Motorcycles and movies go hand in hand. There’s nothing more badass—or menacing—for the collective imagination than a hero or an antagonist in the saddle of a bike. Motorcycles are behind some of Hollywood’s most iconic scenes. Think about it: Hunt and Ambrose’s rivalry wouldn’t have the same climax without motorcycles in Mission: Impossible 2. Hunt’s escape from the French authorities in Mission: Impossible Fallout wouldn’t have the same impact if it weren’t for the BMW R nineT he steals.
Ok. Maybe we should say that motorcycles and Tom Cruise go hand in hand. Here’s yet another proof of this. If we say Top Gun, what comes to mind? Planes, cheesy music, negative 4Gs, and...? Maverick’s bike, of course. Maverick wouldn’t look as cool and dreamy if he didn’t ride a bike at some point in the movie. It’s no wonder the daredevil character is back in the saddle of a Kawi (a Ninja H2R to be specific) in the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick sequel.
Then, when you take the time to look into the OG Top Gun bike, aka the Kawasaki GPZ900R’s history and that's when the cool factor goes through the roof. Seriously, Tom Cruise didn’t make the bike badass—we’re pretty sure that it’s the other way around.
The folks at Finely Machined decided to showcase just how awesome the famous Ninja in their “5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Top Gun Motorcycle” video. Here’s a closer look at some of the coolest history bits about the GPZ900R.
A 6-Year Secret
Team Green needed to follow up the famous Z1 with an equally hard-hitting sports model and to achieve that, it also needed to innovate. The team tried several engine layouts to meet its high standards and finally settled for a 908cc inline-four.
It took six years for Kawasaki to develop the bike... in secret. At the time, the internet wasn’t a thing so the absence of online leaks and spy shots definitely helped safekeep the motorcycle maker’s secret. Ultimately, the six-year process was well worth it considering the original Ninja became a legend and set important milestones for the industry.
The First Ninja
The GPZ is widely recognized as the very first Kawasaki motorcycle to rock the Ninja badge—a name that rapidly became a synonym for “crotch rocket” slapped on the tank of the bike that incidentally inspired the expression—and one even the uninitiated are familiar with.
Engine as Stressed Member... in 1984
While using the engine as a stressed member has become a fairly standard design in the industry, back in the 80s, it wasn't as widespread as it is today.
Some bike makers used the setup as early as the beginning of the 20th Century like Harley-Davidson with the Model W, but it took close to a century for the “frameless” layout to gain in popularity.
The GPZ900R is a member of the club. To help save weight, the designers removed the frame's downtube and relied on the inline-four block for structural rigidity instead. This solution helped lower the bike’s gravity center and weight, resulting in a light and dynamic handling.
Fast and Furious
The same way the Kawasaki Z1 set speed records a decade earlier, the GPZ900R set a few motorcycle milestones of its own. The GPZ went down in history as the first production motorcycle to bust through the 150-mph glass ceiling. Its title of fastest motorcycle of its time is what seduced adrenaline junky Tom Cruise and informed the production’s decision to feature it in the now-cult Top Gun movie.
Racer Geoff Johnson even earned a victory in the Production class at the 1984 Isle of Man TT in the saddle of a GPZ—the same year the model launched.
The bike is also the considered to be the first blow in the Japanese modern-day speed wars, a corporate race to the fastest production motorcycle that ultimately gave birth to some of the most famous sportbikes in history including the Gixxer, the Hayabusa, and the Honda CBR1000RR.
This also led the manufacturers to subscribe to the mythical early 2000s’ gentleman agreement, a self-imposed cap that limits the speed of production bikes at 186 mph to keep the competition from getting out of hands and becoming lethal for the customers.
The Aircraft Fuel Filler
The list of industry firsts introduced by the GPZ also features the aircraft fuel filler-inspired fuel cap—the flush-fitted, spring-mounted fuel cap that replaced the bulky, twist cap.
Revival in the Works?
The Kawasaki GPZ900R was ultimately discontinued in 2003 after a two-decade stint on the market, but rumors now suggest that Kawasaki is preparing a revival. At the end of 2019, Kawasaki released a video illustrating the model’s evolution from 1984 to 2003 which was apparently enough to spark the rumor. With the new Top Gun movie set to debut in 2021, many suggest this could be Kawasaki’s chance to bring back the Ninja 900.
We don’t see a need for it considering we currently have the ZX-6R, ZX-10R, and ZX-14R to fulfill all our speed desires (not to mention the Ninja H2 lineup) but, hey. For history’s sake, why not?
Sources: Kawasaki Museum, Wikipedia