Memorable Motorcycle Suzuki GS1000

December 14, 2007
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

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 Suzuki GS1000 was a precursor to the movement toward higher displacement  sharper-handling motorcycles that would eventually evolve into the lucrative superbike market.
The Suzuki GS1000 was a precursor to the movement toward higher displacement, sharper-handling motorcycles that would eventually evolve into the lucrative superbike market.

To race fans of the 1970s, the Suzuki GS1000 means only one thing: Wes Cooley and the Yoshimura Suzuki winning the AMA Superbike Championships of 1979 and 1980. The young Californian virtually invented Superbike racing with a tire-smoking, wheelie-popping style which turned Superbike racing from a gentlemanly, up-market, club-racing series into a major international attraction.

So influential was Cooley on big bike sales worldwide that Suzuki actually produced a unique model reflecting his success, the GS1000S, and he still remains a folk hero in Japan for his two wins on the GS at the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour race.

So that’s the shiny part of the iceberg glittering above the water line, but there is an equally interesting, albeit less glamorous, nine-tenths below the waterline.

The popular myth is that Suzuki sales were in trouble in 1975. Their bikes were all two-strokes and, legend has it, were being rejected in droves by customers. It’s a nice story, but untrue. On the contrary, the water-cooled, GT750 two-stroke triple was selling extremely well and Suzuki dealers’ only real concern was the aging GT500 which had been around, in one form or another, since 1967.

The first Suzuki GS1000 rolled off the assembly line in 1977 and was followed by the GS1000S model that was popularized by the success of AMA Superbike legend Wes Cooley. The S model included the bikini fairing  above  and weighed in at an additional 16 lbs.
The first Suzuki GS1000 rolled off the assembly line in 1977 and was followed by the GS1000S model that was popularized by the success of AMA Superbike legend Wes Cooley. The S model included the bikini fairing (above) and weighed in at an additional 16 lbs.

If Suzuki riders were happy, the company’s management in Hamamatsu was certainly concerned. Although it was 30 years ago, the environmentalists were already starting to flex their muscles. In fact, the reason that environmental issues were becoming popular was as much political as practical. Politicians thought the Western world was failing to deal with a huge number of social issues, from rising unemployment to the breakdown of traditional family structures to increases in crime.

Making air pollution an issue allowed politicians to put all the blame on someone else – the bike and car manufacturers – and load the perpetrators with regulations in order to distract the electorate from the endemic problems they were (and still are) unable to address.

Environmental issues apart, Suzuki was looking at Honda and Kawasaki in particular with worried and probably envious eyes. Honda’s seminal 750 “4” had launched the modern era of reliable, smooth multi-cylinder bikes and Kawasaki’s seminal Z1 had redefined the genre.

In fact, Kawasaki undoubtedly caused Suzuki more lost nights’ sleep than Honda. The Honda “4” was a satisfactory motorcycle as far as it went – but that wasn’t very far in terms of performance, handling or looks. By contrast, the Big Z had literally everything in the motorcycling book in terms of power, reliability, finish and looks. The one thing which it lacked was handling. And in terms of road holding, the Kwack was significantly short of a full pack of cards.

In order to keep pace with its competition  Suzuki responded to the introduction of Kawasaki s Z1 and Honda s  4  with its own superbike  the GS1000.
In order to keep pace with its competition, Suzuki responded to the introduction of Kawasaki’s Z1 and Honda’s ‘4’ with its own superbike, the GS1000.

The story goes that the first drawings for the GS were begun in 1972. At this time, the opposition was all 750cc bikes – primarily from Honda but also the BSA/Triumph triple. At the time, Suzuki was obsessed with building reliability and strength into its motors. Both the GT500 and GT750 had a construction which would have been just as appropriate for a main battle tank, with the bottom halves of both engines having prodigious strength – and consequently utter reliability.

Maybe the Hamamatsu engineers also had in mind a big bore version of the 750 from the outset, but for sure it soon followed its smaller brother. The GS750 appeared in October 1976 and the iconic GS “Thou” a year later. The GS1000 engine was a very simple conversion. The short stroke 748cc engine was lengthened by 14.6mm to 70mm to give a capacity of 997cc. This hiked the power to 87 hp (90ps) but the GS’ bottom half still remained totally bullet proof. Better still, it proved to be capable of prodigious amounts of tuning without losing any reliability.

In every way, the GS was a challenger to Kawasaki’s big Z. The Suzuki had a bigger capacity, which always played well in America, produced 10% more power than the Kwack and was just as strong. Arguably, the finish wasn’t quite as good as its Japanese opposition but it was up to the same standards as everyone else – except BMW.

The mill for the GS1000 was a fairly easy conversion for Suzuki. It took the short-stroked 748cc engine from the GS750 and lengthened it by 14.6mm that boosted it up to 87 hp with a displacement of 997cc.
In order to keep pace with its competition, Suzuki responded to the introduction of Kawasaki’s Z1 and Honda’s ‘4’ with its own superbike, the GS1000.

However, the GS1000 was vastly better in terms of handling than any of the other Japanese bikes. Kawasaki’s big bore “four” was, to put matters at their kindest, always marginal. The faster the rider went, the more the handling became a problem.

By contrast, the GS “Thou” handled extremely well. The wheelbase was somewhat on the long side at almost 60 inches, but the suspension was state-of-the-art, with air-assisted front forks and a good, taut chassis. The brakes too were excellent by the standards of the day – although still very challenging when the stainless steel discs were wet and the rider was pressing on.

But the great delight of the GS was its incredibly solid feel. This was a bike which gave the impression of being impregnable in terms of power, handling and build quality. Despite the increase in engine capacity, the bottom-half of the engine proved to be utterly bulletproof, both on the race track and drag strip – even when subjected to extremes of tuning.

Today, riding the GS is just the same. In fact, with the addition of modern disc brakes and tires, things are even better. A good GS is still the mile cruncher it ever was, and still a big thrill in terms of sports bikes.

However, there is a problem. The only bike in the whole GS1000 range which causes lust in the motorcyclist’s loin is the Wes Cooley replica. This is truly hardcore bike porn. The rest of the range is simply rather ordinary in terms of looks.

Somewhere beneath the signature Suzuki blue and white paint job lies the basic DNA to the ever-popular Gixxers of the modern era.
Somewhere beneath the signature Suzuki blue and white paint job lies the basic DNA to the ever-popular Gixxers of the modern era.

This is a shame because the Cooley rep is a little bit of a cheat. The bike is 16 lbs heavier than the normal GS because of the bikini fairing, but otherwise beneath the drop-dead gorgeous blue and white paintwork, it is the same bike.

The GS’s looks are reflected in the deflated prices of this outstanding classic motorcycle. A really nice example fetches around $6000, which is not a lot of money for one of the finest classic motorcycles of its era. However, if you want a genuine Cooley rep, then expect to pay significantly more.

Our thanks to Keith Campbell of Hourglass Racing for the loan of his magnificent Wes Cooley GS 1000. For more information and spares contact martin@crooks-suzuki.com.

 

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