SHEENE’S SEE­LEY SUZUKI

What Terry Williams thought was a box of bits and a rusty rolling chas­sis turned out to be an ex-sheene See­ley Suzuki

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS GEZ KANE. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: STU­ART COLLINS

‘Rid­den by Barry who?’ – the amaz­ing tale of buy­ing and restor­ing Sheene’s TR500 race bike

The tale of Terry Williams’ See­ley Suzuki starts out a fa­mil­iar one. Fa­ther and son from clas­sic bike-mad fam­ily de­cide they’d like to re­store a bike. Son fan­cies a go at clas­sic rac­ing, so they de­cide to look for a race bike project. On the day son is suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing his ACU rac­ing li­cence course, dad goes to look at an old race bike an old ac­quain­tance has had ly­ing around in his workshop for years. Af­ter a fair bit of de­lib­er­a­tion, they de­cide to buy the stripped-down See­ley Suzuki. But then things start to get re­ally interesting, as Terry ex­plains.

“I’d known the bike ex­isted for ages,” he says. “A guy I knew, Arnie, had it salted away for years. I’d seen the en­gine on the floor in his workshop dozens of times. The story was that it was the bike he’d raced as a young­ster and kept when he packed up rac­ing. He was al­ways go­ing to re­store it one day, but never got round to it. When I men­tioned Toby [Terry’s son] was plan­ning to go rac­ing and we were look­ing for a bike to re­store, he said to come and have a look at his old See­ley Suzuki. I didn’t even know what one was, but Toby checked it out on­line and reck­oned it would make a good project. So we agreed a price and I ar­ranged to go and col­lect it.”

As they loaded the boxes of bits into Terry’s van, Arnie dropped the bomb­shell. “He ca­su­ally men­tioned that Barry Sheene had rid­den the bike,” Terry re­calls. “And that he’d met Sheene at a race meet­ing at Brands Hatch in 1981, where Barry had looked at the bike and con­firmed that, not only was it one of his old race bikes, but it was also the ma­chine on which he’d first fin­ished ahead of his rac­ing hero, Gi­a­como Agostini, at Sil­ver­stone in Au­gust 1973. I was amazed and re­solved to thor­oughly re­search the bike’s his­tory.”

That was the start of around two years of hard graft and painstak­ing re­search. The re­sults are a su­perbly re­stored race bike with a sen­sa­tional his­tory. Not only did the bike turn out to be one of Sheene’s first fac­tory rides, but it’s also quite pos­si­ble that Barry won more races on this bike than any other sin­gle ma­chine he rode dur­ing his cel­e­brated ca­reer.

What’s be­yond doubt is that 1973 was a big year for Barry Sheene – apart from his cham­pi­onship-win­ning years of 1976/77, it might have been the most im­por­tant year of his ca­reer, as he rose from the pri­va­teer ranks to be­come a fully-fledged Suzuki works rider. Sheene had ex­pe­ri­ence with Suzukis, hav­ing rid­den a pri­vately en­tered, ex-works 125cc twin to sec­ond in the world cham­pi­onship in ’71 and cam­paigned a See­ley TR500 with an ex-mal­colm Up­hill en­gine that year as well. A sea­son on Yama­has fol­lowed in ’72, be­fore the step up to the big time as a full fac­tory rider – courtesy of this See­ley TR500 and a TR750 run by Suzuki GB – in ’73.

For 1973, Suzuki had gone di­rect to frame-build­ing wiz­ard Colin See­ley to pro­duce frames for both of Sheene’s works rac­ers. And we’ve got Colin on hand at Brands Hatch to con­firm the au­then­tic­ity of Terry’s ma­chine and to give us a lit­tle back­ground on the ’73 works Suzukis. “I’ve checked the bike and it’s the real thing,” Colin smiles. “I de­liv­ered the rolling chas­sis to Suzuki at Bed­ding­ton Lane on Fe­bru­ary 24, 1973 af­ter Suzuki asked me to build two: one for the TR500 en­gine and one for the new TR750. Barry had al­ready said the See­ley-framed TR500 he rode in ’71 was the best han­dling bike he’d rid­den up to then, so they must have thought my frames were al­right.”

