A Suzuki in Wolf’s cloth­ing

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

The flam­boy­ant dé­cor dis­tin­guish­ing an oth­er­wise un­ex­cep­tional mo­tor­cy­cle gives some in­sight into the man be­hind its cre­ation. Wal­ter Wolf was and still is a quite re­mark­able man – a man to whom suc­cess in any cho­sen field is a manda­tory. So be­fore we look at the mo­tor­cy­cle, it’s worth look­ing at the man. ‚ Story Nick Varta


Wal­ter was born in Graz, Aus­tria, on Oc­to­ber 5th, 1939, just in time for WW2. His fa­ther, who was half Slove­nian, was con­scripted at age 40 into the Ger­man army and sent to the Rus­sian front, where he was cap­tured and sent to a Rus­sian prison for ten hor­ri­fy­ing years. Mrs Wolf, a Slovene, took her chil­dren to Yu­goslavia, where young Wal­ter was re­quired to con­trib­ute to the house­hold cof­fers by work­ing what­ever jobs he could find. It was 1951 be­fore his fa­ther was re­leased from prison, and when he re­turned he took the fam­ily to West Germany, and in 1958, to Canada. Wal­ter spoke no English and claimed he learned the lan­guage by watch­ing Hol­ly­wood west­ern movies at the lo­cal cinema. Work­ing first as an el­e­va­tor re­pair man and later as a diver build­ing un­der­wa­ter bridge foun­da­tions, he even­tu­ally joined a com­pany that man­u­fac­tured and sold ma­rine equip­ment. Within a few years, he owned the com­pany.

His core busi­ness be­came the in­stal­la­tion of oil rig plat­forms all over the world – from Africa to New Zealand – and soon di­ver­si­fied into trad­ing in crude oil, where he amassed a for­tune. That bo­nanza al­lowed him to in­dulge his other pas­sion – mo­tor cars and mo­tor sport. As a pen­ni­less 16-yearold, he had hitch-hiked from Yu­goslavia to Monza, and blagged his way in to watch the For­mula One Grand Prix. The die was cast. His bur­geon­ing busi­ness empire brought with it he­li­copters and pri­vate jets, and for ground trans­port Wal­ter bought a Lam­borgh­ini Coun­tach di­rectly from the fac­tory in Italy. Here he met and be­friended Gian Paolo Dal­lara, Lam­borgh­ini’s chief en­gi­neer, and a man who knew lots about build­ing fast cars. Wolf en­tered into an agree­ment to build a run of spe­cial cars, based on the Coun­tach and mar­keted as Wal­ter Wolf Spe­cials. His re­la­tion­ship with Dal­lara led to him meet­ing Frank Williams in 1975, who at that time was try­ing to run a For­mula One team on a shoe­string bud­get and heav­ily in debt. Wolf agreed to as­sist by pro­vid­ing a Cos­worth DFV en­gine, and the friend­ship – and the fi­nan­cial involvemen­t – blos­somed from there. For the 1976 sea­son, the Williams cars, which had been built from the for­mer Hes­keth cars raced by James Hunt, were en­tered by Wal­ter Wolf Rac­ing. They looked smart, in a dark blue liv­ery, but they were heavy and slow, and even a talent like Jacky Ickx could not drag one onto the back of the grid. Af­ter a con­spic­u­ous lack of re­sults, re­la­tions with Frank Williams soured and Wolf de­cided to set up his own team for 1977, pulling Williams team man­ager Peter Warr and de­signer Har­vey Postleth­waite, and hir­ing South African Jody Scheck­ter as driver.

The re­sult was some­thing out of a fairy tale. The all­new Wolf WR1 – a straight­for­ward chas­sis pow­ered by the usual Cos­worth DFV en­gine – won its de­but race at the sea­son-open­ing Ar­gen­tinian Grand Prix in Buenos Aires, leav­ing F1 pun­dits gob­s­macked. And it was no fluke; Scheck­ter won two more GPs, in Monaco and – to Wolf’s de­light – in Canada, to claim sec­ond place be­hind Niki Lauda in the 1977 cham­pi­onship re­sults. How­ever the next two sea­sons pro­duced no more wins, and a dis­il­lu­sioned Wolf sold the team and its Bri­tish premises to the Fit­ti­paldi broth­ers. For­mula One wasn’t Wolf’s only in­ter­est in mo­tor sport. There were Can Am cars as well, and mo­tor­cy­cles. In the mid ‘eight­ies, Wolf put to­gether a deal to mar­ket Suzuki RG250s and RG500s un­der his name, pri­mar­ily in Canada and Ja­pan. At the time Wolf was spon­sor­ing a Ja­panese rider on an RG500 in Ja­pan and SE Asia, so per­haps the road bike tie-up was as a re­sult of that. The dé­cor matched Wolf’s For­mula One cars – a rather strik­ing mix­ture of dark blue with gold and red high­lights. Even the in­stru­ments were fin­ished with dark blue faces. The bikes were pro­duced in lim­ited num­bers in 1986 and 1987, and is it be­lieved that around 100 of each of the 250 and 500 were built in Wolf colours. The Ja­panese scale model com­pany Tamiya even pro­duced an RG250 Gamma kit in Wolf colours.

