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Memorable Motorcycle Suzuki GS1000

Friday, December 14, 2007
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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Comments
ascanlan   July 4, 2013 07:15 PM
I have a 1979 Suzuki GS 1000S for sale. Omaha, Nebraska. email at ascanlan1001@msn.com
MilesFox   September 19, 2011 02:20 PM
I just traded a pair of chinese scooters for my 80 GS 1000 E. I got it running by assembling the airbox. IT runs great the more i drive it, the more fuel i put through it. I just installed a new o-ring chain, and now it is much better! I do get a little bit of handlebar wobble at slow speeds with one hand, and the tire shows for it. Or the tire is causing it. Either way, i hope a new tire cures it altogether. The clutch rattles at mid rpms. I have read this is a common problem with the rivets on the backing plate of the clutch basket. She is about to roll over 30,000 miles. This bike is now my daily driver on a sandwich delivery route!
toby.puss   February 10, 2011 04:51 PM
The GS1000S is simply a beautiful and timeless machine. Becoming increasingly rare and prices for mint examples reflect this. Bag one while you can. Great article although not quite correct in that the GS1000S T model was more than just a standard Suzuki GS with a pretty fairing and paint job as shown in these photos in GS1000S N guise. The ST model (first sold in 1980 though manufactured in late 1979) had hotter cams, rear set foot pegs,shorter mufflers, larger CV carbs, vented disc brakes and had hotter performance unlike the model featured here.Both however are lovely!! Regards Suzuki GS fan.
Rudy Cardenas -No Cooley replicas  January 27, 2011 11:10 AM
The GS1000S was not based on anything Wes Cooley did but rather was a sport version of the rock solid GS1000. The GS1000's first raced by Yoshimura were unfaired since AMA homologation rules stipulated that the racebikes had to follow regular production models in basic design and appearance. Enhancements such as shorter bars and fairings were not permitted UNLESS the showroom stock models were similarly equipped. There was also a rule stating that a minimum of 500 copies had to be produced in oder to qualify as a regular production model. AFTER Suzuki rolled out the GS1000S in 1979, Yoshimura built a GS1000S-based racebike for Cooley and others to ride in AMA Superbike Competition. Dennis Smith from privateer Team Cycle Tune also raced a GS1000S in 80-81.
Rob Reydon -Suzuki GS1000S  October 14, 2010 08:56 PM
Hi.I have been trying to track down a blue and white GS1000S for ages.Not many came into New Zealand where I live back in 79 and 80 and most that did were thrashed to death over the years so now these bikes are extremely rare and and rapidly going up in price if you can find a good unbutchered survivor.I have managaged to track down a lovely orginal GS1000ST arriving from the USA at the end of October.I can't wait! I rate these Wes Cooley beauties right up there with the Honda CBX and Kawaski Z1R in terms appreciating collectable masterpieces.
Robert -GS 1000  August 29, 2010 10:21 PM
Hello my name is Robert I live in Toronto Canada I am looking to find GS 1000 e do you have for sale?
Steve Skinner -1979 GS1000s  August 23, 2010 07:53 PM
You know Suzukis are the most underrated bikes by classic collectors. Today no one can deny that a GSXR1000 or a Hyabusa are at the top of the game. Well the GS1000s was in it's day at the top of the game. Yet you so rarely see them at classic meets. Plenty of Zeds, Norton Commandos, Triumph Bonnies, Honda CB750's and even a mighty CBX, but rarely Suzukis, let alone the beautiful GS1000s. This will not always be the case, not long from now people will realize what a gem it was, and the prices will rise very quickly. If you can pick up one now DO IT!
Otherwise you'l find yourself at a future classic show thinking "If only".
Ron Phillips -1979 Suzuki GS1000S  August 13, 2010 12:37 PM
I bought it new when a friend of mine who was a dealer at the time called & tld me about it! Sold it to my brother 4 years later, stupidest thing I've ever done motorcycle wise. I've been riding over 50 years and it's the only bike I wish I;d kept. My brother sold it without telling me, I still hate him!!
