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|09-01-2015, 05:13 AM||#1|
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An Epic Collection of Historic Kawasaki Racebikes
Lorraine and David Crussell in their shop. Lorraine is an accomplished AHRMA racer too, winning multiple races over the past two seasons.
An otherwise modest house on a nondescript suburban street in aptly named Pleasanton, California, is not where you would expect to find one of the largest assemblages of Kawasaki Grand Prix racing motorcycles in the world. But that’s exactly where David and Lorraine Crussell keep their remarkable collection, with two dozen racebikes actually inside the house and even more in a shop out back.
Dave says his decorating strategy is simple: “I keep the ‘pointy tank’ Kawasakis in the entryway, the small Kaws in the dining room, and Denco bikes in the master bedroom. My water-cooled 750s, the 500 GP bikes, and the original H2Rs—five of just 35 ever made—are all in the living room.” Martha Stewart might not agree, but it looks great to us.
Why the fascination with smoky, old Kawasaki two-stroke “widowmakers” and all their racing variants? It goes way back, says Dave, who now works as an operating partner for a Bay-Area private- equity fund.
“I’ve owned Kawi triples since I was 17, but I sold all my bikes when I moved to the US from the UK 23 years ago,” he recalls. “Then I purchased an H2 triple the day after I arrived in America. I’d flown into Wisconsin with a pregnant wife and one-year-old son. I read the local paper that night and saw a classified ad for an H2 for a ridiculously low price. I bought it the next day. Unfortunately, I had no US motorcycle license. When I went to work on Monday for my orientation, I was relieved to meet Peter, a software engineer with a motorcycle endorsement. He rode it home for me the very next night!”
From those humble beginnings, the Crussell collection continued to grow steadily. Two of the bikes Crussell has had the longest are a pair of street-legal, Denco-powered H2s he has owned for more than two decades. Denco was a tuning firm based in Fremont, California, run by Dennis Dean and two-stroke tuning guru (and dragracing legend) Tony Nicosia. Denco made a series of performance packages for H2 models beginning with the Cobra 90, which consisted of pipes and a carb kit, said to be good for 90 hp. Additional porting created the King Cobra 120; extensive top-end work made the Pro Cobra 138; and who knows what black magic made the Ultra Pro Cobra 147. Crussell now owns one of each of all the Denco bikes.
Crussell’s relationship with the Kawasaki brand isn’t exclusive—he also collects and races Yamaha TZs like this TZ750 modified specially for the Isle of Man Classic TT, where Crussell was named “Top Newcomer” in 2012.
When Crussell started roadracing in ’98—he’s a many-time American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) champion who won five national championships in 2011 alone—of course it had to be on a Kawasaki triple, an original factory H2R that he still successfully competes with in AHRMA vintage events today.
“I simply love these big two-strokes,” Crussell says. “The power surge. The smell of burning oil. The noise! And the H2R is the king—all go and no slow with 110 horsepower, 310 pounds, skinny tires, and horrible brakes!”
After many years of careful collecting, Crussell has assembled an essentially vertical collection of Kawasaki GP bikes spanning from a 1968 A1R to a 1978 KR750. Crussell says his collection traces two distinct lines of Kawasaki racebike development, one starting with the ’68 A1R (250cc two-stroke parallel twin), then continuing with a ’69 A1RA, a ’70 H1R (500cc two-stroke inline-triple), ’71 H1RA, and ’75 H1RW. The second line begins with the 1972 H2R, a descendant of the H1RA but with a 750cc two-stroke inline-triple. Crussell also owns ’73 and ’74 variants with minor frame and engine improvements, as well as the ’75 KR750 that introduced water-cooling, then the final version, represented here by the ’78 KR750. Together these machines document all of Kawasaki’s chassis and engine racing development during that period, Crussell says.
The first of what Crussell calls his “collector” racebikes was an incomplete and mechanically needy H1R once owned and raced by famed tuner Al Gunter. After that, Crussell says, “things got complicated—and quickly.”
