A Suzuki in Wolf’s clothing
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 WOLF SUZUKI RG 250 GAMMA
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
WALTER WOLF SUZUKI RG 250 GAMMA
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.