1978 Suzuki GS1000
Suzuki clearly had racing in mind when it designed the GS1000
1978 Suzuki GS1000.
Photo by Nick Cedar
1978 Suzuki GS1000
Years produced: 1978-1980
Claimed power: 74.5hp @ 8,000rpm (period test)
Top speed: 135mph (period test)
Engine type: 997.4cc DOHC, air-cooled four
Weight: (w/oil) 550lbs
Price then: $2,749
Price now: $1,000-$3,000
The Suzuki GS1000 traces its history back to 1976 when Suzuki launched its GS line of 4-cylinder, 4-stroke bikes. These classic Suzuki motorcycles have often been hailed as the first Japanese motorcycles that actually handled well. Tom Murphy was introduced to a GS on the back roads of Japan and he’s never owned anything but.
“I bought my first GS model — a GS750 — when I was stationed in Japan,” Tom says, “and I’ve been hooked on GSs ever since. I toured Mt. Fuji on that bike. The countryside was beautiful, and the roads and I got along fine. The only problem was the speed limit was 40kph — about 30mph — and I got a very hefty speeding ticket.”
When his term of service in Japan was over, Tom was transferred back to the U.S., but he had to sell his Japanese-spec GS before he left. Once settled in the U.S., he immediately purchased another GS750, but it was stolen shortly after he bought it. He reluctantly gave up motorcycling to raise a family.
The years rolled by, and about the time Tom’s daughter went to college, gas prices had really started to rise. “I mentioned to my wife that commuting by motorcycle would save a lot of money,” Tom explains. “She surprised me — she said yes. I didn’t have to argue or anything!”
Not believing his good luck, Tom immediately started searching and found a 1980 Suzuki GS1100. This bike is still his daily ride. “I was afraid it would be too big for me, but it rode and felt as good as the 750s I remembered.” It was also the start of Tom’s GS collection, which is beginning to fill the garage.
The GS was Suzuki’s first large 4-stroke, and it was in many ways a typical Suzuki: a dependable bike with excellent riding manners. Since the start of motorcycle production in the early Fifties, Suzuki always emphasized engineering. The factory built sturdy, reliable motorcycles during its first three decades, but a string of Grand Prix and offroad victories during the same time period proved that reliable did not necessarily mean slow.
Suzuki’s first large road-going twin, a 500, appeared in 1967. Like previous Suzukis, it was a 2-stroke, very reliable, but not particularly stylish. It was followed in 1971 by the water-cooled Suzuki GT750 2-stroke triple. This popular machine, which soon gained the nickname of “Water Buffalo” in the United States and “Kettle” in England, was powerful, reliable and a good daily rider.
At this point, Suzuki decided to try a very expensive experiment. The development of the rotary engine ignited huge excitement among manufacturers around the world, and Suzuki decided to license the technology for Wankel rotary engines, resulting in the 500cc rotary-engined Suzuki RE-5. Unveiled in 1974 to great fanfare, it was a flop. It looked strange, and the engine characteristics — lots of rpms, lots of heat and a weird exhaust note — took some getting used to. It didn’t help that it guzzled gasoline at a time when fuel was becoming increasingly expensive, and used up expensive spark plugs ($31.75 today!) at an astounding rate. In late 1976, Suzuki stopped production of the RE-5 and ate its losses, which were in the tens of millions.
Before Suzuki ended the RE-5 experiment, the company realized it needed a backup plan. Thanks to market pressures and encroaching environmental concerns, 2-strokes, up until then Suzuki’s mainstay, were heading the way of the dinosaur. The logical choice was to build a 4-stroke, but the challenge was building one that would stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Suzuki decided to build a bike that was not only fast and reliable, but one that also handled well, like the bikes built by its European competitors.
The Suzuki engineers went to work, and came up with the Suzuki GS750, which first appeared in public view in October 1976. It was a well-built, reliable motorcycle, capable of comfortable, fast back road touring. Although its styling wasn’t particularly exciting, its solid performance made it a big seller and it revived the company’s fortunes at a very difficult time.
Building on the 750’s success, the Suzuki GS1000 appeared in late 1977. The combination of air-assisted front forks, a stiff chassis and adjustable dual Kayaba rear shocks made for an above-average ride around the tightest of twisties, despite a longish 59.3-inch wheelbase. By comparison, a same year Moto Guzzi 850 stretched 58 inches.
Contemporary journalists praised the GS’s comfortable seat, excellent power delivery and handling, and its good brakes. Suzuki clearly had racing in mind when it designed the GS1000, which migrated to the track shortly after it was introduced. The best fit for the liter-size bike in mid-Seventies racing was the new Superbike class, and a young racer named Wes Cooley turned both Superbike racing and the GS1000 into major attractions. Wes popped wheelies, smoked tires and flamboyantly won races aboard a GS tuned by the legendary “Pops” Yoshimura.
With the benefit of success, Suzuki started building offshoots of the GS line, including a shaft-driven version that sold well to touring-oriented riders, especially in Europe. Profits from the GS probably enabled Suzuki to climb out of the hole it had dug itself into with the RE-5. As testimony to the engine’s solid design, the GS series soldiered on until 1986, gaining oil then liquid cooling along the way before finally being phased out.
Page: 1 | 2
| Next >>