction to the U.S. market back in the mid sixties.
Through one of their employees, Darrel Krause, they started an engine division based in Minneapolis around 1970, their main goal was the snowmobiles market and providing engines was their task. Then came the idea of getting some exposure for their engines in 1972. They ended up with a silly idea, the build of a race car and a series which would use the 440cc 2-stroke two-cylinders snowmobile engine. Harvey Aschenbrenner was hired for the task, the design concept was to be a CanAm look-alike as the series was at its peak and the designs used there proved appealing to the public. Once the concept was settled, 3 months were given to build the show car in order to display it to the public.
Made out of sketches, bent metal and rough measurements, he built an aluminium monocoque tub with tubular sub frames. The whole car was mainly built by a one-manned division with the help of some local shops in order to get the machining and bodywork jobs done as well as sourcing some stuff from the local salvage yard. The engine was to be the 440cc racing engine and transmission would be sourced from one of the in-house stock with a lot of adaptation and guessing from Harvey.
The project came together a week before the snowmobile show deadline and the car was rolled out at the Elco Speedway for its shakedown run and photoshoot. The car didn’t run well with transmission and gearing issues but they did manage some laps before the car stopped on track. Funny is that it stopped in front of the Kawasaki advertising, and that was the perfect spot for the pictures. During the show, it got a lot of interest and it had already been modified with an axle clutch which would engage at 7000RPM in order to compensate the miss geared original drive system. And actually, it proved successful with a 14.56 seconds on the third-mile oval against a track record of 14.54.
The project then went further, the car being disassembled so a torque converter could be fitted. At the same time, he was given the order to attend a demo run at Laguna Seca during a motorcycle event in two weeks time. The timing proved very short and getting the car back together as well as logistics sorted, there wasn’t time to test the new device… And of course, it didn’t go well with the engine loosing a piston on the first fire-up and then only completing two 50MPH laps, a complete disaster…
That was to be the end of the project. Interest was there, parts and chassis were being done, engine testing was underway but all in all it never happened with Kawasaki focusing on other projects.. A factory one-manned effort, that sound hilarious today but that’s how it was back in the days and just imagine a series of 2-stroke engine oval tracker, oh god, what a sound !
My regards to the Kneeslider for the informations and photo source on that very particular car.