The Dream Of A 13 Year Old Finally Fulfilled

Back in 1971, I was 13 years old and had a friend who was 17. His name was Gary and he was, by most any standard, a complete juvenile delinquent. Originally from Indiana, I think he got into so much trouble that his parents gave up on him and sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in my town, Kirkwood, Missouri.

Gary’s car was a 1969 dark green Nova SS that he drove like an absolute maniac. Every time he dropped me off at my house he would do a hellacious burnout. It was a testament to how burned out my parents were on child-rearing by the time I came along that they let me hang out with him. The guy was dangerous! But this story isn’t about cars- it’s about motorcycles.

Gary also owned a 1967 Kawasaki Samurai A1SS that he kept at my house because his aunt and uncle wouldn’t let him have a bike. It was blue with twin chrome high-mounted side pipes. The A1SS was the street scrambler version of the Kawasaki A1, released in 1967 as the first “fast” Kawasaki. It was a 250cc two-stroke rotary valve twin, with a claimed 31 hp from the factory. Kawasaki marketing said it would do the quarter mile in 13.8 and had a 105 mph top speed. Whether or not those numbers were true, we thought that motorbike was the fastest thing in the world!

An early magazine ad for the Kawasaki Samurai 250 A1SS. Picture this in blue, and you’ve got Gary’s bike.

Fast forward to the present day, and at age 65 and 300 or so bikes later, I now have my own 250 Samurai. It’s an A1 model (purely a street bike) with only 1305 miles on the clock. And it only took me 50 years of searching to find a good one that I could afford.

Yes, a couple months ago I spied one on eBay, owned by a small town sheriff in Nebraska. After tracking it for several days and clearing it with my wife, I reached out to the seller with more questions. “Jim” was his name and he was a great guy. He told me that although the bike ran well, he rarely rode it. He and his wife had a big Harley they put a ton of miles on but this bike wasn’t being used and had to go. Jim even had a title and two keys for it!

Sheriff Jim’s bike, the day I picked it up. Beautiful.

So I placed my bid, fearful it would go too high and price me out of the auction (there’s a restored A1 on the market right now for $15,500) but miraculously, it never did. I won the auction, and then had to wait for Chadd, the delivery guy we use at Janus Motorcycles for our new bikes, to go through Nebraska, pick it up for me and deliver it to my home in Arkansas. It took more than a month for him to get it (Chadd is a very busy guy as he hauls more than 600 bikes a year), but a few days ago, it landed.

Wow, does this bike ever transport me back to my youth! It fired right up after I put some fuel it it, and although the tires were almost flat, the brakes and clutch needed some adjusting, the bike is in pretty good shape. The inside of the fuel tank is clean (a huge problem with old bikes and I am not a fan of “creaming” the insides of motorcycle gas tanks) and the wheels are in great shape. And it is just the way I remember my friend Gary’s bike- a raucous, loud, piston-slapping, fin-vibrating, smoking beast of a motorcycle, geared high and peaky as hell. Plus it makes that intoxicating smell that all two strokes make. I love it!

Needs a little TLC, as in old tank kneepads and this horrid excuse for a shift lever, among a few other minor elements.

By the time the Samurai finally got to my house, I had already ordered and received a badly-needed replacement shift lever as the one it had was some sort of homemade abomination that is now stored in my garage’s “ugly parts” department. I also had a new two-tone reproduction seat cover that I installed soon thereafter.

The tach doesn’t work (probably needs a cable), and I will eventually repaint all the body work in it’s proper stock color scheme (someone painted it at some point in a non-metallic red). I’ve since pulled off the bad homemade buddy pegs and Harley-esque metallic stickers off the oil tank and side cover, and did a little rewiring of the battery while I was at it. I also removed and cleaned the air filter that clearly had a mouse living in it at some point, and loosened up the triple crowns to straighten out the forks and headlight ears. I adjusted the chain and the levers on the handlebars. More parts are still on the way, like new reproduction rubber tank kneepads and footpeg rubbers, along with proper side cover decals and four new turn signals.

Shaping up.

