Resurrection Part 1.1(b)

November 1 2008

As mentioned some time ago in this column, I began my foray into restoration last year with a modest project involving a small displacement motocrosser from the early 1980s. After hours (spanning months) of disassembling, cleaning, stripping, straightening, swearing, painting, and reassembling, I’m ready to call this undertaking 90% complete. I had planned to spend the winter procuring the remaining parts prior to unleashing blue smoke and two stroke fury on the neighbourhood next spring. But then plans are best if flexible, sorta like a reed valve.

In the area of scrounging, wheeling, dealing, and overall ability to just find stuff, my father’s skill is unmatched, with the exception perhaps of the prisoners of ‘Stalag Luft III’ in The Great Escape. One never knows what form these acquisitions will take, though they usually involve an internal combustion engine of some sort. So I wasn’t altogether surprised when I received a call from Dad recently telling me that he had found a good deal on a bike. That he had waited out the seller of said bike for ten years (yes, ten years) didn’t surprise me much either, though I was decidedly confounded when he informed me he would be delivering it to me the next day.

This wasn’t the legendary cherry flathead, Indian Chief, or Vincent that had been sitting covered in a barn for five or six decades however. No, it wasn’t even a well-worn Brit or Bavarian twin. Far less exotic, it rolled up tied to the trailer bed in all its Universal Japanese glory, a 1981 Suzuki GS650. In Dad’s own words, “it’s all there”, meaning that it hadn’t been previously scavenged for parts, thus leaving interior components potentially exposed to all manner of nature. It was indeed a complete specimen, albeit one parked and neglected for years, and evidently, many of those years outdoors. Despite this, upon initial inspection, I could feel the little tinkerer that resides somewhere between this writer’s ears come alive. His eyes lighting up and his palms rubbing together enthusiastically asking, “now, what will we do with this, hmm?”

Getting a bike like this roadworthy is always a dubious prospect. While there seems to be inherent value in old American, British, and European marquees (deservedly or not), old Japanese motorcycles are rarely viewed this way. The informed enthusiast is however aware of the sought after models from the far east and as the 80’s move steadily into “vintage” classification they have enjoyed somewhat increased recognition. At the (admittedly very few) organized shows/events that I regularly attend, I’ve seen increasing numbers of 1970’s era Japanese bikes that bear the look of pride in ownership. These are usually early models of the venerable inline fours; single overhead cam Honda CB750s and early Kawasaki KZ models. Both of these are now considered classics, the former often considered the first “superbike”, and the latter handily out-accelerating anything else in its day. This lineage continues as straight fours still power the fastest production motorcycles available today.

Enjoying somewhat lesser fame (but no less deserving) was the Suzuki GS series—precursor to today’s gixxers—to which this new occupant of my garage belongs. Though I’m still doing preliminary research, the side cover indicates a “G” designation though the Krauser pannier mounts and Vetter (quicksilver) fairing suggest a “GT” model.

Lofty visions of a 100 point restoration however aren’t even a consideration here, though perhaps I’ll work up to a project of this level some day. I do confess to having romantic notions (upon retirement) of a small shop equipped for minor machining. I imagine quiet evenings turning my own brass bushings, watching the shavings spooling lazily from the lathe, or unhurriedly winding the bed of a small mill back and forth to fabricate some obscure bracket, the yellow glow of incandescent light bulbs and the smell of cutting oil as smoke curls up from the tool in gossamer wisps… However I divagate.

The reality of this project involves the removal, dismantling, and meticulous cleaning of four carburetors, sourcing a replacement for a corroded exhaust system, and generally spending the least amount of resources in determining the serviceability of the engine. I’ve decided that the best approach here is a cautious progressive one that allows for abandonment if cost becomes prohibitive, which is to say it makes no sense investing hundreds of resource units in tires, battery, brake lines etc. on a bike requiring extensive engine work. Having said this, the old GS is indeed “all there”, and with little over 20k on its clock, the potential for resurrecting a strong running UJM seems evident.

I should mention that the ultimate intent of this endeavour is of a more practical nature. If all goes well, this sort-of classic middleweight will provide a young relative with his first street ride. I’m considering the possibility of taking a “Mad Max Special” approach, and economic considerations will certainly force form to follow function. To be sure, the consequences of leaving a bike engine idle for years will reveal themselves as the task gets underway. When I eventually get it fired I’m expecting at least a little blue smoke, more characteristic of the little yellow Yamaha that was almost finished before it had to make room for a stable mate. Apart from running out of room, I’m not concerned that these projects are beginning to overlap; indeed there are also winter mods to the Super Glide to be considered as well, and the Triumph/Ducati special is really in need of some attention too. But then life is much better when lived as process rather than a continuous series of results. A tinkerers’ work is just never done.


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