Instead of producing a light-weight two-stroke, Suzuki opted to build a heavy, slow-revving tractor of a bike.
In 1967, the idea of a large capacity two-stroke was, to say the least, radical. The last attempt at a big two-stroke touring machine had been Scott's water-cooled twin but, advanced as this was in its day, it remained effectively a pre-war design.
Using the knowledge of Walther Kaaden, the father of the modern two-stroke, Suzuki had built a string of Grand Prix winning 50s and 125s throughout the 1960s. Of more direct importance to the T500, Suzuki had also produced the legendary T20 two-stroke twin road bike. Launched in 1965, this 250cc twin instantly became the world standard for lightweights.
Even so, the T500 was a big step into the unknown since riders' prejudices that two-strokes needed lots of rpm and high maintenance had to be challenged. That Suzuki was almost as nervous as their customers was reflected in the T500 design. Instead of the light, radical, high performance twin which could have left their Hammatsu factory, Suzuki produced a heavy, slowrevving tractor of a bike built with reliability and longevity in mind.
A T500 engine weighed more than a comparable four-stroke of the time thanks to a massively over-engineered crankshaft and a bullet proof transmission. An extremely clever automatic lubrication system provided total reliability, and the frame was built to steam locomotive proportions. Even the styling was quiet, understated, and modest.
Only the brakes were aberrant. At 420lbs, the T500 was no lightweight and, when ridden with enthusiasm, stopping the big Suz on the modest 8" drum brakes was often a real thrill.
Owners soon came to realize that the T500 was capable of speeds, and distances, that only BMW riders could achieve. If you wanted to go from Manchester to Milan in a day, and be sure of arriving, the T500 was the weapon of choice.
The T500 was such a complete package that it soon became a favorite with production road racers. T500s won the 500cc class in the 1970 and 1972 Isle of Man TTs, whilst the engine found its way into Suzuki's TR500 Grand Prix racer.
Not only was the engine capable of destroying large distances but the handling, in a relaxed, ambling manner, was also rather good. With the engine turning over at a leisurely 4,000 rpm, the T500 would manage a comfortable 80mph uphill and down dale and, unless the bike was really ridden to the limit, 40mpg was possible.
In fact, the T500 was such a complete package that it soon became a favorite with production road racers. T500s won the 500cc class in the 1970 and 1972 Isle of Man TTs, whilst the engine found its way into Suzuki's TR500 Grand Prix racer.
The T500 metamorphosed into the GT500 which had better brakes, suspension, electronic ignition - and less performance. Even so, the GT500 and T500 are very much siblings. Together the two models had a production life of over 9 years and this means that there are still many thousands of T500s in use.
Despite all its virtues, today the T500 still remains an outsider in the bike world and even immaculate examples are very modestly priced making the big Suz one of the great bargains in the classic bike world.
Price Guide: £1500 buys a mint example ready for daily use.
For more information contact Martin Crooks - Crooks-Suzuki 01229 822342
Talk about this Memorable Motorcycle in the MCUSA Forum