Nowadays there are plenty retro-inspired bikes with modern performance and reliability: Triumph Bonnevilles, Ducati Scramblers, BMW R9T’s, etc. But two decades ago, Kawasaki took this now-popular recipe and ran with it in an unusual direction, leading to the birth of the Kawasaki Drifter 1500.
In a nutshell, the Drifter was a Vulcan 1500 (or 800) that was stripped of its modern tank, seat, and panels and then adorned in bodywork directly inspired by Indian’s 1940’s Chief. Produced from 1999 through 2005 (though the smaller Drifter 800 remained in production for another year), the Drifter offers what some see as the best of both worlds: classic WW2-era American style pushed around by a reliable, modern Japanese powertrain.
At the heart of the Drifter was the same liquid-cooled, four-stroke, SOHC, 1,470cc V-Twin (married to a five-speed) from the Vulcan, which was capable of generating a reported 64 hp at 4,700 rpm and 83.1 ft-lbs of torque at 2,800 rpm. Other amenities like fuel injection, modern suspension, and an electric start made the Drifter much more ideal for day-to-day use than the post-depression-era model that inspired it.
The Drifter’s chassis was similar to the Vulcan’s high-tensile steel, double-cradle frame, though it sported a hidden rear suspension setup which allowed for a bit more performance without sacrificing the yesteryear flavor that defines the model. Another very cool touch Kawa opted for was the factory paint options, several of which were recreations of colors available on classic Indian models, such as the powder-blue hue the Scout was once offered in.
Though the initial prototype was dubbed the “Super Chief”, copyright issues (or the like) forced Kawa to abandon the Indian model moniker and instead go with the “Drifter” title. It’s important to keep in mind that, while styled directly after a 1940’s Chief, the Drifter is technically just a tribute, not a replica. Making the Drifter models all the more appealing upon their release were their surprisingly affordable price points, with the smaller of the two (the Drifter 800) carrying an MSRP of just $7,299. For this reason used examples can be snagged for near-bargain-basement prices.
This Drifter 1500 specimen left the factory in 2000 and has had around 40,000-miles put on it since. The ad in incredibly short on info, though it does claim this bike “looks great and runs strong”, that it has a clean title, and that it was “just serviced”. This particular example is also currently utilizing the less-stylish two-up saddle, though the bobber-esque solo seat looks markedly better on the Drifter in my opinion. I’m also not sure if this example is wearing its original paint or if it was resprayed at some point.
You can find this 2000 Kawasaki Drifter 1500 for sale here on Craigslist in Broward County, Florida with a price of $3,200.