Claimed power: 90p @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 130mph (est.)
Engine: 997cc air-cooled DOHC inline 4 cylinder, 64.8mm x70.0mm bore and stroke, 9.2:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 525lb (238kg)
MPG: 5gal (19 liters)/35-55mpg
Price then/now: $3,679/$2,500-$4,500
At a rough moment in his family’s life, John Harris had to sell his prized 1979 Suzuki GS1000S, a bike he had bought brand new. “In 1987 we were in a tough situation,” John recalls, “but it was one of those choices you have to make, and it was just a part of life.”
No trailer queen, John’s GS1000S was well ridden. The bike had covered some 40,000 miles, with about 25,000 of those added to the clock in the first 18 months of ownership. Just months after he bought it, he and his wife toured 1,800 miles on the GS, carrying their luggage in a tank bag and soft-sided saddlebags. The bike was an everyday rider, and regardless of the weather, John wasn’t afraid to ride. He’d don a snowmobile suit and thumb the starter button even when it was a chilly 15 degrees outside.
Originally from Kansas, John began tinkering with cars when he was 11 years old, dragging home a Model A Ford that didn’t run. He discovered a broken distributor shaft, and after sourcing a used component the A was a runner — John says he’d take the car out and cruise the dirt roads surrounding town without causing much of a stir.
From that moment on, John became interested in wrenching on machines that went fast, and motorcycles fit that description, so in 1967 he bought a Matchless G15. He dabbled with motorcycle racing, but took his need for speed to another level in a Corvette and a Lola Formula Continental in Sports Car Club of America events. Then, in the late 1970s, he found a job in Tulsa, Okla. During an exploratory trip of his new city he discovered Johnny White’s Suzuki dealership, and he stopped into the showroom to see what was new.
Discovering the Suzuki GS1000S
“It was the styling of the GS1000S that first drew me to it,” John says. “And then when I heard that each Suzuki dealer in the U.S. got only one S to sell, that really piqued my interest. After I test rode it, I was hooked.”
Produced for only two years, 1979 and 1980, the Suzuki GS1000S was introduced just one year after the 1978 launch of the standard GS1000 and slightly sportier GS1000E models.
In 1978, Suzuki was just joining the 1,000cc party, as other manufacturers had already introduced liter-sized engines and, in some cases, even larger capacity power plants. In 1977, Kawasaki introduced the KZ1000, a big-bore, multi-cylinder machine. Although not in the same class, Honda had the touring GL1000 Gold Wing that hit roads in 1975, and Honda’s six-cylinder CBX was on offer starting in 1978. That same year, Yamaha presented the XS1100, and some of the Europeans, including BMW, Ducati and Laverda, had “liter” bikes.
But according to several contemporary ride reports, until Suzuki brought out the GS1000 and GS1000E, none of the Japanese liter-bikes handled very well. A poignant test report in the March 1978 Cycle magazine said: “Suzuki has demonstrated a penetrating and very sophisticated understanding of the Superbike market and what it is likely to become. The GS1000 is not the fastest of the new Big Four — the CBX is — nor is it the most comfortable (the Eleven holds that distinction). But while the other three [including the Kawasaki Z1-R] offer extraordinary specific capabilities paid for in the coin of specific shortcomings, the GS1000 has similar capabilities with no shortcomings at all.”
Suzuki managed to build a sturdy, strong-running 997cc engine in the GS1000, and although it looks similar to the previously introduced GS750 power plant of 1977, the internal components, including crankshaft, rods and pistons, are indeed different. It has larger valves in the double overhead cam head, there is no between-cams idler sprocket, and the compression ratio was increased to 9.2:1 from the 750’s 8.7:1. It is also 10 pounds lighter than the GS750 engine.
The GS1000 chassis, designed by Suzuki engineer Hisashi Morikawa (who also designed the RE-5 rotary and GS750 frames), was made of thin-wall mild steel, and tipped the scales at a none-too-heavy (for the day) 38.3 pounds. Hisashi’s tube work features tapered roller bearings in a heavily gusseted steering head and caged needle bearings in the swing arm pivot area. The GS1000 swingarm was beefier than what was fitted to any other Japanese big bike of the era, as were the front fork tubes, controlled by air, oil and springs. Spoke wheels, a 19-inch unit up front and an 18-inch rim out back, were each equipped with a single disc.
Suzukis on track
With the GS1000, Suzuki had finally entered the liter-bike era, and they pretty much upstaged the competition in the process. The GS1000 wasn’t just fast, it had excellent handling topped off with effective brakes to pull it down from speed.
