Classic Bike Guide

1980s Japanese muscle


The Katana had rivals for the big-bore title. Here’s a few to choose from...

Kawasaki GPz 1100

In 1981, Kawasaki took its by now venerable big four and punched it out another 75cc to create the GPz1100, a giant that summed up the early 1980s. Big and brutal in every respect, the first one was simply a beefed-up version of the Z1000, and the important thing seemed to be to make it faster, and not try to cope with any extra power. The bore was increased by 2.5mm, there were bigger valves and more compressio­n, and intermitte­ntly successful fuel injection increased power from a lighter crank.

Kawasaki was finally confident enough to drop the kick-start, and the frame was strengthen­ed with bracings but made of thinner walled tube to keep the weight down. The engine was slightly rubbermoun­ted with a single mount at the back and two rubber mounts at the front.

Meanwhile, the handling equipment was basic. Straightfo­rward forks with air-adjustable preload and a pair of very ordinary rear shocks.

Wheels were skinny by modern standards, and the brakes basic and too small. The whole 550lb thing was as mad as a sack full of badgers.

Stylistica­lly, it was very square: square headlight, square clocks, square tank. You could spot a GPz owner because they looked confident, if a little unhinged, and tended to shake a bit.

In 1982, the GPz got a little bikini fairing and a new black engine finish that didn’t flake off. In 1983, it got a new look. Bodywork went from square to swoopy, and it got Kawasaki’s new Uni-Trak monoshock rear suspension and anti-dive front. Wheels got smaller (a good thing), and it got even faster. There were also modern digital displays and a new instrument layout, all of which didn’t detract from the hairychest­edness of the original. It lasted until 1984, when it was replaced by the rather more modern and capable GPz900R.

But the GPz1100 is the most macho and the most brutal. Price today: £4000-£7000


If you ignore the impossible-to-ignore CBX1000, which was a different kettle of fish altogether, Honda originally entered muscle bike world with the CB1100R. This is a streetlega­l racer based on the CB900F. It raced in the Australian Castrol Six Hours races and in production series in the UK and won – a lot. A road-going race machine, it is a hand-built, track-refined tool built for one reason only – winning.

Honda didn’t skimp, fitting race suspension and twin-pot brakes with ventilated discs; an innovation almost unheard of at the time. It was marginally lighter than its rivals and massively faster. The Honda was uncompromi­sing and ahead of everything, and a lot more expensive, too. It came with a very 1980s graphic scheme on the half fairing, single-seat arrangemen­t.

The CB1100R was so successful in Australian competitio­n that the organisers introduced a rule to ban it, saying it wasn’t a true production bike as it didn’t have a pillion seat. So, Honda fitted a removable pillion seat hump and a full fairing to boot, and went out and won again.

It doesn’t fit the mould of the other early 1980s muscle bikes, as it has that full fairing. Honda did produce a seminaked CB1100F in 1983 that, from the look of it, was just an overbored CB900F from 1978. In fact, it had hotter cams, bigger pistons,

better carbs and some internal revisions, new tubeless tyres, and some of the bits from the 1100R, notably the brakes. Some American models came with a little nose fairing, and in this form it’s much betterlook­ing than the rather restrained CB900F. Price: CB1100F £6000-£10,000

Yamaha V-Max

Yamaha didn’t really embrace the muscle bike at first, with its XS1100 being far more touring orientated, even when it evolved into the FJ1100/1200. But in 1985 it came up with the utterly ridiculous V-Max. Even back in the day, the V-Max was a pretty over-the-top motorbike. Full power models are the most desirable, producing 145bhp. But, as with most of these 1980s superbikes, the V-Max has skinny wheels and tyres, basic brakes and dubious suspension. The V4 70-degree engine has a presence all of its own. Yamaha, so legend goes, put a shaft drive on it because it feared chains would snap as riders attempted to beat everything in the traffic light drag race stakes; a legend that has persisted even though Yamaha was a fan of the shaft drive anyway. You could tell the V-Max was designed for an urban environmen­t that had lots of filling stations about, thanks to its tiny petrol tank. A classic bit of 1980s excess, the V-Max survived in Yamaha’s line-up in an admittedly softer version until 2020.

Price £4000-£6500. Add £1000 at least for full power versions.

Suzuki GSX1100E/EFE

Before the Katana, Suzuki had the GSX1100E. It was very similar, with a less highly-tuned version of the TSCC engine, in largely inadequate cycle parts.

Styling was the antithesis of the Katana, too. Big and brash and covered in stick-on graphics, there was a square headlight and something that looked a little like a nacelle. It weighed 535lb, which was lighter than its rivals, and the forks went up and down and came with air preload. Linked damping was adjustable, which is great if you know what you are doing, and confusing if you don’t. Brakes were inadequate. It was a chunky 100bhp mega Universal Japanese Motorcycle. The 1983 model came as the GSX1100ES with a nose fairing and faintly Katana-esque lines.

In 1984 came the GSX1100EFE – the opposite of the sleek Katana. Slab-sided, as though created by gluing cereal boxes to an old GSX, it looks top-heavy, too. It has Suzuki’s full floater rear suspension and a much-improved engine to balance out a look only a mother could love. American drag racers particular­ly took the GSX1100 to their hearts, with the result that unlike a lot of early muscle bikes, not a lot are left. To burn brightly and expire in a fireball rather than fade away into obscurity seems appropriat­e for 1980s muscle.

Price: £3000-£5000

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