Rare rides: 1999 Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter

Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter

There are probably less than 40 Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter cruisers in Australia but one owner, Norman Hall, recently caught up with two other Drifters.

“There are lots of interesting and rare motorcycles to come across that can put a smile on your face,” says Norman of Melbourne.

“The Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter is just one of those bikes that you will be lucky to ever come across.”

Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter
Norman Hall with his Drifter

Rare Drifter

Murray Sayle of Kawasaki Australia says the Kawasaki Drifter was imported into Australia for the 1999 model year.

“There were approximately 50 units sold in 1999-2000. There was one 2000 model year unit sold, sales were slow … and it was not imported again after 1999.”

There have been a few private imports but not many.

If we assume that 75% of Drifters are still on the road and ridden regularly then there are probably less than 40 of them across all of Australia, Norman says.

Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter
Drifters owned by (from left) Norman, Rhett and Colin

“Until last week I had only seen three Drifters, other than my own, though between a friend from the Vulcan Baggers Group and myself we had placed roughly 26 spread across Australia,” he says.

“With the aid of Rhett, a new Drifter owner, we arranged a small get together of three of these rare bikes and took them for a spin from Melbourne down to Flinders and back.

“After our impromptu photo session we headed for a coffee and to spin a few stories about our relatively rare bikes.

“Between fellow Drifter owners Rhett, Colin and myself we speculated that this may be the first time ever that three Drifters have ridden together in Victoria in the last 20 years.”

Inherited pride and joy

Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter
Norman’s father, Kerry, on the Drifter

Norman inherited his Drifter back in 2013 after his father, Kerry, passed away.

“It was his pride and joy,” he says.

“The Drifter will remain in our family for sentimental reasons and my youngest son has already placed dibs on it when I die, or sooner if he has his way.”

Since receiving the bike Norman has ridden it about 25,000km through Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, ACT and New South Wales.

“Because this bike is rare, one of the downsides (or upsides) to owning and riding it has been the constant conversations with strangers wherever I go,” Norman says.Norman Hall with his Drifter

“Until the new Indians started to become more common place, most had never seen its like. As well as the ride, the constant waves from kids in cars and thumbs up from drivers helps keep a big smile on my face when riding.

“The Drifter has also proven to be one of the most reliable bikes I have ever owned and only on one occasion did it have any issues that slowed my ride.

“The problem ended up being one wire under the tank with an intermittent contact but the Drifter still got me safely from Newcastle to Melbourne before the problem was found.

“Kawasaki were ahead of their time with this bike with its unusual design, ultra-smooth gear box, responsive engine and smooth ride. It remains a better ride than most other bikes I have been on that are much younger.”

Norman first rode an old Honda C90 at the age of 15. After many years of not riding due to the usual work, marriage, kids etc excuses he returned to riding and in recent years owned several Yamaha V Star cruisers. He also owns a 2017 Indian Roadmaster.

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4 Comments

  1. I have had a 1999 Drifter for 6 years. Have found it an ideal highway bike as long as I do not get too ambitious going around corners. The bike has only done 35,000 km (12,000 km when I brought it.)
    The Drifter has not given a problem mechanically and like an early model Indian i do not go past a Service Station , 220 km on a tank is a bit limiting. I am a member of the Iron Indian Riders Association of Australia and we have now established our own Drifter Section as there are 3 off us owning Drifters as well as Indians from 1935, 44 & 52.
    Around town Drifters are a very heavy bike and we are looking to see if it is possible to import the VN800 version of the Drifter into Australia. The VN800 is a lot easier to ride yet still good for a highway cruise.

  2. I had one, on which the dealer in Gosford had affixed an Indian head to the front mudguard like the old Indians had. I really liked the engine and the bike looked good (subjective of course), but being short I found the forward controls absolutely killed my thighs because it was too much of a stretch for my legs. Being my first and only cruiser, I also found myself banging the foot-boards into the road on roundabouts; on one occasion it actually lifted the back wheel off the ground and I found myself sliding towards a motorcar in the other lane. Fortunately the wheel came back down in time for me to regain control and stand the bike up. It was a nice looking bike with a nice feel and was rather unusual in that the rear mudguard is attached to the swinging arm, but I was a bit annoyed that Kawasaki Australia didn’t import any of the accessories available in other markets. I was even more annoyed (to put it politely) when bits started falling off during the warranty period and the response from K. A. was that bits falling off wasn’t covered under warranty! That put me off Kawasaki for life.

    I traded that bike in in Canberra for another BMW in about 2001 and got half what I paid for it (paid $15,000 and got about $7500). By the way, I also owned a Suzuki RE5 for a few years in the late seventies, so I’ve had a couple of unusual bikes.

  3. Glad he has a reliable bike, because my experience with the Vulcan was anything but. From memory, dodgy clutch caused by the back torque limiter, cracked radiator mount, problematic exhaust gas valves, carburettor icing in cold or foggy weather. Still loved it however, but man it required some serious TLC.

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