Enter Pops and Fujio Yoshimura. For two years, Yoshimura R&D raced a Kawasaki KZ1000 at Daytona, with Wes Cooley as the pilot. A first place finish eluded them until, in 1978, they switched to the Suzuki GS1000 platform, which was much easier to ride thanks to its superior chassis. Mounted on a Yoshimura-tuned GS1000, rider Steve McLaughlin won the Daytona Superbike title, and then in 1979, the team swept the podium in a one-two-three finish. Wes Cooley won the 1979 and 1980 AMA Superbike Championships riding a GS1000, and after that, his name became inextricably linked to Suzuki and the Yoshimura-tuned winning motorcycles.
With Cooley and Yoshimura winning on the track, for the 1979 season Suzuki launched the new GS1000S, a model originally meant for the European market only — until U.S. dealers saw the bike. They wanted them, and eventually they got a very limited supply — approximately 500 of the 1979 edition, and just a few more than 700 in 1980. One, the story goes, for every Suzuki outlet in the U.S. Thanks to the Wes Cooley racing connection, the sporty S was soon nicknamed the “Wes Cooley replica,” although Suzuki never officially marketed the 1000S under any such branding.
A fancier Suzuki GS1000
To create the S, Suzuki essentially took the GS1000E and increased cornering clearance (a needed improvement according to period testers) by replacing the 17-inch rear mag with an 18-inch wheel. The carburetors were enlarged 2mm over the other GS models, with four 28mm Mikuni VM28SS carbs feeding the combustion chambers. Ignition was by breaker points and coils, as on the standard GS.
The suspension was upgraded with a slightly stiffer fork and increased compression damping in the rear shocks. The addition of a quarter fairing with a special dash that included a clock and a low handlebar helped give the S some café racer credibility, while the rear seat cowl and megaphone-style mufflers were common to both the GS1000 and GS1000E models.
Topping off the S, however, was a striking blue and white I’m-as-fast-as-Wes Cooley paint job that drew lots of attention, and that’s part of the reason why John bought his GS1000S in 1979. List price on the S was $3,679, which was $310 more than the $3,369 GS1000E.
Reclaiming the dream
“The GS1000S was my all-time favorite of any bike I’ve ever owned,” John says. Not that he’s owned hundreds of motorcycles, but enough to know what he likes.
Currently, John has a small fleet of machines that includes a 1965 Norton N15CS and a 1970 Bridgestone 350 GTR. But he couldn’t shake the memories of his GS1000S, so in the late 1990s John began searching for another example. “It was a constant longing,” he says of having to sell his first 1000S.
It wasn’t until 2009 that he found this 1979 GS1000S for sale on The GS Resources. The owner was in Ohio, and his father had originally sold the motorcycle new from his Suzuki dealership. The GS1000S eventually found its way back to the shop, which bought it back and cosmetically restored it with fresh paint.
John flew up to inspect the GS1000S, and he liked what he saw. The motorcycle was clean, and although it showed some 31,000 miles, it had obviously been well looked after. “It was misting lightly when I pulled up to check out the bike,” John explains. “But I test rode it in the wet and it was exactly like I remembered. That GS1000S was like an extension of me — everything just feels so comfortable.”
John sealed the deal and shipped the bike home. Once there, he recovered the seat, fixed an air leak in the forks, replaced the hydraulic brake lines, changed the chain and adjusted the valves.
As far as he can tell, the engine has never been apart, and compression is good across all four cylinders. He doesn’t think it will need much attention for thousands more miles, and given their reputation for durability, he’s probably right. “They’re just ultra dependable,” he says of the GS series. “You can go put the key in and push the starter button anytime. They’re as reliable as can be.”
The little things
The production run for the S model was short, and there were subtle differences between the 1979 and 1980 iterations. Changes include a switch to electronic ignition, there is a step in the seat, the air box is different to accommodate new 34mm CV carburetors, the brake rotors are slotted, the front brake master cylinder is rectangular as opposed to round, and the mufflers look more like a megaphone when viewed in profile.
In late 1981, Suzuki introduced (as a 1982 model) what some consider the first true Japanese sport bike — the GS1000SZ Katana. That model is another story, but as John says about his GS1000S and its place in the Suzuki family tree, “I tease guys who ride a Hayabusa that I’m riding their bike’s grandfather.” John continues to use his GS1000S as an everyday practical classic. He’s added more than 6,000 miles in the two years since he bought it, and although he’s had several offers, this time he’s not selling, regardless of the circumstances. “Having let one go once,” John says, “I have no intention of letting go of another.” MC
• The GS Resources
• Suzuki Cycles
• Suzuki Owner's Club USA
• Z1 Enterprises