Mike Nick's February 2016

If you were at Motorcycle Live at the NEC recently, you may have seen a Suzuki GSX-R750F being built from scratch by Nathan Colombi, who fettles Steve Wheatman’s Classic TT-winning XR69 superbike. The show project was organised by Suzuki GB to showcase their extensive Vintage Parts operation, which stocks thousands of components for obsolete bikes.

The GSX was bought just eight weeks before the show, and Nathan restored it, relying on the Vintage Parts catalogue. A pre-build was done to check that every part was there, then it was disassembled and the pieces shipped to the NEC. Nathan put the bike together under the eyes of showgoers, to publicise what the Vintage Parts scheme can offer restorers.

“We’re coming into our fifth year of operation now, and it just gets bigger,” Vintage Parts chief Tim Davies said. “We’ve created a bit of a beast.”

It’s a beast that provides a useful revenue stream; the division’s turnover in 2014 was £1.5 million, and when you learn that 1200 parts are available for the GT750 models alone, you get an idea of the scale of the operation. What’s even more remarkable about Suzuki’s classic spares programme is that it seems to be unique in motorcycling. “There’s not another manufacturer doing this,” Davies claims. Which is odd, given the global scale of the classic bike movement.

Car manufacturers long ago noted the profit potential in classics. Jaguar Heritage, for example, lists 11,000 parts for Jaguar and Daimler cars from the ’60s XJ6 and XJ12s, maintains a website with 26,000 part numbers, has 30,000 photos available to restorers and history-seekers, maintains a fleet of 140 vehicles, and operates a Jaguar Heritage Certificate scheme that provides all the relevant information on a car taken from the original records.

It confirms the original numbers and colourscheme, dates of build and despatch, name of the first owner and the original registration mark. The service is available for cars dating right back to the Swallow bodied models – Austin Seven, Wolseley Hornet and Standard – of the early ’30s.

Suzuki is a mass manufacturer rather than a niche-market brand, so you wouldn’t expect the same level of detailed data. Suzuki divide their classic machines into pre-1990 Vintage and 1990-99 Modern Classics. Bikes catered for in the Vintage category are the RGV250 K-L of 1989-90, the GT750 J-M models, the GSX-R750 F to H, GT250EX (X7), AP50 and GS1000SN.

Available parts can be seen via suzukigb.co.uk where, for example, 22 parts for the GS1000 are listed under camchain – from £1.08 for an O-ring to £118 for an adjuster assembly and tensioner. Just the GSX-R1100L is listed in Modern Classics at the moment, but the TL1000S is coming soon, and many more bikes are planned.

“The website gives people such a good idea of what they need to do to restore a bike,” Davies says. “We list everything that’s available from the factory, and show an image of the part. People want to be sure they’re getting the right bit. These parts don’t just fit one bike. Suzuki were very good at using the same part on five or six, or even ten different models.”

He tells a story of someone who wanted to restore a Yamaha RD250, but was having difficulty in finding parts. “I suggested he consider the X7. He found a bike, and said that when he looked at our website it was so easy to see what he could get from us and what to source elsewhere.”

Vintage Parts provided 600 components for the GSX built at Motorcycle Live. That bike will now be used as a promotional showcase for the division. For the GSXR1100 engine in Steve Wheatman’s XR69s, Vintage Parts supplied a new crankcase, crank, rods, cylinder head and cylinders, plus a gasket set. Wheatman will take his classics show on a world tour, taking in the Classic TT, Scarborough, and other UK venues throughout 2016.

All the components in the programme so far consist of stock that had already been manufactured. Tim Davies’ next step will be to persuade Suzuki that it will be profitable to start manufacturing some parts again. Other factories take note...