Jeff spends a day ‘fanging’ a mint 1991 GSX-R750M Down Under to re-live the glory days of 750cc sportsbikes.
When we look back at the 1990s and the evolution of the Japanese sportsbike there are few names that stand out more than Suzuki and GSX-R. The sports war was about to hot up when the M rolled off the production line in late 1990. Yamaha and Honda were not truly in the public access game just yet, with an ageing FZR1000 for most punters more realistic than an exotic FZR750 OW-01 and Honda riders having to opt for a VFR over a more desirable VFR750R RC30! What was cool, though, was the FIM spec World Superbike Championships that were really hotting up development of the water-cooled twins and fours. Suzuki was behind the eight-ball with the oil-boiler GSX-R range and its first water-cooled models were cumbersome disasters – making the last oil-cooled Suzuki GSX-R750, the M, at the very end of its development, possibly the best oil/air-cooled motorcycle ever produced and as collectable as the 1985 Slabby and the 1996 WT/SRAD 750s. The M model was based on the successful L model and the L model RR variant, which was built for FIM homologation in a limited run of 500. The RR had a long-stroke engine that was introduced to help smaller teams from around the globe tune the engine to be competitive. After using long-stroke engines from 1985 to 1987, small teams struggled globally with the high revving short-stroke 1988 model, with only Yoshimura and the Japanese factory enjoying any success. The 1989 RR proved a hit so the 1990 stock version went back to the long-stroke motor, giving the bike more usable mid-range and making it a brilliant road sportsbike and privateer racebike. At a time when Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki all made peaky racetrack focused 750s, the GSX-R750L suddenly
made a lot of sense with its smooth, long-stroke engine with strong mid-range. As well as retaining the long-stroke from the original 1987 model, Suzuki went for more midrange by reducing valve sizes by 1.3mm inlet and 1.0mm exhaust, fitted smaller spark plugs, allowing for more material between the valves, and the four-into-one exhaust was re-fitted and re-tuned. Although it looked the same, the L model’s frame was all-new. Rake and trail were increased slightly, the swingarm was based on the 1100 swingarm, upside-down Showa forks and the first remotereservoir shock on a Suzuki appeared. Slotted front rotors replaced drilled ones and the rear tyre was a ‘whopping’ 170 rear-section. The bike was a hit but styling was getting old. By 1991 the Kawasaki ZXR was looking pretty damn cool with its ‘Hoover pipe’ intakes, so Suzuki had to do something – not to mention the impending release of the Honda Fireblade – a bike that would knock the wind out of virtually every manufacturer… So, the GSX-R750M carried a new fairing, with the twin endurance-style headlights being covered by an aerodynamic single-piece plastic fairing. The chassis was carried over from 1990 but the engine got a surprise makeover. Everyone was expecting Suzuki to go water-cooled and first images of the M suggested it might be, however, a giant oversized oil-cooler was the culprit! The world had to wait another year for a water-cooled GSX-R but the last of the mighty oil-cooled GSX-RS still got upgrades, although it was also a whopping 15kg heavier! Valve actuation was changed from the industry standard fork and screw/locknut rocker arm to direct rocker with shim under bucket adjustment. This allowed for elevated engine speeds and a shorter cylinder-head. Aside from that and the styling, nothing else changed for the M and we should all be grateful for that – for anyone who has had the
pleasure of riding an M model would appreciate the fantastic performance the mighty original oil/ air-cooled GSX-R750 provided at the pinnacle of its development. Keith Ellis bought this M model seven years ago after searching for 18 months to find an original M. “I wanted it so bad that I paid a little too much for it at just under £3500 but it had 12 months’ road tax and importantly, was original right down to the pipe,” he says. “I always liked the look of the M and being the last air/oil-cooled GSX-R made the bike appealing to me. Under the fairings was 15 years of road grime but it was an honest 20,000-mile old example.” Keith got the bike home and stripped it ready for restoration. First job was to strip the 38mm Mikuni CV carbs and eliminate the rich pilot fuelling. The suspension was taken out and rebuilt with a heavier rear spring and aftermarket fork springs going in, as well as a remote hydraulic preload adjuster custom made for the rear. The engine was given a full service including valve clearances. Now it runs like new. Braided stainless brake lines and Goodrich rotors upgraded the brakes and Michelin Pilot Power hoops bring the bike up to modern standards in the grip department. Aside from that, the bike is stock and detailed back to new. Keith rides it most days and is very happy with the finished product. He says: “I bought the bike as a rider. I’d just restored an RD350LC and did not want to do another major rebuild or resto, just some minor maintenance and detailing. I love riding this iconic bike and it is probably more enjoyable than most modern bikes on public roads – plus it still performs like stink!” My turn to throw a leg over Keith’s baby. Now, I have some fantastic memories of GSX-R750MS from when I was a young hoon, fanging a TZR250 up and down my locals. Two mates had M models – Simon and Mick – and they both knew how to ride! I remember their awesome all-gear wheelies and trying to keep up with them on the TZR. I’ve always loved the M and still think it is one of the best looking 750s ever produced – particularly in blue and white… I never owned one and never came close. Apprenticeship wages and 250 production racing meant baked beans and two-minute noodles were the staple diet back then but 20 years on, here I am riding a mint 750M up and down the same road on
a bright sunny winter (yes it is sunny here in winter) Sunday. It feels like I’ve stepped back in time… The bike is every bit as special as I remember it – and more. In fact, as I familiarise myself with the bike and get some heat into the tyres I realise just how good these things are, or were, or (well) still are… The bike is tiny. It is narrow between the knees and compact with a fantastic, racy old school reach to the bars that places me right where I feel confident – low and head over the front-end. The bars are closer together than a modern bike and the ’pegs are really high and close to the seat. It’s a proper old school race crouch – the tall tank under the chest and a tall screen to tuck behind. The front end is sensational – I literally feel like I’m holding the front axle – feedback is that good and the bike will happily respond to any steering input on the brakes, off them, coasting or on the power. Once on its side the bike is so planted, in a way that just does not exist any more with modern point and shoot geometry. The 1990s geometry somehow allowed for sharp steering while maintaining stability at full lean through a turn that just wills the rider to carry more and more corner speed. It’s a long stable arc that puts a serious grin on my dial. And this oil boiler long-stroke gem of an engine: I’d forgotten just how good they were. Pick a gear. Any gear. And enjoy the ride. If you need to pass a mate or a car, go back a gear and rev the thing to redline – it’s still a rocket up top but makes silky smooth linear power from as low as 5000rpm. Try that on a 2017 GSX-R750 and you will go backwards at a rapid rate! With the brake upgrades on this machine stopping is up to modern standards and at the end of my ride I’m smiling a lot more than I would be on one of my own modern bikes. Pulling up at the café is cool too – not many bikes attract the attention that a minter like this does. Thanks Keith!
ABOVE: The M is still a looker from any angle.
BELOW: Clock-set is classic GSX-R.
BELOW LEFT: Steering damper was a help on the road.
BELOW: Classic Nissin calipers grip updated wavy discs.
ABOVE: Still rapid and still got the looks.
BELOW: Original can is hard to come by now.