‘We thought: What a great bike, this is just what we need’ Kevin Schwantz
It was my first big bike, and the first I used to travel abroad, to events like Le Mans’
Few bikes become icons, and far fewer are so significant that they change the whole direction of powered twowheelers. But Suzuki’s first GSX-R750 is just such a machine.
Launched in 1985, that original GSX-R750F became the first true race replica. By setting a whole new standard for road performance and handling, it became not only the new benchmark on the street, but also hugely important for a whole generation of racers.
Kevin Schwantz began his long association with Suzuki in AMA Superbikes on the air-cooled GS700. But it was the succeeding, radical, oilcooled GSX-R750 that thrust him into the public consciousness.
“We first got the GSX-R750 in the States in ’86,” Schwantz told MCN later. “When we first saw it we thought, ‘Oh man, what a great bike, this is just what we need’."
And although Schwantz never won the AMA series aboard Suzuki’s newcomer, the new GSX-R certainly helped propel him into the limelight, not least after a series of great duels with team-mate Wayne Rainey in the 1987 Transatlantic Trophy.
With hindsight, the GSX-R’S race replica concept seems nothing new. The point, however, is that the GSX-R was the first superbike built in this way, following on from Suzuki’s Japan-only GSX-R400, which in turn followed the RG250 two-stroke.
All mimicked race bikes with their lightweight, box-section aluminium frames and high performance engines. Specifically, the big GSX-R was modelled as closely as possible on Suzuki’s world endurance championship-winning machine, the alloy-framed XR41/GS1000R of 1983. The GSX-R’S engine, meanwhile, was an all-new compact four with a novel oil-cooling system Suzuki called SACS. The result, equipped with cutting edge brakes and suspension, making 100bhp, weighing just 185kg and wrapped in twin-headlamp race-rep bodywork, was an immediate sensation with racers and road riders alike.
Perhaps even more significantly, though, that first GSX-R750 was so successful it sired a dynasty which lives on to this day. The first ‘Slabbie’ (as the ’85-’87 models became known due to their ‘slab-sided’ bodywork), led to the 1988 ‘J’ Slingshot, the controversial 1989 K and then, in turn, the 1990 inverted fork ‘L’ and restyled 1991 ‘M’. And while none of these quite had the same impact as the original, and the subsequent water-cooled models were leap-frogged by more focused, beam-framed rivals, all still had a strong following due to a ‘bad boy’ image and real world road aplomb few others could match.
One of those who succumbed was MCN reader David Spencer. “It was my first big bike,” he said. “A slab-sided G model in blue and white that was about the cheapest second-hand bike in the showroom. It made me feel like a superhero, even with the dodgy brakes and fibreglass pattern fairing. It also made me want to wear urban camo trousers, put an M1 bomber jacket over my leathers and fit an iridium visor to my Arai… Well, it was the '90s!”
Another was Keith Morris. “I had a 1989 model,” he told MCN. “It was my first big bike and the first I used to travel abroad on, to events such as Le Mans. I've many great memories of it!”
That’s the thing about the early GSX-R. The later, beam-framed bikes may be ‘better’ motorcycles but they’ve never been as significant nor changed so many lives as the original.