1976 championship-winning XR14 resurrected by the men who built it 40 years ago
Restoration diary - Part I
In a sleepy village in the south of England, a legend is being reborn. Barry Sheene’s actual 1976 World Championship-winning Suzuki XR14 is being brought back to life by Nigel Everett and Martyn Ogborne, both legends in the Suzuki racing world. The bulk of the work is being done by Everett, a former Suzuki mechanic who now restores classic race bikes, while Ogborne – who was Sheene’s Chief Mechanic – assists.
“The bike is an XR14 from 1976 but it’s been left in Australia since he [Sheene] emigrated in the late 1980s,” says Ogborne. “When he lived at Charlwood, Surrey, we would go round and work on them for him occasionally but we’ve not touched it in 25 years.
“The problem is that these bikes are worse if they’re left. They actually cost money if they’re standing still for any amount of time, and I mean even a month. The cases are magnesium and unless they’re very carefully looked after, the magnesium just deteriorates in the atmosphere.”
No time like the present
Once the bike is loaded onto the bench, Nigel and Martyn begin attacking the Suzuki like children at Christmas, removing the fairings in moments. With the bulk of the bodywork stripped away, it was the moment of truth.
“The worst thing you can do is put water back into them and unfortunately when they got back to Australia someone has refilled it,” says Ogborne. “To do that, you’d have to start them and run them on a weekly basis and that’s not happened.”
“You don’t know what you’re in for until you open them up of course,” adds Everett. “The good thing about Suzuki is that the production racing bike of 1977 would have had a lot of the bits from the factory bike in 1976. Rebuilding the cranks for instance – all that stuff I’ve got. Everything can be done basically.”
Everett cracks the crusty seal on the drain plug and out pours litres of emulsified oil, proof that the coolant has eaten its way through the delicate engine and made its way into the gearbox. Apart from the odd seized bolt, the engine comes apart quite easily and it’s not all bad news. The pistons and barrels are in good shape, as are the cranks. The gearbox hasn’t suffered badly in the water either, with no evidence of a tide mark but the same can’t be said of the crankcases. A bit of poking around soon reveals large areas that are completely rotten. Luckily, he thinks they can be saved although it will require a lot of work.
“Everything rubber has seized solid,” says Ogborne. “All the seals will need replacing as well as the engine work but that’s just what happens when bikes stand still for years. It will be a lot of work to get it back together.”
So what’s next?
With the bike in pieces, the duo assess all the parts that need replacing or repairing, and where parts need to be cleaned heavily they will be sent off to be meticulously vapour blasted. It will then be a case of reassembling everything with new seals and gaskets.
The crankcase will need to be repaired and have the large holes filled in. Luckily, Everett knows a local machine shop that is able to weld the magnesium cases and build them back up.
NEXT WEEK - Sheene Resto Part II