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The Drifter is born from a custom motorcycle built by CobraUSA in May 1996 [ 1 ]. An established name in the motorcycle industryCobra manufactures a wide range of products including exhaust pipes and accessories (windshields, lowers, drive shaft covers, floorboards, freeway bars, light bars, visors, etc). An article published on the CruiserCustomizing.com web site credits Cobra with having introduced the concept of customizing metric motorcycles [ 2 ] .
Members of the Cobra Special Products Division Ken Boyco and Denny Berg designed and fabricated the Cobra Super Chief over a two-month period in 1996 by converting a Vulcan Classic into a creation which would closely resemble the Indian Chief of the late 1940s. According to Cobra, the following magazines featured their Super Chief custom creation: Rider – September 1996, Boulevard Magazine – November/December 1996, Custom Machines (Europe) – Issue #1, and Motorcycle Tour Cruiser – July 1997.
In the Rider article, [ 3 ] Don Emde, credited with having inspired the project, said that the object of the exercise had been to marry classic Indian styling with contemporary technology in order to create a motorcycle which one might have expected Indian to manufacture had it still been in existence at the time the project was launched. In replicating the nostalgic look of the Indian, the front fender light, rear luggage rack, and leather fringe were deliberately omitted. Three years later, the team revisited this theme by creating a classic-styled police motorcycle. [ 4 ]
Shipping to Japan
The Kawasaki Vulcan Super Chief was eventually shipped to Japan where it would inspire the creation and launch of the 1999 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Drifter whose blacked out handlebars, frame, forks and shocks as well as gray engine base served to emulate the classic look. While the Super Chief’s turn signals had been located in the bike’s spotlights, the Drifter came equipped with conventional turn signals. While also serving a functional purpose, Kawasaki offered driving lamps as accessories which could be added to the bike to enhance its appearance.
The Drifter’s retro look was achieved by using the Vulcan 1500 as a base from which to generate a streamlined design which would evoke a classic appearance while relying upon the modern technology such that despite its 1940s appearance, the Drifter was powered by a fuel-injected liquid-cooled 1470 cc V-twin transmitting power by a five-speed transmission featuring an automatic neutral finder. A drive shaft served to transfer power from the engine and transmission to the rear wheel.
Straddling a 65.2-inch wheelbase, it weighed in at 322 kg (709 pounds). That weight is reigned in by single disk brakes front rear.
Kawasaki repeated the blacked out look in 2000, then in 2001 introduced a new look which included chromed forks and accessories, a larger gasoline tank, and a slightly modified seat. And, with the 2001, this classic now came with a stock solo seating as opposed to the two-up seat which had been standard issue on the 1999 and 2000 models.
The Drifter’s design drew a positive response from those who prefer the Indian Chief’s deeply valanced classic fender skirts to the more traditional fender style. Rear air shocks, original swingarm arrangement and progressive front suspension made it a comfortable cruiser capable of covering great distances comfortably. Tire tubes were stock as Kawasaki followed Cobra’s lead and used chromed spoke wheels to complete the nostalgic look it was seeking to recreate.
Shortly after the Gilroy Indian factory closed its doors, Kawasaki withdrew the Drifter from the north-American market.
Following its 2005 model year release, the 1500 Drifter was retired from the Kawasaki stable. Its lighter weight counterpart, the 805 c.c. Drifter, introduced in 2000, would remain in production for one more year before it too ceased production.
Vulcan Drifter Riders – Vulcan Drifter information including pictures, technical information, customization tips, accessory sources and historical information.
Birth of the Drifter – Vulcan Drifter historical information including original material from Denny Berg.
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