Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd., now one of the big four, started over sixty years ago in Japan making spinning looms. Branching out into the motorcycle market, they have again branched out into cars, vans, trucks, outboard motors and many other types of manufacturing.
But it is motorcycles that Suzuki is best known for, and their arrival on the motorcycle market started in June 1952, with a little machine, called the "Power Free", a 36cc single-cylinder two-stroke. It had an unprecedented feature which was the double-sprocket gear system, which enabled the rider to pedal with the engine assisting, pedal without engine assist, or disconnect the pedals and run with engine power alone. The system was so ingenious, the Patent Office granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research into motorcycle engineering.
Nine months later, the "Power Free" got a two-speed transmission, and was joined by a more powerful 60cc version called the "Diamond Free." It was simple and easy to maintain, with the engine mounted onto the front wheel of a bicycle. Suzuki employees, who had been making looms, were now making motorcycle parts.
By 1954, Suzuki had made their first "real" motorcycle, the "Colleda CO". They were producing 6,000 motorcycles per month; Suzuki was moving on to bigger, more powerful motorcycles. The Colleda CO was a lightweight 90cc single-cylinder four-stroke. Winning a national Japanese race in its first year of production ensured its future and made it an instant success.
In June 1954, the company changed its name from Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo (meaning Suzuki Automotive Industries), to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd.
March 1955 saw the introduction of Suzuki's largest machine, the Colleda COX, a 125cc single-cylinder four-stroke with more modern styling. Also introduced was a redesigned version of the popular two-stroke Colleda, named the Colleda ST. It came with more sophisticated suspension and lighting. To meet the needs of the market, it was bored out from 90 to 125cc and a great many were sold. The forethought of the Suzuki engineers was shown when the last models of the Colleda, made in May 1959, were fitted with electric starters, astonishing their European competitors.
In 1956, Suzuki technicians were developing a completely new competition machine, known as the TT. Based on the successful Colleda, it was the forerunner of the Grand Prix machines. It was a high-performance machine of its day, being able to do over 80 mph and capable of out-performing machines with far more powerful engines, despite making only 18bhp from its 250cc twin-cylinder two-stroke engine. With its indicators, and built-in, four-speed gearbox it was considered very advanced.
As 1958 rolled in, Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. had 50, 125 and 250cc machines in its arsenal. In May of that year it introduced the "Suzumoped SM", using the successful Mini Free power plant mounted in a spine-type frame.
In October of that year, Suzuki introduced their corporate "S" logo, which was used on all their bikes and is still used by the motorcycle division.
June 1960 Suzuki takes their factory-prepared 125cc Colleda racers to the Isle of Man to compete in the lightweight TT. Although they did not win at their first attempt, they managed respectable fifteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth places. Suzuki was anxious to show the buying public their machines were fast and reliable.
The 'Selped' moped was one of the company's biggest sellers; it was later boosted to 80cc, and was to become one of Suzuki's best sellers, the A100.
By the end of 1962, Suzuki had won their first World road racing Championship in the 500cc class, and in America, Suzuki was setting up their new headquarters under the "U.S. Suzuki Motor Corporation" banner. The company decided that it needed to test its prototype machines on a purpose-built track, construction was started in 1962 on its 5-mile Ryuyo test track near the factory and was completed in 1963.
Suzuki made steady progress in road racing and in 1964 they surprised the road-race fans by entering into the world of motocross Grand Prix. Entering the Japanese motocross champion, Kazuo Kubo, in the Swedish 250cc Grand Prix, but without the same success they had achieved earlier in road racing. Although their machines were fast, they did not handle well. Suzuki's engineers went back to the drawing board and returned to Europe in 1966, with completely redesigned machines, which saw moderate success. In 1967 Suzuki signed up their first non-Japanese motocross rider, the Swede, Olle Peterson.
It was European, Joel Robert, who in 1972 won the World Championship, Suzuki's first. Suzuki won several more times, and won the 125cc class every year since 1975. October 1967 saw the introduction of the 500cc Titan road bike. This was known through its 11-year production as the Cobra, Titan and the Charger, finishing production as the GT500. It was a 500cc twin-cylinder two-stroke, which handled quite well and became very popular.
The trail bike, with its on and off-road capabilities, was the big success story for all the Japanese manufacturers and in March 1969 Suzuki launched their TS range, with knowledge gained from the motocross World Championships.
But it was with the two-stroke machines that Suzuki achieved their greatest successes, both on and off the track. In October 1969 they opened another factory at Toyama to produce small capacity two-strokes.
A machine, which took the motorcycling world by surprise, was the astonishingly quick GT750 Two-Stroke triple cylinder capable of well over 110 mph with acceleration to match. At 540lbs, it was not a lightweight, but with 67bhp it could push itself from 0 to 60mph in only five seconds.
With the confidence gained from producing the large capacity GT750 Two-Stroke triple, Suzuki announced to the world that they would introduce a totally new 500cc four-cylinder, Two-Stroke racer called the RG500. As a mater of fact, the RG500 was to become the single most successful racing machine of modern times, and by the time it had completed three racing seasons it had won two World Championships with Britain's Barry Sheene aboard.
A model worthy of mention is the RE5. This was Suzuki's attempt at producing a rotary-engine machine. Based on the Wankel design from Germany, it proved to be a costly and expensive failure.
In 1976 Suzuki made a bold decision to introduce a range of four-stroke machines. The first machines were the GS400, a 400cc twin, and the potent four-cylinder 750cc GS750, with double-overhead camshafts.
In 1977 Suzuki dropped its line of large street going Two-Stroke triples. This was a sad year for the Two-Stroke.
In October 1978 Suzuki unveiled the powerful shaft-drive GS850G. They also introduced a completely new look and styling for a new and revolutionary range of Superbikes. Called "Katana", it promised a performance and handling never before seen on a road-going bike. Featuring Twin-Swirl combustion chambers and many other highly advanced technical features, the first Katana was the GS1000S.
March 1982, saw the introduction of the XN85 turbocharged 650cc superbike. By the end of the 1982 road-racing season, Suzuki had won the 500cc road-racing World Championship for the eighth consecutive time, the 125cc motocross World Championship, and their sixth 500cc motocross World Championship.