Of course, when I can get clearance from Mama I will pull off and toss the crusty stock exhaust system and replace it with some brand new polished expansion chambers from Higgspeed, as well as install some lower-rise superbike bars and new grips. I like to keep things as stock as possible, but I love what chambers do for a two-stroke and despise bars with a 5-6” rise.

It won’t take me long to get this bike where I want it and it’s not going to sit there as garage decoration when done. I love riding two stroke street bikes, and have owned every model of Kawasaki triple made over the last 50 years, culminating in a ‘72 H2 that I owned for longer than any other bike but an ‘84 VT500 Ascot. But now I’m older, and the 250cc A1 does all I need it do for running around town and reliving my youth!

Mark Zweig

*Mark, Ted and Rob have all discovered their long sought-after “unicorns”, but what about you? Have you found the dream motorcycle of your youth? Are you still searching? Tell us about your “unicorn” in the comments down below!

Mark astride his “unicorn”, the 1967 Kawasaki Samurai 250 A1.

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. Lyle Kruger

    I owned a 250 ASS as shown in the photo. I can attest to the data in the article. It would do a hundred miles an hour sitting straight up and timed to the mile markers on the interstate highway. It would also surprise the hell out of a BSA or Triumph. I have a picture of it sitting in my drive just like the pictures in the article. Lyle K.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Thanks for the comments, Lyle. They sound like little beasts, back in their day.

      Reply
    • Ben

      I did own one when they came first out in Holland. Love it. Did put a fairing on it and it went like the clappers. 170 or so Km/hr. At a service they put they put the wrong sparkplug on one of the cilinders, which resulted in a hole in the top of a piston. Great bike.

      Reply
    • Mark Zweig

      It was the first “fast” Kawasaki—preceding the ferocious H1 by a couple years!

      Reply
    • Mark Zweig

      Love it! Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
    • Mark Zweig

      Wow! That’s a lot of miles on one of these!

      Reply
  2. Mark Zweig

    Since the article was published, I did change the turn signals and replace the tank kneepads, plus I found and installed a proper countershaft sprocket cover. Now I am replacing the tach cable (a real pain to get to) with a used one I found on eBay.

    The wiring of the turn signals is confounding. The original signal bulb sockets with bulbs are inside the headlight and were stuffed in an old military K-ration can. They worked. If a bulb was pulled from either none of the signals work. So it will take me a little fiddling to get them all working and wired properly.

    Reply
  3. Dave Green

    Hi Mark, so glad I stumbled on your post, I have a blue 68 A1 I inherited that has been garaged for years and since I have recently retired my goal is to revive it. It appears relatively complete and I know was runnable when it got retired probably 25 years ago. Shop manual availability? Any suggestions of procedures and resources would be most welcome. I’ve been a dirt bike rider with the attendant maintenance over the years but never before involved with restoration.
    Thanks, Dave Green

    Reply
    • Mark Zweig

      Hey, Dave. I don’t have a manual for this bike but have been able to find anything I didn’t know online. You are welcome to email me and you and I can set up a phone call to talk about your bike if you like.

      I can be reached at mark@janusmotorcycles.com

      Reply
  4. Steve

    My unicorn is a CB400SS. Yeah it’s a four stroke, but it’s rarely seen in Europe, and is really hard to find in decent condition.

    Reply
    • Mark Zweig

      Beautiful bikes! I had a 550-four in college and rode that thing everywhere. Love the smaller in-line fours!

      Reply
  5. Nissantwa

    Thanks for the memories. I put 25,000 trouble free miles on my 250 Samurai & gave it to a friend who added another 10k. Loved that bike and it’s obnoxious exhaust note. Rode it 600 miles a day more than once.

    Reply
  6. Ron Hinkle

    It was my first bike (not counting my mini bike Ha Ha). In 1977 I was 16 years old, my cousin sold me a A1SS 250 Samurai for $300.00 and He taught me how to ride. We were quite a team going down the road together. Him on his H1 500 and me on my A1SS 250 Samurai. I only wish I had a picture of us together.

    Reply

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