A new series where Classic-Motorbikes.net looks back at the machines enjoyed by those of us now in our 50s. What made them memorable and why we loathed or lusted after them?
The best 1 litre machine of its era? Many believe so. When it launched during the UK’s winter of 1978 it really was ground breaking, stats that stunned including 70mph in third and a standing quarter under 12 seconds. With its 135mph top speed, all the numbers looked ‘jaw-dropping’ but was it a great all-rounder straight out of the box or did the upgrades added over the next couple of years cloud our memories? Nah, the GS 1000 received much acclaim even before the first chassis reached our shores and this is one bike still held in the highest esteem 40 years later.
The GS ‘thou’ came out of a need to ‘get it right’ due to Suzuki’s rotary engine RE-5 being a financial sink hole; being far more popular now than it ever was in the day. The GS 750 came out to play in October 1976 and it did everything very well, nothing outstanding but it put Suzuki back onto the game where the larger capacities were concerned. The advantage of the GS was its weight, the lightest 750 on the market and when the boffins at Suzuki decided to enter the 1 litre class they utilised its winning combination as a base. Whilst opinions vary slightly, it seems Suzuki lengthened the stroke of its 748 motor and came up with a 997cc powerplant that actually weighed slightly less than its ¾ litre brother! With the chassis strengthened the front forks received added air with its oil dampening, whilst the rear shocks got gas‘n’air in May 78.
Rather cleverly and without any prior notification, Suzuki decided to launch the GS1000 within France’s largest exhibition park the Porte de Versailles in autumn of 1977. Strange choice one may think, but considering the home market didn’t enjoy any machine over 750cc there seemed little point in unveiling this monster in Tokyo. It certainly looks like Suzuki considered it job done with the GS1000E, this enjoyed the later rear shocks but the model changed very little from the original spec until it ceased in the early 80s.
Did Suzuki realise what they were unleashing into the biker world with the GS1000? Certainly, although it was always aimed towards the track, starting with an engine ‘bottom-end’ that would continue on within their bigger bikes until 1986. At the launch, engineer Hisashi Morikawa was on hand to explain the frame layout to eager journo’s; a strengthened twin cradle, with five tubes sprouting from the steering head, two going down and underneath the engine, the other three angling back under the gas tank; more than capable of coping with the harshest road rider or the fastest racer. First time out the GS and pilot Steve McLaughlin won the Daytona Superbike race in 1978, then Wes Cooley won the national Superbike series in 1979 and 1980 for Yoshimura Suzuki, which gave rise to the ‘Replica’ model otherwise referred to as the ‘S’ which actually weighed 16lbs more courtesy of its bikini fairing. Evidently, it only became known as the Wes Cooley Replica later when rivals Kawasaki announced their Lawson Rep.
Their weight saving on engine internals involved lack of flywheel and removal of kick start plus associated shaft, allowing the road version to squeeze into the 90kg bracket. Reliability was then confirmed when Cooley won the 1980 Suzuka 8-Hour race on the GS1000R XR69 track version, he was partnered by Kiwi Graeme Crosby who also took victory on the same machine at the 1981 Formula 1 TT. The adjustable forks were a revelation and the XR69 owed much of its design to a certain Mr Sheene’s RG500. The production models included the ‘E’ and ‘ET’ along with the 1000S plus a custom ‘L’ and the shaft driven GX from 1981. It also launched the Japanese manufacturer into a GS frenzy, creating specific market versions worldwide with more than a dozen engine sizes from 125 to 1200cc. Also, let’s not forget the awesome Bimota SB3 which took Suzuki’s power plant and built their own frame, bringing the total weight even lower by around 80lbs; in 1979 it offered 140mph and there really wasn’t much faster.
Road Testers View
As pointed out in Richard Skelton’s brilliant book ‘Motorcycling into the 70s’ when Superbike tested the Suzuki for the first time their reporter confirmed ‘the GS1000 elevates bland and average to superfast status’. It wasn’t all good news, as one road tester described the GS feedback as ‘dead from the wheels up’ but this was a rare setback and Suzuki marketing jumped on another which proclaimed, ‘the GS has the most advanced suspension fitted to a street motorcycle’. Meanwhile, Motor Cycle Weekly loved every inch of the GS1000ET, they declared the GS left their test rider shaking his head in disbelief at the staggering performance. They went further saying Suzuki had done what the cynics have always complained about, they made a Japanese bike that handled.