Suzuki’s faith in Colin’s de­sign ex­per­tise and work­man­ship was am­ply re­paid. Ac­cord­ing to Terry’s re­search, over the 15 UK meetings Barry con­tested on the See­ley TR500 in 1973, he recorded ei­ther first or sec­ond-place fin­ishes – of­ten sev­eral per meet­ing – at all bar the sea­son opener at Mal­lory Park where he suf­fered me­chan­i­cal prob­lems, and the King of Brands meet­ing in May where a punc­ture ended his day. In ad­di­tion to a to­tal of 16 race wins and four sec­ond places in UK races, Sheene and the TR500 fin­ished sec­ond be­hind Tepi Lan­sivouri in the F750 race at Hämeen­linna, Fin­land on Au­gust 1, and a few days pre­vi­ously had been in fourth place at the Fin­nish GP un­til the crank broke. He also set lap records at Oul­ton Park, Oliver’s Mount and Cad­well Park, plus class lap records at Mal­lory Park and Snet­ter­ton. Some year!

Con­sid­er­ing Sheene’s pri­or­ity that sea­son was the new Euro­pean-based FIM F750 se­ries, the num­ber of wins he com­piled on the See­ley TR500 seems all the more im­pres­sive. This was par­tially down to the fact that he wanted to pre­serve the fast

‘IT WAS THE BIKE ON WHICH HE’D FIRST FIN­ISHED AHEAD OF GI­A­COMO AGOSTINI’

but frag­ile en­gine of the TR750 and used the 500 in quite a few do­mes­tic F750 and 1000cc races. The en­gines for Sheene’s F750 mount were sup­plied by Suzuki Amer­ica and they had ap­par­ently been stripped of many of the lat­est works in­ter­nals. In any event, the TR750 wasn’t avail­able to Sheene un­til April, so the See­ley TR500 was Sheene’s only bike for the start of the sea­son, save for one abortive out­ing on the See­ley mono­coque at the first meet­ing of the sea­son at Mal­lory Park. And, un­like the trou­ble­some 750 unit, the en­gine Sheene used in the See­ley-framed 500 was one he had spent many hours pre­par­ing him­self at Suzuki GB’S Bed­ding­ton Lane HQ in Croy­don. Slot­ted into the proven See­ley chas­sis, it proved a for­mi­da­ble race bike.

Quite what hap­pened to Barry’s first works Suzuki be­tween 1973 and Arnie ac­quir­ing it in 1977 is un­clear. Of course, the new-for-1974 Suzuki RG500 square-four meant the faith­ful See­ley was sur­plus to re­quire­ments as far as Barry Sheene was con­cerned. It’s likely that it was sold off to con­tinue ply­ing its trade at a slightly lower level. What­ever, Terry knows ex­actly where it’s been since ’77. “Arnie told me he went with a mate to Sur­rey to look at it and his mate bought it orig­i­nally,” he ex­plains. “Later that year, the mate crashed it, fell out of love with it and sold it on to Arnie.”

Arnie raced the bike for years – and was still us­ing it when he bumped into Barry Sheene at that Brands meet­ing back in 1981. But even­tu­ally the bike got pen­sioned off and sat in Arnie’s workshop for years un­til Terry came along two years ago. And once he had con­firmed the bike’s prove­nance through Colin See­ley, the grand ob­ses­sion could be­gin.

“I started to gather any in­for­ma­tion I could about the bike,” says Terry. “A mate of mine, Matt Has­sock, took a keen in­ter­est in what I was do­ing and he of­fered to help too. Be­tween us, we scoured the in­ter­net for pho­to­graphs, race re­ports, pro­grammes – any­thing that would help re­store the bike to the con­di­tion it was in when Sheene cam­paigned it in 1973. I’ve got pro­grammes for ev­ery UK race the bike com­pleted in 1973, most com­plete with re­sults. Luck­ily, when Barry raced the bike, bud­gets were pretty tight and it was a case of make do and mend. That meant that the bike fin­ished the sea­son sub­stan­tially as it started it, with all the ma­jor com­po­nents still present. And, al­though Arnie changed a few things, he still had most of the orig­i­nal parts.”

Be­cause of that, Terry has car­ried out a painstak­ingly sym­pa­thetic restora­tion, sav­ing ev­ery part it was pos­si­ble to save. “The only ma­jor parts that aren’t the orig­i­nals are the seat (which had been swapped for one from Pat Hen­nen’s Grand Prix bike), the fair­ing and the ig­ni­tion,” he con­firms. “Just about ev­ery­thing else has been re­stored and reused.”

