In this piece we look at the Kawasaki powered 500 GP bike made and successfully raced by Frenchman Eric Offenstadt.
The advent of (comparatively) cheap two-stroke motors in the late 1960s/early 1970s began to democratise the 500cc World Championship grid. Instead of an MV Agusta in the hands of Agostini, Panani, Bonera or Read leading a following pack of Norton Manxs’ home by minutes, a growing number of that pack were now mounted on various two-stroke powered machines, and from Jack Findlay’s win on a Suzuki at the Ulster GP in 1971, winning races.
It wasn’t only factories such as Suzuki and Kawasaki who fielded two-stroke powered bikes. Enterprising privateers/engineers saw it was possible to take the motor from a 500cc two-stroke road bike and very cost effectively tweak it to provide reasonably competitive power. If not as much or as reliably as the MVs then at least far more than the four-stroke singles they had been using.
Suzuki’s 500 cc Titan/Cobra parallel-twin was one such favourite, so too was Kawasaki’s 500 H1 triple. Frenchman Eric Offenstadt ended up taking a slightly different approach. Offenstadt had started racing at age 19, in 1958, and by 1961 had won the French 175cc Championship. Another successful year followed before he switched to Formula 2 and 3 car racing.
He returned to bikes in 1970 and backed by the French Kawasaki importer, won the LeMans 1000 km endurance race and finished first in the 500 cc class at Bol d’Or. Along the way he also had two top ten finishes in the 500 cc World Championship. In 1971 he finished sixth in the championship on a Kawasaki triple housed in an alloy monocoque chassis of his own design.
His ingenuity was fully shown in 1973 when (at the urging of the French motorcycle federation) he entered this bike, again using his own monocoque chassis. However to get around the H1’s problem of engine width he used a 750 H2 road bike motor that had one cylinder removed. His own brand SMAC alloy wheels and front forks were also fitted. He scored fourth and fifth places during the season. Not bad for a hacked up road bike!
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