Check out this Barry Sheene tribute Suzuki GSX-R which can pump out 10.2 second quarter mile times! Karl Webster tells all!
It was way back in 2011/2012 that I decided I was going to build a stock standard 1985 GSX-R750 slab-sider in blue and white with a nice single seat.
I’ve always loved them from the time I was 16. This was when the guy down the road took his to work every day and parked it outside until he put it away that night. I think he did it just to tease me and my mate as we walked home from school. It was mega!
Years later I bought one that was standard but had fairing damage, but it seemed to be all there as a good ground-up restoration. However, after stripping it down I found a part that needed TIG-welding properly so took it to an engineer friend who asked what the part was from: when I told him, he said he had the very same bike in his shed, hidden under some blankets. After removing the covers there sat a 1986 GSX-R1100 in race trim! The first questions from me were ‘is it for sale’ followed by ‘does it work?’ A yes to both soon saw the bike in my grubby mitts – and all for a great price!
So it was that the 750 was cast aside into the corner of the garage as I knew straight away what I was going to do with this beast. For me this was going to become a visual feast. And with this in mind I began to send a lot of time trawling the internet to see any GSX-Rs I liked the look of. During my many hours online, I found a picture of a bike that I couldn’t get out of my head. It was a GSX-R1100 1986 model, like mine, that someone had made a brilliant version of a Barry Sheene replica, based loosely on his title-winning RG500. What did it was the stunning rear-end that looked just like the RG500 from the 1970s. From the pictures I could see ‘HMR’ on the bike, so a Google or two later and I tracked down the guy and he also lived in Australia, in Queensland. Soon me and Jim from Hand Made Racers were firm friends. He is an accomplished specials builder and builds race replicas and performance engines. I bought an RG500 GP tail piece from him and had the holes filled in, then cut and shut it and extended the front and also moulded a seat base with the help of Todd my own fibreglass friend. Jim’s 1100 looked different and I couldn’t work out why it looked racier than normal! Then it fell into place when he told me to put my 750 tank on the bike. I did and it just looked so right.
Now it was off to see John Wilkinson – my partner in crime and the man who could diagnose all the mechanical problems we had and put together a parts list for me to track down. We also spent many hours looking at pictures of Barry Sheene’s title winning bikes along with Jim’s example, so we had a plan to set rolling.
I had the tail piece and all the standard fairing originals so we did a dry fit where we found we needed to fit a second sub-frame to position the RG ducktail into the perfect position. This had to be made by John, who made one from cardboard and it was almost perfect so we went to work made some adjustments then cut and welded one from aluminium: it looked and worked great. Meanwhile I kept pestering my new friend Jim from HMR for all the short-cuts and mods he made to save us with trial and error.
The bike got stripped to the bone and John gave me my list of parts to find and jobs for me to source outside of his workshop: like having the rims stripped and powder-coated. The motor came apart to assess the damage and gearbox problem. New parts were needed for the gearbox including selector forks, second gear and so on. I’m glad that the bike had the problem in the end because whoever had it apart before had taken some shocking short cuts that would have been very messy if we didn’t find them earlier.
Suspension was next: the forks came apart, the shock came apart and the swingarm had a brace engineered for it, so now things were really rolling. We gave the frame a light etch with the sand blaster, including the fork legs and all these parts got a coat of two-pack paint then a clear coat with a matting agent for a great satin finish overall. I left John in peace to put it back together as a rolling chassis then he assembled the motor and fitted it in with some race headers. We also blasted and repainted the calipers in Brembo gold with a logo that looked cool so we turned the front callipers around to give it that period look and to hide the anti-dive cylinders.
Being a former sign-writer, I was left to re-draw all the graphics that Barry wore on his bike. It was very time consuming, finding, drawing and making the decals to size but it’s a great feeling seeing them rolling out of the digital printer. The hard part is the three colours: black yellow and red all have to be painted so there are hours of pin-stripe masking in between colours, which takes up so much time and patience. I sat the decals on my 750 between each colour to make every panel, including the hard-to-do striping lined up. With all the decals cleared and laid out on John’s billiard table, I was now waiting for him to do his magic by getting this thing to run.
The bike came with 750 flat-slides so we left them on as they are easier to tune according to John. When we opened up the exhaust like we did I found it was a Yoshimura Cyclone muffler. So, we stripped the fake carbon wrap off it. I polished it myself and it looked like one straight out of the box in the end. The dash I made that contained the old instruments were fitted to the old ignition mount points and John then wired it back into the loom. After connecting the speedo we realised turning the forks and calipers around the speedo would not work so we made up a new spacer and turned the wheel around – problem solved! By now it was really coming together I was replacing every bolt I could see for that new look. I mounted a 6mm fork brace plate I made on the CNC router with a Yoshi logo and John mounted the battery under the petrol tank where the air-box once lived. We mounted a new ignition under the seat unit and left it hidden to keep it racy.
When we fired it up for the first time it was all about loud flames and adrenalin for both of us! Then it was fairing time and piece by piece this thing just came to life in that amazing and unique colour scheme which really summed up the 1970s. The excitement of all those hours spent in the workshop, paint booth and on the internet now seemed so worth it. I simply fitted the new screen, then the grips and there it stood: the beast was ready to ride. After riding we noticed a few teething problems, which is never unusually in a project like this. As soon as we sorted the jetting and put a big Renthal sprocket on the back, the thing was pulling like a train.
I entered it in the Geelong Revival were people drag their classic and period motorcycles and cars on a quarter-mile timed bit of bitumen along the beach front. The real catch is that the quarter-mile has a fairly sharp bend in it! The Old Bull pulled a 10.2 second flat and won the road registered class and second place outright in all the classes, which made it a great day with a great bike!