Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter History

  • Drifter Q&A with Denny Berg (06/2008)

 

Q: How did the Drifter evolve from Super Chief into full production as part of Kawasaki's "stable"? - Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche
A: <DENNY BERG> After the project was finished and featured in ‘Rider’ magazine, Kawasaki took it to their annual Dealer’s convention in Reno, Nevada. Dealers saw it and said “If you make this, we can sell it!” John Hoover at Kawasaki took control and put it on the fast track. The Proto was repainted with Vulcan emblems on the tank and different pin-stripping and it went off to Japan for a while. A couple of early prototypes were here in ’98, the rear shock angle was like a ‘Classic’, but that changed later. Cobra still has one painted up like a CHP “Cop-Cycle”.  The Press Release was in Daytona in Feb. 28 –March 2, ’99 when the Media got the first rides. BIG day for me… Couldn’t get my helmet on after that!...
Q:

What was the original target production for the Drifter (# of bikes per year)?  - Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche

A: <DENNY BERG>Sorry, wish I knew. I’m sure Kawasaki could tell us…
Q:

How long did you expect to see the Drifter in production once Kawasaki agreed to the design? - Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche

A:

<DENNY BERG>It was originally going to be a very limited production, only one or two per dealer here in the USA. It was going to be a short production run, then see what would happen.  Kawasaki decided to go big worldwide and we were off. It went bigger that I ever dreamed.

 
Q:

Who initiated the deal (did Kawasaki seek you out)? -Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche

A: <DENNY BERG>Everything was handled by Cobra in my case. I was proud to be asked, it was a big honor for me…
 
Q: Is there any truth to the story that a licensing fee was paid to Indian for use of the valanced fender skirt design? -Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche
A:

<DENNY BERG>Can’t say anything about that, legal stuff, you know…

 
Q: How did they decide upon the Drifter name? -Steve "Chief" Tenhet
A:

<DENNY BERG>Kawasaki already had the Drifter name, it was a 3 cylinder 440cc snowmobile in the 70's. We tried all different names but almost everything has a copyright. That's why car companies make up stuff like Camry, etc. ... I really wanted Super Chief, but Texaco had it ...

 
Q:

As its designer, are you satisfied with how the Drifter turned out once it left your hands and was brought into production? -Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche

A:

<DENNY BERG>Of course, I was happy just to be involved. The dual seat was a bit of a compromise/nightmare, but it is what it is. I wished we could have kept the black rims and more black parts, but that’s the way it goes. The other stuff, (muffler, turn-signals/light, controls, etc.) had to be that way for DOT and TUV…

 
Q:

There was a rumor circulating a few years ago, that the Super Chief had been intended to become the next Indian Chief. But, at the last minute a third party negotiated a deal with Indian which resulted in the Gilroy Indian. Any truth to this or is it an urban legend?Marcel (WoodCarver1) Lamarche

A:

<DENNY BERG>Nope, the whole Gilroy deal was totally underway by then. We just happened to be there at the time, no ‘near connection’ at all…

 
Q: I have a 2002 drifter (1500) and wanted to know how many were produced?  I have done various search on the  website and have not found out how many.  I am just curious?  I know I don't see many on the road. Can we find out for each year, how many of each model were produced? Kim (aka sdimples3); Kirsten and Cameron Larsen
A: <DENNY BERG>Sorry, wish I knew. Anybody out there know?
 
Q:

Hi I was wondering what made you choose the the Kawasaki Vulcan to base this bike on. Was it decided from the onset that it would be be built from a metric cruiser? Was Harley considered also? Just curious how this might have turned out had it been built from a different bike. Thanks DBerger

A:

<DENNY BERG>It could have been done out of almost any HD or Metric base. Kawasaki was glad to help, so that’s who we used that year…

 
Q: Where does the line form for buying the Super Chief prototype and what's the starting bid? -Kirsten and Cameron Larsen
A: <DENNY BERG>Sorry, kids. Cobra has never sold a Project bike. They’ve kept them all in good condition in their collection…
 
Q:

How does one integrate the signals into the driving lights?  I'd love to do this to get rid of the signals up front.  Also... please pass on many regards on the Hot Saki (vulcan 800) cobra show bike you made.  I think that is also one of the best looking cobrashowbikes.   I love your work.  

A:

<DENNY BERG>Thanks for the ‘Saki compliment! It’s one of my favorites, too. Anyway, I simply knocked out the halogen bulb socket and epoxy-ed in a #1157 socket with yellow bulbs. Worked great! Real simple but I’m not sure how “legal” it is in your state…

 
Q: After the Drifter went to production, did Cobra consider making the Super Chief style exhaust for the Drifter? -Garry VanderEyk
A: <DENNY BERG>Yup, Cobra offered those for a few years, but sales were slow and they discontinued that pipe. Bummer! I got one my Drifter…
 
Q:

I understand the Super Chief went to Japan to provide inspiration for a new Kawasaki retro model, was there any dialogue between you and Kawasaki about the styling? I'm wondering why Kaw decided to chrome the wheels, change the exhaust, and the dual seat. - Garry VanderEyk

A:

<DENNY BERG>   (see question #6) They didn’t talk to us much after it went to Japan…

 
Q:

Did Super Chief come back to USA? Is it still alive? - Garry VanderEyk

A:

<DENNY BERG>Yup, it’s at Cobra USA in Yorba Linda, California. Got the original paint job back and still looks good…

 
Q:

If I send you an original Drifter brochure (with postage both ways) - can I get your autograph? - Mak

A: <DENNY BERG>Sure, you betcha! Send it to Berg Productions, PO Bx.3212, Palm Springs, Calif. 92263
 
Q: Are there any misconceptions about the Drifter you'd like to dispell? - Chief
A:

<DENNY BERG>Well, I didn’t make a million dollars off it! (hehehe)
I will always be honored by the chance to work with Kawasaki and to have a project of mine go into production. Doesn’t get any better than that!...

 
Q: Any pieces of little known info you would like to impart? - Chief
A:

<DENNY BERG>I did the project about 12 years ago, so my brain is a little fuzzy. That could be 30 years of breathing fiberglass resin and grinding dust, though. I just remember how much fun the ‘Super Chief’ was to build/ride, and working with Cobra, Ken Boyko, Don Emde and John Hoover. They all really love motorcycles just like me.

 
Q: What are you doing right now that might interest us? - Chief
A:

<DENNY BERG>Wish I could tell ya, all Top Secret, ya know!!!

© Saftek Inc. 2012
Not affiliated with Kawaski. Kawasaki, Vulcan and Drifter are trademarks of Kawasaki.