Suzuki TR500

The factory racers – the TR500 – Air-cooled and water-cooled

1971 Daytona TR500
The TR500 found its origins in… Boulogne, France. Pierre Bonnet was the French Suzuki distributor and the works team indeed was based there for their first serious onslaught on the Grand Prix world in 1962. By 1967 Jacques Roca, a talented Spanish-French racer and technician had joined forces with Pierre Bonnet after being the distributor for Derbi. Shortly after the new T500 roadster was issued by the Japanese manufacturer, Roca built and raced a racing version that was so impressive that Suzuki, which had officially retired from world championship racing, built a full-race version of the new machine, as well as a 250cc version from the smaller parallel twin.

My ’72 Daytona TR500 Woodley replica

The author’s Daytona TR500 showing the featherbed inspired frame

Suzuki realised in the late sixties that racing victories made for great advertising. Suzuki had a good 500cc bike so why not make good use of it. the company developed a racing model from the production version, utilising a new Norton Featherbed inspired frame, called the XR05.
America was where the big sales potential was, so where else to start racing a big 500 but at Daytona. In 1968 the first machine appeared and caused a sensation. it looked mean and went like stink. Shame about the handling though.

Brian Ferguson with my Daytona TR500 at a remote road-testing site

My TR500 at Wanneroo raceway

The XR05 in 1968 could pull 135mph and produced 63.5hp at 8000rpm. The bike weighed 135kg. The 1969 model managed 64.5hp at 8000rpm and with new gearing was good for 147mph. Ron Grant ran to 5th at the 68 Daytona 500 on the TR500 and Itoh managed 9th.
In 1970 the TR500 produced 70.5hp at 8000rpm with a speed of 152 mph. The bike still ran a Ceriani 9″ twin leading shoe front drum brake and Ceriani forks.
For 1971-2 the TR500 ran 71.5 hp and 154 mph from a dry weight of 130.6 kgs.  

TR500 in the pits at Wanneroo

Ken Rick’s water-cooled TR500 – this bike was ridden to success at the 1974 Marlboro Series in New Zealand

The big change for 1973 was water-cooling for the motor. The TR500III made 73 hp at 8000rpm and pushed 140kg. A new frame was introduced for this model which ran twin disks up front and a single disk at the rear. Jack Findlay came first at the Isle of Man on this model.

The 1974 TR500 produced 78 hp at 8700 rpm and could pull 160 mph!
The end of the road came in 1975 when new barrels were introduced and the bike was producing 80 bhp reliably at 8900 rpm.

The Bimota water-cooled TR500 of 1976

A NZ Steve Roberts built Suzuki TR500 with a non-standard tank, restored by John Woodley

The ultimate Suzuki 500 was produced in 1976 when Bimota entered the scene. The Bimota-Suzuki 500 used the TR500 MkIII water-cooled motor with a dry clutch and a six speed gearbox. The Bimota used a tubular space frame with a monoshock rear suspension with a Koni F1 shock absorber. The Bimota-Suzuki was an Italian Suzuki initiative and if anyone knows where one is, I want one (for free)!!!

A factory Suzuki TR500 with Ceriani forks and brakes.
(pic supplied by Michael Pettifer)

An excellent reference on Suzuki racing machines is “Team Suzuki” by Ray Battersby.
My Suzuki Daytona TR500 with a John Woodley built frame

Copyright reserved: M Barnard 1989

Suzuki Snapshots

William Hardin

William (Willie) Hardin worked for U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp. from 1969-74 and has shared the following
photos with us.

Ron Grant – on a very early TR500 Suzuki

The 1969 Daytona 200

Wuz the late Ron Grant robbed of victory?

Ron Grant on the 1968 TR500 Daytona Suzuki

Harley-Davidson’s Cal Rayborn won the national points race again as he did in 1968, but it was far
from being the easy victory of last year. The four-speed Harley 750-cc sidevalvers were, indeed, one
of the favorites. But the AMA rule change which allows five-speed gearboxes made the Japanese
Yamahas, Kawasaki and Suzukis a much greater threat, as they could be tuned for great peak power,
yet have an extra gear to cope with the narrower power band. Harley-Davidson obviously was
nervous. In contrast to the we’re-going-to-hit-it-in-the-stands-right-thereattitude of 1968, the
factory conducted engine development in great secrecy this winter, testing new
heads, megaphones, high dome pistons and double throat carburetors. The horsepower tests, conducted
on a one-cylinder mock-up, showed a significant increase over last year. But actual conditions at
Daytona with fully assembled engines were some-thing else again. Speeds of all machines were down
and Harley was really in trouble!Rayborn’s machine, at 144.764 mph, was the only four-stroke running
in the fastest 14 on the qualifying oval, a disappointment compared to 1968 when Roger Reiman’s bike
topped 149 and the first dozen on the starting grid seemed dominated by the orange and black Milwaukee racers.

