Kawasaki Mystery Ship 1980


Dreams do come true if you put the effort and hard work into it, and the Kawasaki Mystery Ship is proof of that. In the chase of his dream motorcycle, American entrepreneur and motorcycle designer Craig Vetter started his career in 1966 by designing motorcycle fairings and achieved success with his prolific line of Windjammer fairings, sleek frame-mounted fiberglass bodywork that improved long-distance riding, fuel efficiency, and safety on a motorcycle, joined forces with motorcycle tuner expert and exhaust manufacturer Hideo “Pops” Yoshimura to butcher a Kawasaki KZ1000 MKII into Vetter’s dream bike.

The Kawasaki Mystery Ship was named after the “Type R Mystery Ship” racing airplane, displaying an innovative design and tuned engine. This bike was focused on aerodynamics and boosted speed.

“I’d always wanted to make my dream, ultimate motorcycle, which I called the Mystery Ship. To develop it, I thought if learned how to road race, it would make me a better designer. The Mystery Ship was America’s most exotic motorcycle in 1978. By then, motorcycles were no longer “Doing more with less.” The ones people wanted were burning more fuel than some cars, like the Honda CRX. I wanted to sell the business. My banker bought it, and left me with the Mystery Ship. With the main Vetter business gone, the Mystery Ship was sort of an orphaned project. I made ten of them.” Craig Vetter


With the KZ1000 MKII torn down to a bare frame, it was placed in a jig to ensure millimeter accuracy. The steering headstock was cut off and replaced with a new unit with a 26° rake. The frame strengthened, and any unneeded features were cut off to save weight. New shock mounts were installed, before being fitted with Mulholland Force 1 shocks. A new box-section swingarm was added in place of the original, and a matching set of lightweight three-spoke magnesium Dymag wheels were bolted on. The original brakes were kept, but the factory pads were swapped for higher-performance Ferodo units, and a high-performance Yoshimura 4-into-1 exhaust system was installed.

The innovative fairing and bodywork were built as a two-piece unit covering a 22.7l tank, new Lockhart oil cooler was also fitted under the headlight taking advantage of the clean airflow. A strict single-seat motorcycle designed for speed, but also a good touring motorcycle thanks to the wind protection and comfortable seat. Vetters all-enclosing bodywork design would become a common sportbike practice over the next decade.

                   (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)

The original plan was to build 200 Mystery Ships, priced at $9995 with five different performance options but only 10 were built making the Mystery Ship one of the rarest of modern limited-production motorcycles.

                  (Photo courtesy of Bonhams) 

Performance Options:
Stage 1 - $799 / 101 hp – 1105cc – 10,000 rpm.
Stage 2 - $1134 / 108 hp – 10,500 rpm – ported and polished head.
Stage 3 - $1348 / 116 hp – Same as Stage 2 but with larger valves.
Stage 4 - Full Superbike Specification (details and pricing offered to customers on request).
Turbo - For around $1,700 a turbocharged engine was also optional for around $1,700 and developed with Russ Collins of R.C. Engineering.

This heavily customized bespoke motorcycle is a rare find, recently the number 6 was sold in an auction for €46,720, number 7 is said to be owned by Malcom Forbes, the famous entrepreneur who owned Forbes Magazine and also owned a Number 3 previously. The Throttle Stop Museum in Wisconsin and Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Leeds, Alabama displays a number 5 and number 9 respectively.

You can find more about each of the 10 models at www.vettermysteryship.com, a website that tells more in-depth about this fantastic bike.