Charger, Co­bra Ti­tan… they’re all names for the sublime Suzuki T500.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

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.

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