Celebrating fifty years in the US market, the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has opened its corporate vaults allowing a peek at the historic advertising campaigns that drew American riders into Kawasaki’s saddles.
Standing alongside names such as the Ninja sportbike and KX motocross lines, perhaps no motorcycle model name has become more important to Kawasaki in the United States than Vulcan. The first in a series of models extending over 32 years was the 1985 Vulcan.
Launched in 1984, the Vulcan’s liquid-cooled V-twin engine design was a breakout for Kawasaki, representing the company’s first American-style cruiser. In fact, the Vulcan was the first Kawasaki model designed from the ground up as a cruiser, in contrast to the previous decade’s products, which were all developed from existing streetbike architecture.
History has shown, this was an essential move as the cruiser category was clearly moving toward V-twins, with various Japanese competitors either there already, or on the way.
“We were looking for a name with a ‘V’ in it that would indicate a V-twin engine, while also saying something about the motorcycle itself,” explains Mike Vaughan, Director of Marketing at Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (KMC) from 1979-90. “As the Roman god of fire, Vulcan seemed logical.” After Vaughan suggested the name, there was no dissention – it was absolutely the right call for Kawasaki’s new cruiser.
Every incredible motorcycle story has its own notable twists and turns with the Vulcan being no exception. The model was originally known as the VN700A and designed specifically for the American market. However, the first model was produced when the U.S. had placed a tariff on 700cc and larger motorcycles with the goal of protecting American motorcycle manufacturing interests.
To avoid this expense, the first Vulcan enjoyed a displacement of 699cc. The engine size would be increased in 1986 when the tariff ended, resulting in the Vulcan 750.
Kawasaki's 2016 Vulcan S - Source Kawasaki
Apart from simply being a V-twin, the Vulcan represented a new generation of V-twin motorcycles, with dual overhead camshafts, liquid cooling, and shaft drive. Kawasaki engineers obviously found the right gear with the Vulcan as the model lasted for more than twenty years, until 2006.
Another indication designers were on the right road, in 1987 the Vulcan 750 was joined by the big Vulcan 1500, which would enjoy a 22-year production run of its own in various forms, including the retro style Drifter motorcycle. Then came the Vulcan 800, Vulcan 1600, Vulcan 2000, Vulcan 900, and the latest edition, the Vulcan 1700. All retained the original Vulcan’s mission of muscular V-twin performance, a refined and comfortable ride, and characteristic Vulcan styling and quality.
Looking at the line-up today, the 2016 Vulcan lineup includes two 1700cc Vulcan 1700 models, Voyager tourer and Vaquero bagger, three 900cc Vulcan 900 models made up by 900 Classic cruiser, 900 Classic LT light tourer, and custom-look Vulcan 900 Custom as well as three 650cc Vulcan models, streetwise Vulcan S ABS, racy Vulcan S ABS Café and exclusive Vulcan S ABS SE.
Kawasaki's 2016 Vaquero - Source Kawasaki