A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
by bj max
Back in the early seventies I rode a Harley pan head bob job. It had a chrome plated twisted steel sissy bar and the exhaust pipes were sawed off and dumped a thrilling racket just aft of the foot pegs. At that time I was the Parts Manager for our local GM dealer. I made $125.00 a week plus commission and as a supplement to my income I was furnished with a new Chevrolet Pickup and a key to the dealership gas pumps. Not too bad a deal for a skinny kid in his twenties.
When I arrived for work in the mornings I rumbled through the already open double bay doors into the main shop and up to the parts window. I parked the bike off to the right, out of the way, dismounted, unlocked the parts door and I was on the job. After hanging my jacket and helmet on a nail I walked back out into the shop and around to the coffee machine, poured me a cup and joined in the early morning “briefing” with the owner, shop manager, body shop boss and a couple of mechanics.
Walker Chevy had been in business since the turn of the century and the present owner, James Allen Walker or Jimmy as everybody called him, had inherited it from his Dad. Rumor had it that the money behind the dealership was provided by a couple silent partners, Mr. Charlie and Mr. Doug, Jimmy’s uncles. And I think that was probably true. The uncles seldom came around but when they did the boss jumped and that leads me to one day in the summer of 1970.
I was sitting at my desk browsing the inventory cards for an upcoming order when Jimmy stuck his head in the door and asked if I had a minute. Well I really didn’t but what could I say? “C’mon, hurry up.” he motioned. What’s the big rush I wondered? But as soon as I stepped outside I knew why he was so excited. Mr. Charlie was waiting and you didn’t keep Mr. Charlie waiting, not for long anyway if you valued your head.
Mr. Charlie had his thirteen year old grandson with him and behind them a couple of mechanics were unloading this ugly little slime green motorcycle. After introductions and handshakes my boss said Mr. Charlie wanted me to do him a favor. “Sure, anything” I said. It seems Mr. Charlie had promised his grandson that he would buy him a motor scooter for his birthday. Jimmy explained to me that the boy had found a used motorcycle instead and had argued that even though it was bigger than a scooter it’s teeny tiny little engine wasn’t any more powerful.
Now it wasn’t that Mr. Charlie didn’t trust his grandson or anything like that. A teenage boy would never lie to his Grandpa would he? ‘Course not. But after thinkin’ back to when he was that age and remembering all the lies he told his elders Mr. Charlie decided that just to be on the safe side maybe he should get an experienced rider’s opinion. So he decided that I should road test the little motorcycle before he bought it. Notice “he” decided that I should road test the bike which meant I didn’t have a choice.
I glanced at the kid, raised an eyebrow and let him know that I was on to him and that I didn’t appreciate this fix he had got me into. That ugly little motorcycle was not some sickly thirty cubic inch puddle-jumper as he had described. Far from it. This was the infamous Kawasaki H1 Mach III two-stroke and with 60 horsepower and a gross weight of roughly 380 pounds it was nothing more than a rocket sled on wheels. The kid looked up at me, his big puppy dog eyes pleading that as one two-wheeled fanatic to another I should do the right thing. And the right thing as far as he was concerned was for me to lie like a dog.
But I felt for the kid, I really did. My yearning for a Moped when I was his age was still a vivid memory so I understood what was at stake here. But I also liked my job and if I didn’t rat the kid out I could get fired. And what if I lied and then he went out and got hurt or something. He is a teenager after all and nobody would argue that teenage boys are the dumbest form of life on earth. That combined with a bike that was a handful even with an experienced rider at the controls was a dangerous combination, one that I’d just as soon not be involved in.
The mechanics had the bike gassed up and ready for the big test ride. I had never ridden a Mach III but I knew of it’s reputation and, smug in my belief that I could ride anything, I wasn’t concerned. I fired it up and the thing belched a cloud of black smoke and ring-a-ding-dinged itself to life.
Coughing and gagging, the mechanics stepped clear of the toxic cloud and out of my way. I gave the beast some gas, dumped the clutch and was rewarded with the biggest wheelie I had ever pulled before or since. The motorcycle stood straight up and I went from a seated position to a standing position in the blink of an eye; the only part of me still in contact with the motorcycle being my hands. I let off the gas and the front wheel came crashing down. But the momentum pushing me backward rolled the throttle open again and sent me hurtling toward the north wall of the dealership. Half on and half off I managed to pull myself forward enough to chop the throttle but it was too little too late and I was on the verge of slamming head-first into a solid brick wall. In desperation I banked hard left. The bike responded but not quick enough to keep the right handlebar from grazing the wall and gouging out a foot long scar that is still there to this day. I wrestled the bike to a stop, shut it down then looked back at that scrape. That was just too close. I heard Jimmy yelling, looked up, and he motioned for me to come on back. Said Mr. Charlie had seen enough.
I pushed the bike slowly back to the group. The kid glared at me with pure unadulterated hate. He thought I had popped that wheelie on purpose but nothing could be farther from the truth. My intention was to take it easy and give an honest if somewhat diluted opinion to Mr. Charlie and help the kid out a little. But I underestimated the power of the Mach III and it simply got away from me. It was so much more than anything I had ever ridden and my antics ruined any chance that kid would ever get his hands on anything beyond a Moped anytime soon.
It’s just as well though. A twelve-year old had no business with a motorcycle of that caliber. The overpowered Mach III with it’s unbelievable acceleration was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and it embarrassed a lot of big-bore riders back in the day. And its moniker wasn’t just hype. The H1 Mach III is considered by some to be the world’s first super bike and deservedly so in my humble opinion.