Alan Smith Preston England. -1980 GS1000S  August 10, 2010 12:20 PM
I've had my Red and White GS1000s 29years now since I bought it nearly new for £1200 in 1981. I have rode it every year since I got it and apart from the usual charging problems it has never given me any trouble. It got a new cam chain at 91000 miles and some new piston rings at 100,000 miles and has now done 104,000 miles. It still looks great and still goes like a train. I've had loads of other bikes since I bought my GS but none of them seem to tick all the boxes like this one does. I love taking it to the Isle of Man and thrashing it around the TT course.
David Nowell - Tasmania Australia -Red & White GS1000S  August 3, 2010 10:09 PM
i have a 1978 black suzuki GS1000 and a 1981 blue and white GS1000S ST. Great bikes with character. Even though you can only ride one bike at a time I am hankering after a red and white model. A rare bike. Any out there for sale?
Kevin -GS1100-GK  April 28, 2010 07:09 AM
You didn't mention the 'shorty' pipes that came on the '79. The best thing about Suzuki back then is when they retired their race bike for the 4-valve 'E' model, they added a shaft drive, fairing, saddlebags & trunk and created a fantastic sport cruiser, the 1982 GS1100GK !. I could easily ride 650K in a day cruising at slightly over the speed limit (x 2). Also one of the most beautiful sport cruisers of that era!
Mark D -GS1000  December 15, 2009 02:02 PM
What a beautiful bike! While the Cooley edition may only be a paint job and a bikini fairing, it sure is a looker! Now, if only the writter didn't write off the entire Environmentalist movement as some sort of cynical political ploy (would you be happy with smokey, weak 2-stroke engines filling city streets with burnt oil?)...
jon polvado -1978 gs 1000  October 5, 2009 12:15 PM
i traded a new yardman riding mower back in the mid 1980s and was very happy with the trade. it ran well and handled well and used give me an adrenalin rush accelerating out of a tight left hand sweeper on the way home. i sold it to a friend who also liked it a lot and rode it for several years before selling it. I recently bought another 78 model for a hundred dollars complete except for the front master cylinder. it is all original and even the paint and chrome are in pretty fair condition. i am hoping to get it going in a couple of months
Paul Leonardi -Suzuki gs1000s  October 2, 2009 03:56 AM
Great story but the second version or "ST" model was a completley different bike, large port head 30mm carbs hotter cams & rear set footpegs.
rogersjunkman@yahoo.com -suz gs 1000  August 23, 2009 07:04 AM
picked it up last week it sat fore 10 years put alittle gas in each cyl and poped right of have to waight fore some mavel to soak in while i do the carbs looking fore gas tank
Richard Wilson -GS1000E  August 22, 2009 12:07 PM
got hooked on the GS thou' as a young punk in 77/78. never managed to get on/own one till last year and it was worth the wait!
drinking in any, and everything i can get on this machine and really enjoyed adding your stuff to the store. Ride free
Laurie Sheehan Brisbane Australia -1979 GS1000s  April 7, 2009 01:40 AM
Hi I bought one new in 79 and after over 40 bikes since 1961, I still miss it. Sold it to buy a BM R100Rt which was a long time want. However that sleek Suzuki spoilt me. I bought another sixteen years later but it had been modified and was not a scratch on the original. After a major medical problem I'm back on another BM. But the GSX1400 looms over the horizon, gotta be the earlier model with twin exhausts NOW if I can just find a Wes Cooley fairing. Even a great VFR800Fi Vtech great as it was cannot match that ol Gs for character and charisma. Stay Safe and thanks for this great article.
Ed Campbell -Suzuki GS 1000  December 22, 2008 11:02 PM
Good reading! I own a 1979 GS 1000, box-stock except for lower bars, bought new by me, the basic model with wire wheels and a single-disc front brake. I haven't ridden it in a while so it sits forlorn in the garage. Still in lovely condition though, about 30,000 miles on the odometer. Your article reminds me of what a pleasure the bike is to run down the open road. Mine has a top speed of about 131 mph per the speedometer (135 with a passenger to smooth the airflow), a pittance compared to a new Gixxer but wonderfully smooth between 60-110. In other words, a perfect "mile cruncher," as you say. I should probably return the machine to service. At this point I suppose it qualifies for an antique license plate, but perhaps... so do I! Anyway, thanks for an excellent article!