“The RG250 ‘Gamma’ was pro­duced by Suzuki from March 1983 un­til 1987 and was highly suc­cess­ful in the hy­per­com­pet­i­tive Light­weight (250cc) Pro­duc­tion Rac­ing cat­e­gory.”

The RG250 ‘Gamma’ was pro­duced by Suzuki from March 1983 un­til 1987 and was highly suc­cess­ful in the hy­per-com­pet­i­tive Light­weight (250cc) Pro­duc­tion Rac­ing cat­e­gory. The en­gine it­self fol­lowed es­tab­lished prin­ci­ples, be­ing a wa­ter­cooled parallel twin, with the mix­ture from the 28mm square slide Miku­nis be­ing fed through reed valve blocks. The RG 250 Gamma also used Suzuki’s ver­sion of the vari­able ex­haust port tim­ing, usu­ally re­ferred to a power valve which markedly im­proved low and mid-range power as well as fuel con­sump­tion and ex­haust emis­sions. The RG250 first ap­peared in the Suzuki range in 1978, in air-cooled


form. It was also known as the X7 in some mar­kets. The air-cooled model lasted un­til 1983, when the ‘Gamma’ ap­peared to take on the class-lead­ing Yamaha RZ250R as well as the Honda VT250F twin and three-cylin­der MVX250F. As well as the wa­ter­cooled donk, the new RG250 sported an alu­minium box-sec­tion chas­sis, in­clud­ing the swing­ing arm – the first such de­sign to go into mass pro­duc­tion. There was also a ver­sion of the full fair­ing that had been de­vel­oped on the com­pany’s World Cham­pi­onship-win­ning RGB500 works ma­chines, al­though the Gamma was sold in some mar­kets (in­clud­ing Aus­tralia) with a half fair­ing that cov­ered the top of the en­gine only. One com­mon com­plaint was the lack of a cen­tre stand. The frame also featured Suzuki’ s moto cross-de­vel­oped Full Floater rear sus­pen­sion, with the sin­gle shock absorber mounted ver­ti­cally be­hind the en­gine. An hy­draulic ad­juster (as on the GSX750) made set­ting rear sus­pen­sion pre-load ex­tremely sim­ple. Up front were front forks that had been de­vel­oped on the RGB500 rac­ers, with an anti-dive sys­tem built into the fork legs and ac­ti­vated by the front brake. To cope with the vibes that go with a highly de­vel­oped two stroke, the speedo, tacho and wa­ter tem­per­a­ture gauges were rub­ber mounted. The oil tank for the au­to­matic oil in­jec­tion sys­tem sat un­der the fuel tank and was filled by re­leas­ing the fuel tank’s cap which ex­posed two ports, one for fuel and the other for oil.

De­spite prediction­s oth­er­wise, the RG250 never quite man­aged to dom­i­nate on the race track. At the an­nual Bathurst con­test, Honda took out the 250cc Pro­duc­tion Race in 1984, Yamaha in 1985 and Suzuki fi­nally in 1986, thanks to an in­spired ride and a new lap record by Ian Swift. The featured bike be­longs to mo­tor sport iden­tity Sean Soren­sten from Tweed Heads, who bought the RG250 from Rob Dark (for­mer Phillip Is­land race com­men­ta­tor) when Rob moved back to Vic­to­ria af­ter liv­ing in Queens­land for some years. The Suzuki is in sub­stan­tially stan­dard trim with the ex­cep­tion of the muf­flers, which were made by Rob, and the sub­sti­tu­tion of pod fil­ters for the Suzuki air box. It was built in Oc­to­ber 1985, mak­ing it one of the first bear­ing the Wolf colours.

Jody Scheck­ter`s Wolf WR1 dis­play­ing at Bar­ber Mo­tor­sports Park, 2010. LMS/Flickr

BELOW The Tamiya model kit of the Wal­ter Wolf RG250 Gamma.

Right side midriff ex­posed. The tiny tool com­part­ment sits in the only avail­able space.

RIGHT Muf­flers were made by Rob Dark. The full fair­ing has a belly pan that shrouds the bul­bous ex­pan­sion cham­bers.

Proud owner, Sean Soren­sten.

Sin­gle rear shock sits ver­ti­cally be­hind the gear­box. Pur­pose­ful look­ing front end, with built-in anti-dive and twin dual-pis­ton calipers.

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