Fierce competition between the Japanese manufacturers resulted in an ‘arms race’ in the 1970s and early 80s, in which engines became increasingly powerful in a bid to claim ‘top spot’ in the speed charts as a route to sales success. Unfortunately, chassis development seemed less of a priority so, if you wanted a fast bike, you generally had to put up with one that was also heavy and unwieldy.
Everything changed with the announcement in 1984 of the Suzuki GSXR750F, with a claimed 106bhp (77kW) and dry weight of just 176kg. It looked and behaved like an endurance racer for the road. Everywhere on the bike, the weight saving was ruthless: the aluminium frame was claimed to weigh just 8kg, half the mass of a steel one; some of the engine covers were magnesium; even the flatslide carbs appeared to be boned down to the minimum.
It was available in the UK market from early 1985 and became affectionately known as the ‘slabside’ or ‘slabby’ because of the large expanses of flat bodywork on the fairing and side covers. It had been inspired by a high spec 400cc four that Suzuki produced for the domestic Japanese market and subsequently evolved into an entire dynasty of GSXR models: displacing 400, 600, 750 and 1100cc.
With the Slabby, riders could suddenly have the Holy Grail sought by motorcycle designers; superbike straight line performance with the agility of a middle weight machine. Protected by the generously sized twin-headlamp race fairing, listening to the addictive intake wail from the airbox as the revs increased, the GSXR was both exhilarating and comfortable; assuming the rider was supple enough to adopt the racing crouch.
Suzuki rejected the fashion for 16” front wheels which heavier bikes used in an attempt to quicken the steering response; such a lightweight machine was agile even with 18” rims front and rear. The instruments were mounted in sponge rubber, just like a race bike, and to underline the sporty characteristics of the motor, the rev counter didn’t even register until 3000rpm.
Suzuki had actually gone just a bit too far down the weight saving route, with components such as wheels and con-rods gaining a reputation for fragility under extreme use. However the bikes can’t have been unduly frail as numerous race wins can testify. Suzuki’s best year at the Isle of Man came in 1986 when GSXR models from 400 to 1100cc won all four classes in the Production TT.
The GSXR dynasty lives on today with over 1m bikes having been produced in various capacities using the GSXR name, now established as a sub-brand within Suzuki. Though successful in various engine sizes, it was as a 750 that the recipe worked best. Its market domination was so great that it eventually drove the other Japanese manufacturers out of the 750 super sport category entirely, retreating to ‘sport touring’ models like Honda’s VFR750. No wonder the Slabby is so fondly remembered today.
Do you own a GSXR750? How do you think it compares to other bikes? Let us know in the comments!