Through his re­search, Terry had con­tacted Gra­ham Saun­ders, who ran the Suzuki tech­ni­cal school at Bed­ding­ton Lane, worked for Suzuki from 1968-1978 and knew Sheene well. “I per­suaded Gra­ham to re­build the en­gine for me,” Terry says. “He knows the TR500 en­gine in­side out. I stripped the en­gine and got the crank re­built by Pete O’dell at The Mo­tor­cy­cle Works (the­mo­tor­cy­cle­works.co.uk) in Peter­bor­ough. I Cleanz Ma­chines (icmhome.org.uk) vapour-blasted all the en­gine cases be­fore I handed the lot over to Gra­ham for re­build­ing. Oddly, the crankcases are T500. Sheene en­graved the crankcases ‘Barry 1’ when he built the en­gine – a fact he con­firmed to Arnie when he looked over the bike in 1981, so I know it’s the orig­i­nal en­gine – but the rest of the en­gine, in­clud­ing the bar­rels and all the in­ter­nals are TR500, ac­cord­ing to Gra­ham. He’s fit­ted new bear­ings and seals through­out and new rings, but the bores and pis­tons were OK. The gear­box has all the cor­rect TR500 ra­tios and the crank has the gen­uine TR500 stuffers on the fly­wheels.”

Re­turn­ing the rolling chas­sis to ‘as raced by Sheene’ con­di­tion called for a con­sid­er­able amount of de­tec­tive work. It also took all of Terry’s con­sid­er­able sheet met­al­work­ing and weld­ing skills – in

‘WE WANTED TO RE­STORE THE BIKE TO THE CON­DI­TION IT WAS IN WHEN SHEENE CAM­PAIGNED IT IN 1973’

his day job he de­signs and fab­ri­cates be­spoke ar­chi­tec­tural fit­tings and fur­nish­ings. “I got hold of ev­ery contemporary pho­to­graph of the bike I could find and en­larged them as much as pos­si­ble,” he re­calls. “Colin See­ley kindly ar­ranged for me to go down to the Sammy Miller Mu­seum to pho­to­graph and mea­sure up a pe­riod See­ley chas­sis on one of the mu­seum ex­hibits, and my notes and pho­tos have helped me re­store nu­mer­ous dam­aged parts in­clud­ing the footrests, clip-ons and swingarm.

“Some­one had ex­tended the swingarm by about three inches, so I had to cut the ex­tended tub­ing back and fab­ri­cate new ends and See­ley replica chain ad­justers be­fore in­sert­ing a piece of bar in­side the tub­ing and TIG weld­ing the arm back up. I cleaned the frame and swingarm up with wire brushes in a drill and got it painted in two-pack by a lo­cal guy who spe­cialises in bi­cy­cle frames. There’s a knack to paint­ing tubu­lar frames and I didn’t want it pow­der coated. I had to re­pair one clip-on and re­man­u­fac­ture the other one us­ing the orig­i­nal as a pat­tern. I made a jig so I got the an­gles spot-on and brazed it up like the See­ley orig­i­nal.”

Terry was sim­i­larly pedan­tic about the footrest mounts and rearset con­trols. “I made them us­ing the pho­to­graphs and mea­sure­ments I’d taken at Sammy Miller’s,” he says. Like­wise, the beau­ti­ful al­loy seat unit is an­other of Terry’s cre­ations. “I made a wooden buck, work­ing out the dimensions from pho­to­graphs,” Terry con­tin­ues. “Then I hand-beat the al­loy sec­tions of the seat be­fore weld­ing them up. There’s no filler in it.”

Terry’s used a mod­ern elec­tronic ig­ni­tion unit from Elec­trex World (elec­trex­world.co.uk), in­tended for both T500 and TR500. “I searched for ages for a gen­uine Kokosan ig­ni­tion for the bike,

but I just couldn’t find one,” he says. “I wasn’t happy with the look of the CDI boxes, though, so I bor­rowed an orig­i­nal Kokosan unit from Spike Livingstone of Ragged Edge Rac­ing (ragged­edgerac­ing. com). He sup­plied a replica Gus Kuhn pat­tern fair­ing as orig­i­nally used on the bike, made com­puter draw­ings of the CDI boxes and got them 3D printed by 3D Alchemy (3d-alchemy.co.uk). The Elec­trex World CDI boxes fit­ted in­side with 1mm clear­ance.”

