- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 25 July 2014
To celebrate the 120th year of the motorbike, for 120 days everyone who gets a quote from us will be in with a chance of winning a fantastic Suzuki GSX-R600 worth over £8,500! Not only that, if you are the lucky winner you'll also receive FREE bike insurance and DNA protection system for your bike, along with a whole host of other benefits. In light of this competition, we thought we'd take a little look at the history of Suzuki...
The History Of Suzuki: Part Two
The dawn of the motorcycle
The Power Free and Diamond Free cyclemotors were hugely popular with consumers, providing them with excellent quality and performance. But Suzuki understood the nature of the market and knew that he needed to enhance his offerings if he wanted the company to grow. Thus, 1954 marked the end of the cyclemotor and the dawn of the motorcycle.
The same year saw the introduction of the Mini Free, a 50cc moped that was only sold as a complete machine, as opposed to the clip-on engines Suzuki was used to offering. The Mini Free was produced until 1958 when a modernised moped, called the Suzumoped, replaced it. In 1954, Suzuki unveiled the Colleda CO, a 90cc single-cylinder four-stroke machine considered to be the company's first proper motorcycle. Due to its ever-growing presence in the motorcycling industry, the company's name was changed to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd in June 1954 - the same time it started using the 'S' trademark we see on its models today.
An upgrade to the CO saw the release of the Colleda COX in 1955, which featured a 125cc engine and a contemporary steel frame. Its four-stroke OHV single-cylinder engine boasted a flywheel magneto ignition with automatic spark advance.
One year on, engineers started to develop a completely new machine – the TT. This machine had a high-end spec, was able to reach 90mph and outperformed the majority of other similar bikes on the market. It was considered extremely advanced, owing to its four-speed gearbox and indicators. By the latter half of the fifties, Suzuki had 50, 125 and 250cc bikes in its line-up.
At the dawn of the 1960s, Suzuki entered its 125cc Colleda racers into the Isle of Man lightweight TT. There were no victories, though they finished in reputable 15th, 16th and 18th positions. In 1961, they formed a new Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Co. division to separate its loom business from its motorcycling endeavours.
It was in 1961 when German racing star Ernst Degner defected to the west while racing for MZ in the Swedish Grand Prix. Degner was Suzuki's saviour, bringing with him secret insider knowledge of engineer Walter Kaaden's expansion chamber designs. This knowledge resulted in a lot of competitive success for Suzuki, leading to victories in the 50cc World Championships, which Degner won every year until 1967, as well as two victories in the 125cc class during the same period.
Suzuki continued to grow and expand and in 1963 the company opened a subsidiary in LA to sell its products to US consumers. Confident and successful, Suzuki surprised everyone by trying its luck in the motocross Grand Prix. Despite its efforts, though, Suzuki was unsuccessful - the bikes had speed but they handled poorly. Engineers redesigned the machine for a 1966 re-entry to the European championship with moderate success.
Now an established motorcycle brand, Suzuki introduced the T500 road bike in 1967, known as the Cobra in England and the Titan in America. The bike featured a 500cc twin-cylinder, two-stroke engine; it handled impressively and quickly became a very popular machine. The name changed over the years and at the end of its production in 1977 it was known as the GT500.
It was evident that two-stroke machines were Suzuki's strength, both on and off-track. Just before the seventies, the company had opened another factory in Toyama in Japan which built small capacity two-stroke machines.
Suzuki produced numerous motorcycles during the seventies, perhaps the most significant being the GT750 in 1971. The GT750 was super-quick, fitted with a two-stroke, water-cooled, three-cylinder engine capable of over 110mph. The spec was incredibly impressive for the motorcycles of the time, and although it was reasonably heavy at 540lbs, its 67bhp meant it could do 0-60mph in just five seconds.
Due to the success of the GT750, Suzuki revealed a wholly new 500cc four-cylinder, two-stroke racing motorbike called the RG500 "Gamma" in 1985, which to this day is still considered to be one of the most successful motorcycles in racing history.
In 1976, and before the release of the RG500, Suzuki made the brave decision to produce a range of four-stroke motorcycles. The first models included the GS400 twin, which was one of the first four-strokes since the Colleda COX, along with the GS750 and GS550. The GS400 featured a cross-mount inline twin, a drum rear brake and six-speed gearbox, while the 550 and 750 models had five speeds and disc brakes all round.
1978 saw the release of a new range of superbikes called 'Katana', with the first model being the GSX1100s Katana. It certainly delivered on performance, boasting an output of 111bhp at 8,500rpm.
Following suit on producing performance machines, in 1983 Suzuki released the turbocharged 650cc superbike – the XN85. The bike boasted the very first factory 16-inch wheel which had only ever been seen on race bikes. It also had rear-set foot pegs, low clip-on handlebars and single shock rear suspension – the Suzuki Full Floater. Despite having better handling than other sport bikes it lacked power and was soon replaced by the cheaper and lighter GS750ES.
By the end of the 1982 racing season, Suzuki had an impressive number of wins under its belt, finishing first in the 500cc road-racing World Championship for the eighth consecutive year, along with its sixth win in the 500cc motocross World Championship and a win in the 125cc Motocross World Championship. During the 1980s, Suzuki reached production of 10 million units. In March of 1985, the legendary GSX-R750 was born. The bike was a real game-changer for sportbikes at that time, delivering over 100PS, which was far more powerful than any other 750cc bike of that time.
At the start of the nineties Suzuki changed its name to the Suzuki Motor Corporation. Five years later the company released the much-loved 1156cc, 16-valve air/oil-cooled bandit and aggregate sales of motorcycle exports from Japan reached a staggering 20 million units.
From the end of the nineties through to the present day, Suzuki continues to release new models each year and has a presence in some the most prestigious motorcycling racing events. At the start of the millennium, the company saw aggregate motorcycle production reaching 40 million units, and this figure continues to grow. Last year marked Suzuki's 50th year in the US motorcycle market and to celebrate it released a Special Edition GSX-R1000. Suzuki is part of the Japanese Big Four and is the 12th largest manufacturer in the world, boasting 35 production facilities across the globe and being present in 192 different countries.