Memorable Motorcycles Seeley Suzuki

July 6, 2004
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The late Barry Sheene  shown here in the paddock during the start of his glorious racing career  alongside the Seeley Suzuki s he would transform from relative unknown to the stuff of legends. Barry won the 1976 and 1977 500cc World Championship - he died in Australia on March 10th  2003.
The late Barry Sheene, shown here in the paddock during the start of his glorious racing career, alongside the Seeley Suzuki’s he would transform from relative unknown to the stuff of legends. Barry won the 1976 and 1977 500cc World Championship – he died in Australia on March 10th, 2003.

There is no question that Colin Seeley was by far and away the most successful British chassis manufacturer – yet, outside the racing world, he is scarcely known. Seeley was a top-class sidecar racer in the 1960s and in 1965 began making his own frames to house the Matchless G.50 racing engine. His frames were so much better than anything else in the world that they transformed the performance of these venerable racing engines and extended their racing life by another 10 years.

But Seeley made chassis for every conceivable engine – not just British power plants – and the Seeley Suzuki in particular, is considered by many experts to be the best bike he ever built. Seeley designed the bike around a young Barry Sheene who, in 1971, was just about to hit the big-time. The precocious and demanding Sheene repaid Seeley’s efforts by declaring the Seeley Suzuki to be the best handling machine he ever rode.

The power-plant of the Seeley Suzuki was closely derived from Suzuki’s T500 Cobra road engine – so near that the first race engines even had automatic lubrication, lifted straight from the roadster. The bikes, designated XR05, were housed in a poor copy of a Manx Norton frame and, although fast, they provided no less than diabolical handling.

The first successes for the bike came in America and one of those U.S. machines was shipped to England for Malcolm Uphill to use in the 1971 TT. Uphill was a seriously hard man, and a TT expert, but even so he failed to master the Suzuki suffering an immense crash during his time on the race version.

What was left of the bike was consigned to the scrap heap. However, Suzuki team manager Rex White was persuaded by the ambitious Sheene to build a new bike retaining only the Suzuki engine. There was only one person who could complete this project: Colin Seeley.

At the time, the Seeley factory was in full production with 26 staff making everything from frames to complete race bikes. With such a sophisticated organization at his disposal, Seeley was able to make what is arguably his finest bike of it’s time.

The handling is helped tremendously by the fact that the air-cooled two-stroke motor is low and the great mass of the engine is concentrated along the center line of the bike. - Frank Melling
The handling is helped tremendously by the fact that the air-cooled two-stroke motor is low and the great mass of the engine is concentrated along the center line of the bike. – Frank Melling

The machine was built from 1 1/8″ Renolds 531 tubing which was bronze welded. This method of construction gives an immensely strong but light frame. It also provides the rider with that intangible, but invaluable, property of “feel”. In short, even when the back end of a Seeley is wriggling about the rider knows exactly what is going on. It makes for a very reassuring ride. The wheelbase was long for the day at 55 1/2″. This provided a very stable ride at high speed – and the Seeley with the Suzuki engine could manage a solid 150mph.

Sheene went on to win his first British 500 championship and had many good rides in Grand Prix on the Seeley. Retail customers queued up for the bikes soon after. The princely sum of £350 (Roughly $700 US) bought a complete rolling chassis and Suzuki specialist Eddie Crooks would sell you a brand-new Suzuki road engine for £250. Then it was as much, or little, tuning as you wanted to do to the motor and the bike was capable of running competitively in Grand Prix. Never was there so much bike available for so little money in the racing world.

Today, the Seeley Suzuki still remains the finest ride in classic racing. It is still easy to ride, predictable on any sort of track and, in the right hands, blisteringly fast.

For more information contact: Vintage Japanese Motor Cycle Club 

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