Al­though grubby, a lot of the bike cleaned up amaz­ingly well. “I had to re­place a few fas­ten­ers and make some new head bolts,” Terry con­cedes. “But I’ve kept most of the orig­i­nal bolts. Even the rear shock springs are orig­i­nal though I re­placed the shocks with NOS Gir­lings found on ebay. Hagon (hagon-shocks.co.uk) re­built the wheels into the old hubs and rims, us­ing new stain­less steel spokes sand blasted to repli­cate the orig­i­nal zinc-plated fin­ish.”

Terry says the ex­hausts were the hard­est part of the restora­tion to get right. “I spent hours por­ing over pho­tos to work out which of the patches and re­pairs were there when Barry was rid­ing the bike and which were added later,” he ad­mits. “I knew the ‘flats’ on the ex­pan­sion cham­bers were done by Sheene’s dad Frank, but I’ve tried to re­move any ev­i­dence of later re­pairs. I cut off the si­lencers that had been added and made new stingers. I even had to bore out the tub­ing I used to make them to get the cor­rect in­side di­am­e­ter.”

That ded­i­ca­tion to de­tail was even ap­plied to pre­cisely repli­cat­ing the stick­ers Sheene ap­plied to the bike for the 1973 sea­son. “My mate Matt and I spent hours check­ing pho­to­graphs to get the de­signs and po­si­tion­ing right. Pho­tog­ra­pher Jan Burg­ers sup­plied some en­large­ments of his pe­riod shots of the bike and we worked out the de­sign and po­si­tion­ing from those and got a lo­cal graph­ics firm to make up new ones,” Terry says.

What­ever could be left orig­i­nal, has been. Terry has welded up a cracked top yoke, cleaned up the forks, re­paired the oil tank and even left a dent in the top of the tank. “That’s from Barry flat­ten­ing him­self across it to get that ex­tra mph,” he smiles. Smile he might, but that kind of de­tail is im­por­tant to Terry. He’s de­voted two years and a lot of work into pro­duc­ing a fit­ting trib­ute to Barry Sheene – and pre­serv­ing a his­toric and suc­cess­ful part of his ca­reer. Look­ing over the fin­ished bike with a smil­ing Colin See­ley, I’d have to say he’s suc­ceeded in both aims.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the orig­i­nal plan for Terry’s son Toby to go clas­sic rac­ing with the bike has been shelved. “Be­cause it is what it is, I wouldn’t risk rac­ing it.” Terry ad­mits. “Be­sides, I’m not sure it would be com­pet­i­tive in clas­sic rac­ing in its pe­riod-cor­rect form. Toby will still get to ride it; it helps that he’s about the same build as Barry. We want to pa­rade it, show it and let as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble see it – and hear it. Sheene was such a hero to so many peo­ple. We’ll just have to build an­other bike for Toby to race.”

‘I SPENT HOURS CHECK­ING PHO­TOS TO GET THE PO­SI­TION­ING AND DE­SIGN OF THE STICK­ERS RIGHT’

Terry ap­plied his ex­ten­sive fab­ri­cat­ing skills to weld up the cracked top yoke

Terry says the ex­hausts were the hard­est part of the restora­tion to get right

The TR500 en­gine fea­tured a two-stroke oil pump like Suzuki’s road-go­ing stro­kers

Terry Williams with Colin See­ley, who con­firmed the bike’s au­then­tic­ity

Terry bored out the tub­ing he used to re­make the stingers to get cor­rect in­side di­am­e­ter

Terry’s workshop is prop­erly tooled up to deal with such an in-depth restora­tion

Sheene was be­com­ing the poster boy of Bri­tish rac­ing in ’73

Barry chas­ing Yamaha-mounted John Williams at Sil­ver­stone in 1973

Barry Sheene hit the big time in 1973, mov­ing up from pri­va­teer Yama­has to rid­ing fac­tory Suzukis in­clud­ing this See­ley Suzuki TR500

Metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail has re­sulted in a su­perbly re­stored race bike

Barry on the See­leyframed Suzuki in the Fin­nish 500GP at Ima­tra in 1973

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