The later versions came with air assisted front and rear suspension and this turned the tide, now no one dared to find fault with the new ‘king of the megabikes’. It wasn’t until 1979 the factory installed a passenger grab rail, prior to that you would need to be on very friendly terms with the driver; especially if they cracked open the throttle. Over at Cycle World Magazine they gambled on a three-way dust up involving Kawasaki’s Z1R with Yamaha’s XS11 against the earliest GS ‘thou’ and over the standing ¼ there was fractions of a second between all three of them. Once into the twisties the Suzuki began to shine and the testers put this down to weight, the ease at which they could manoeuvre the GS; being confident with any lean angle won the day. Their only gripe with this non ‘E’ version was utilising contact breaker points (unlike the later versions) whilst the competition ran what was referred to back in the day as transistorised ignition. Back at Motor Cycle Weekly their test runs concentrated on pure straight-line speed, on a cold damp track the speedo still saw 131.09mph. Their conclusion was the GS owner didn’t need to indulge in irresponsible antics on the road as this Suzuki was so good it had nothing to prove.
Looking back-Riders view
70s tearaway Gary James, bike shop worker in-period, either owned, borrowed or blagged all of the era’s two wheelers…He always shares an opinion, whether we like it or not! He thinks…Brilliant; with a slight compromise, the frame was never considered to be top draw but it was the first all-rounder that enjoyed punch through the entire range. Yes, it had 70s brakes and suspension but so did everything else…one of the best machines this era produced and ridden well, nothing could touch it.
The GS1000 didn’t suffer dwindling sales or the indignity of being out paced on track, the normal tag of ‘old news’ was never attached to this model. Suzuki Endurance Race Team (SERT) were still competing and winning with the GS until 1985 when the GSXR750 became their staple diet. The GS 1000 had been superseded by the 16 valve GSX1100 in 1980 and the Katana carried the frame and motor a further two years. Come what may the ‘thousand’ that originated in 1978 remained popular on the track. In 1983 Art Robbins won the Canadian Superbike Championship on a GS and this virtually indestructible motor was still favoured on the drag strips a decade long after the dealerships could no longer supply. No doubt the GS could have enjoyed a few more years on the show room floor, its reputation was and still is superb; unfortunately progress and circumstances meant Suzuki went in another direction but for a short while this star burned very brightly.
What the GS750 started, the 1 litre version continued and both machines helped Suzuki to climb the sales charts and eventually dominate the big bike class; but for how long? The 16 valve GSX1100 replacement arrived in 1980 and despite being even faster didn’t convince many GS1000 riders to upgrade. Looking back, many pundits consider the first GSX a little bland whilst its later (1982) angular appearance may have detracted from the great machine it was; if that was the case the Katana version in 1982 ‘rocked riders socks’. Some consider the Katana another machine that enjoys a ‘rose tinted’ view looking back 30 odd years, but for its day, no doubt the 140mph performance combined with respectable handling in a well-priced package would have seen an increase of used GS1000 part ex’s upon the dealers forecourt.
Whilst the Katana stole all the headlines, the GSX1100E received several, mainly visual updates and went on an eight-year run and by 1986 was still available in three versions confirming their market still existed. Suzuki also brought the GS back in a touring format with their 1150EF model and a naked 850 shaft drive (certain markets) but by now the GSXR was winning all the magazine features; a trend that would continue for many years to come…but best not forget where it all started.
GS1000E Technical Specification – UK launch April 1978, Price £1725.00
- Length: 92.1in
- Width: 29.7in
- Height: 45.1in
- Wheel Base: 59.5in
- Seat Height: 33.0in
- Ground Clearance: 6.5in
- Weight: 507lbs
- Brakes Front: 2 x 10.8 in disc
- Rear Brakes: 1 x 10.8 in disc
- Fuel Capacity: 4.2 Imperial gallons
- Type: Air cooled DOHC
- Cylinders: In line four – 8 valve
- Displacement: 997.5cc
- Compression Ratio: 9.2 – 1
- Carbs: 4 x 34mm Mikuni
- Max Power: 90bhp @ 8200rpm
- Torque: 57.6 lbs @ 7500rpm
- Clutch: Wet multi-plate type
- Transmission: 5 speed constant mesh
- Ignition: Electronic
- Starting System: Electric motor
- Battery: 12 Volt
- Headlight: 55/60 watt H4 Stanley
Make time to enjoy the AMA from Laguna Seca in 1979; riders include … Fast Freddie Spencer at 18 – Honda … Eddie Lawson 21- Kawasaki … Wes Cooley 24 – Yoshi Suzuki