Charger, Cobra Titan… they’re all names for the sublime Suzuki T500.
Titan or Cobra, Steve Cooper has this guide.
The Suzuki T500, variously called the 500/ FIVE, The Charger, The Cobra, and The Titan is (allegedly) the bike that the motorcycle industry said was impossible to build. Right through the 1940s and into the early 1960s conventional wisdom argued a 500cc two-stroke twin would not be a viable machine. Various manufacturers had built 350 stroker twins yet had failed spectacularly when trying to turn them into full half-litre motors. Suzuki, pre-eminent architect of 250 twins, decided to rewrite the rules in the mid-1960s. Taking what it already knew from the TA/TB250S and melding that with experience acquired via the all-conquering T20 aka The Super Six or X6 the company came up with a radically new machine that rewrote the rule book. Instead of being a rev-happy buzz bomb the new 500 proved to be a torque-meister, low-revving, long-legged yet with a surprising turn of speed. At just 5000rpm the original machines were hitting 80mph with ease. Although not overtly publicised, the biggest Suzuki to date had been targeted at the buyers who would normally have bought a big British twin. The factory knew that it was relatively easy to achieve high power outputs from properly designed strokers and proved this with ease. Torque output was within a foot pound of the contemporary BSA 650s and power output was comparable – and with 150 fewer cubic centimetres! The only fly in the ointment was the frankly schizoid handling of the 500/FIVE which proved to be decidedly squirrelly, So Suzuki lengthened the swingarm by a rather generous 100+ mm. The resultant Cobra was
an outstanding success until Shelby Cobra Cars in the USA threatened legal action over the use of their trade name. Suzuki retitled the bike as the Titan which it remained until it became the GT500 in 1975. If you were in Britain, the bike was simply the T500 following more issues with trade names via Read-titan of Leytonstone! At its launch, the T500 was the fastest Japanese bike for a few brief months before Kawasaki’s H1 arrived followed by Honda’s CB750 a year later. In less than 18 months the bike had moved from top dog to also-ran which you’d think would have done for it, but no. The T500 sold well to a wide customer base who appreciated its easy-going, loping nature. In essence these were the people who would have previously purchased a single carb British twin rather than its sporting twin carb brother. The bike was very much a grand tourer rather than a sports machine and frankly unlike any of Suzuki’s sports stroker twins. Unique and totally unflustered the T500 was almost a gentleman’s machine riding in a sea of smoking, screaming pseudo-racers. Yet the bike still had potential to pick up its skirts and get a wiggle on. After all, a pair of very mildly tuned and breathed-upon examples were entered in the 1968 Daytona 200 and came fifth and ninth out of field of some 80 machines. The motor was supremely over-engineered and both then and now little short of rank stupidity can kill it. And to prove that very point Suzuki’s American advertising guys pulled off a publicity stunt like no other. A T500 was ridden back and forth through Death Valley and continued to run faultlessly. If ever a promotional exercise debunked the myth of two-stroke being unreliable this was it. The bike went through a series of revisions during its life. The initial 500/FIVE was very staid in appearance and this look carried over into the first of the infinitely more common Mk1 Cobras with suede effect seat, bulbous bodywork and chrome tank panels. After this the various models received year-on-year cosmetic revisions moving from subtly understated (MK2/3/R) through to gaudy bling (J) then stunningly pretty (K/L) to sober sensibleness (M). The motor also went through changes with the original notched pistons and heavy rings swapped for windowed pistons with lighter rings circa 1969. Issues with dying gear clusters were addressed around 1974 with the gearbox oil capacity increased by 200ccs and a blind casting being blanked off. Other than that all models are intrinsically similar until the introduction of the GT500 in 1975. The model finally received a decent capacity fuel tank and new forks that delivered a much needed disc brake. Inside it was pretty much the same as before, other than the introduction of electronic ignition via Suzuki’s much vaunted PEI system. So why might you want a T500 today? Little else feels or rides like a T500: the bike’s easy-going motor majors on torque, not revs. It has a surprising turn of speed for an old bike, offers a decent pillion seat and has true long distance capability.
TRIM Replica tank badges are available, ditto side-panel badges but not the chrome trim unique to the J model. SIDE-PANELS Very early use of plastic by Suzuki; top mount can fail but replica GRP panels are available. Typical pre-moulded plastic lines with valves to stop oil tank draining through. Air bubbles in lines are normally due to failure of pipe/banjo junctions. OIL PIPES GEARBOX 4th and 5th gears can still wear even on later models that run 1400ccs of oil. Noisy box means engine strip, big bills and bike off the road while parts are tracked down. Gearbox oil needs to be decent quality to protect transmission. Change it regularly; oil is cheap, gear clusters aren’t. GEARBOX OIL
CARBS Early Cobras have fuel hungry 34mm carbs, later models are all 32mm. Expect mid 30s mpg for early bikes and no more than 40-45mpg from later examples. ELECTRICS Simple and normally robust, only age and meddlesome owners causes any real issues. ENGINE Remarkably strong and supremely heavy. Engine bearings are model specific and often not readily available. Remember gearbox oil lubricates both inner main bearings. FRONT BRAKE Most twin-leading shoe units are borderline at best, normally rubbish and occasionally dire. Careful setting up, quality cables and decent linings make the best of a bad job.
Ignition barrel not normally here.