One of the bikes Crussell is most proud of is the ex-Yvon Duhamel factory H2R, serial #1. Duhamel raced this bike in late ’72 and all of the ’73 season, as well as the British Match Races and Imola in ’74. “If you see a picture of Duhamel on an H2R,” Crussell says, “it’s probably this bike.” Crussell found it for sale in the UK by chance while surfing the web one Thanksgiving day.
“The description was brief and there was only one small picture,” Crussell remembers. “It was too late to call the guy, so I rang him the next morning. He verified the engine and frame number and answered a bunch of questions satisfactorily. Magnesium triple clamps and similar works parts indicated it was a special machine. I committed to buying it on the spot and sent him a deposit immediately then quickly arranged a flight to the UK. My parents still live there, so I rented a van and drove to Liverpool with my dad to pick it up. A day later the bike and I were headed back to the US.”
Elapsed time for the whole deal was less than a week, Crussell says. “I’ve learned that you have to strike quickly when historically significant bikes appear on the market.” At the same time, building a collection of this depth can be a long game. “Bikes like these take a long time to gather,” he says. “It’s not unusual for me to chase a target for five years. I’m working on one now that I have 12 years into, and I still haven’t bagged it.”
Crussell has other ex-Duhamel bikes too, including the #17 Kawasaki KR750 originally built in ’76 and then upgraded to its present specifications in ’78. This is the bike Duhamel rode at Mosport in the F750 class in ’78 and ’79 and is still equipped with magnesium carbs and all the other special parts that were only fitted to works bikes.
Another personal favorite bike is the ex-Rusty Bradley H1RA. Rusty Bradley was an up-and-coming amateur racer from Texas—some said maybe the most naturally talented American roadracer ever—who won many races on an H1R in ’70, before he was killed in a crash in the first turn of the very first race at Daytona in 1971, riding a brand-new Kawasaki H1RA supplied by Boston Cycles. This is the very bike that Crussell now owns. “The bike was shown in the AMA Museum for many years,” Crussell says, “then was sold about 15 years ago at the annual motorcycle auction at Daytona during Bike Week. The buyer, a fellow racer, is a good friend. I purchased the bike from him about 10 years ago, replaced some missing engine internals, and made it a runner again.”
Looking closely at the photos, you can see that Kawasakis are not Crussell’s sole domain—he’s also become quite an aficionado of Yamaha TZs too. “I had a water-cooled KR and Suzuki TR, too, and so I wanted a twin-shock TZ to complete the line-up,” Crussell explains. “I purchased my first TZ700 from the UK a little over 12 years ago. Three years ago, I got a call from a friend in Canada about another complete, late-model TZ750 for sale. I thought, ‘Why not, and let’s give this one a go at the track.’”
After a complete strip-down and rebuild, Crussell went racing on it. “I’d raced against TZ750s several times on my H2R and had always blown them away—it turns out the riders were parading, not racing. It turns out it’s quite significant, the jump in technology from my early ’70s H2R to the later TZ750. After massively adjusting my riding style, I started to go even quicker on the TZ.”
Crussell expects an even greater jump in performance from his latest project, a special TZ750 constructed specifically for the Isle of Man Classic TT. Standard TZs make 120 hp and handle marginally; Crussell’s IOM TZ makes 150 hp and handles substantially better after upgrades like modern wheels, fork, and brakes. Crussell has been competing in the Classic TT since 2012, when he was awarded “Top Newcomer” status in the Superbike class riding his Kawasaki Z1. He rode the TZ there in 2013, making a 107.5 mph lap that was good enough for second in class and 16th overall in the Formula 1 category—despite almost running out of gas because the thirsty TZ sucked down nearly 3.5 gallons of gas per 37.7-mile lap!
Despite these adventures in TZ-dom, it’s still the lime-green Kawis that take pride of place in Crussell’s home and heart. “Our house cleaner is forbidden to touch anything with wheels,” Crussell says. “I dust them all myself!” And pity the interior decorator, when it’s time for the remodel; what color best complements Kawasaki’s team green?
SEE MORE classic two-strokes HERE
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