On Yer Bike: 1978 Suzuki

This month FMM Curator Wayne Harley describes another wonderful donation to the museum’s collection, a 1978 Suzuki…


A few months back, Ivan Lazarus of Pretoria decided to donate his 1978 Suzuki GT 185 to FMM after learning of the earlier donation of Rhonda the Honda – the Honda 500XLs. Although Ivan could never find it in his heart to sell the little GT, the bike had simply been stored for many years without a cover and so had become rather neglected. With ’70s and ’80s two-strokes fast becoming a rare item – especially almost complete examples – we happily accepted the donation. Having business to attend to in Pretoria at the time, I decided drive up to Pretoria to collect this ’70s artefact personally.

Viewing the Suzuki for the first time I could see she was well used and in bad shape,  but was complete other than the incorrect saddle and a missing left-side cover. Everything else was there including the Ram Air head engine – it was the pocket rocket of its day. Unfortunately, the motor had seized and the brakes had rusted solid, so loading the bike into my van was not going to be easy. But I finally got the bike on board and the following day headed back to FMM.

My intention was to store the Suzuki with the aim of fully restoring it when the budget could be found.  Once back at the museum, I asked one of FMM’s talented housekeeping ladies, Juliana Bok, to wash down the Suzuki before we put it into storage. However, she did such an awesome job that that when I went to inspect her work, I was surprised to see that most of the chrome work had buffed up extremely well. This is an advantage of finding ‘survivor bikes’ up in Gauteng – no salt air and very little rust. So, the full restoration became a sympathetic restoration. The bike was carefully taken apart and cleaned, new tyres and a new chain fitted, the engine opened and repaired, carburettors stripped, cleaned and repaired, electrics repaired etc – all in-house and on a shoestring budget.

FMM’s workshop spray-paint maestro Michael Van Graan repaired the rusted fuel tank and resprayed it, along with the rear shock absorbers. Slowly, over the months, the restoration all started coming together. Then a couple of weeks back we started the little GT for the first time. It was a splutter and a spatter at first, but finally it was running sweetly again – with the smell of two-stroke oil filling the air. We found a replacement side cover on eBay and it eventually arrived in the post. The smart people in the spares division at Suzuki South helped me with the brake cylinder kit, which was made up of odd parts that would fit.

So, after a few short test runs, I decided to invite a great name in South African motorcycle circles, an ex-Suzuki  man and a long-time supporter of FMM, Mike Cameron, to come and take a ride. Mike was keen to see and ride the GT 185 as he has fond memories of flying around Johannesburg with his good mate Mike Crawford (of Crawford Motorcycles fame) on a GT 185 Ram Air. Cameron was a South African champion on a Suzuki many times over his relatively short 11-year racing career, starting with two consecutive Western province 50cc championships on a Suzuki AC50, then an Interprovincial title on an A100 before moving to main circuit racing in 1974 and switching to a GT250 (similar to Ivan’s GT185), and raced it until 1976 before a move onto a Suzuki GS 750 and taking the 1977 SA Production Motorcycle Championship. After a couple of years in the UK racing with Robin Mortimer in the international 250cc and 350cc GP class, for which he received Springbok colours, Cameron returned to SA and raced a Suzuki GSX1100 in 1980, after which he stopped competitive riding. But Mike still rides bikes as often as possible and so it was an honour to have him come out to ride the little GT185 for the first time.

The Suzuki ran like a little champion until the gearbox decided to stop playing along and Mike was stuck in third gear. But by this time the smile on Mike’s face told a story all of its own, and you could see the memories flooding back. He openly admitted to me later over a coffee that the sensation and sound of riding the Suzuki GT185 was a rather moving experience for him.

Thank you again to Ivan Lazarus and my team at FMM for yet another fantastic addition to our growing collection of machines, information and memories.