The outlook for Yamaha seemed very bright as, first, Bobby Winters topped 149 mph. Speeds above
145 mph were also posted by the Yamahas of Ralph White, Mike Duff, David Lloyd and Rod Gould,
fourth ranked 250-cc rider in the FIM world championship of 1968.Ron Grant’s bike was the fastest of
the 500cc Suzukis at 146.412. He was extremely happy with his machine as it had arrived from Japan only a
week before. Its speed was up about 10 mph over last year.
Best of the Kawasaki 500 triples was Dick Hammer’s at 144.694 mph.Then, late in the afternoon,
activity in the pits stopped. Everyone swiveled with a slow, reverent 360 degrees as Canadian Champion
Yvon du Hamel, a lonely, sunlit speck on the vast grey banking, became the first man to top 150 mph
(150.501) in qualifying.

His 350-cc Yamaha, sponsored by Canadian distributor Fred Deeley Ltd., had nothing special going for
it in comparison to the others, save for meticulous assembly and blueprinting by tuner Bob Work.The
Harley camp groaned, realizing they would spend the remaining three nights without sleep.
The engines were torn down and reassembled again and again, then tested on a lonely road out in
the Florida flatlands. None of the measurements seem to match specifications, and these were more
critical than the tuners had dreamed. Carburation was a shambles. False plug readings abounded.
Changing megaphones to straight pipes and to reverse cones seemed to make no difference.On Sunday
it was raining, but it seemed that the race would run anyway. But, after practice, a large
contingent of riders convinced AMA officials that racing in the rain would be too dangerous because
of the gigantic rooster-tails thrown by the 150-mph bikes, and the constantly changing surfaces in the
in-field turns. So the race was delayed for one week. Much has been made of how the week-long
delay benefited Harley, but the facts were claimed at the time to not bear out such a statement. The
claim was made that two-strokes are quite skittish on wet surfaces, and lose traction without warning.
The Harleys, it was claimed, as well as the other four-strokes, have heavier flywheels and may be
accelerated in the wet with relative impunity.Several Yamaha riders, including du Hamel and Gould,
admitted that they probably would not have finished in the rain, for their clutches already were slipping
from the feathering necessary to exit from turns during wet practice.

So Harley had time to recover its lost performance, and the Yamahas had time to replace their clutches…
and they would run on dry pavement. The Suzuki 500 probably did not suffer from these concerns to
the same degree.The first laps of the 200-miler had all the close-in excitement of a scratchers race at Brands.

The lead changed an incredible 17 times in 19 laps. Du Hamel picked up early lap money, followed a few feet
back by Rayborn, Gould, and 19-year-old Ron Pierce, on another fast running Yamaha. Both Gould
and Rayborn drove to the front and switched places with du Hamel until the 10th lap, when Pierce
drove around the whole bunch of them. While attempting to stretch his lead, Pierce went down on an
oil slick from Dave Scott’s crashed Yamaha and broke his fairing. Du Hamel led again, but was passed
by  Rayborn. The tiny Canadian’s machine began showing signs of ignition failure in the 20th lap, and
he pitted. His machine would not restart so he was out for keeps. Back in the pack, several favorites
dropped by the wayside with assorted mechanical woes.Hammer’s Kawasaki got no farther than one lap,
then seized a piston. Takeshi Araoka’s Kawasaki also retired somewhat later.

Dick Mann rode with his usual great style after a poor start, then lost a gas cap from his Yamaha and
could not get under way again after a pit stop. Ralph White’s Yamaha also died during a gas stop.
Don Vesco suffered similar heartbreak after an exciting ride into 4th place.

It was theorized that some of these failures may have been due to gasoline spilling onto the cylinders
during refill, causing sudden contraction of the barrels and resultant partial seizure, ring damage
and loss of compression.In the Harley camp, Roger Reiman, who had dropped his bike in practice and
damaged his clutch casing, retired with a foul smell after his clutch fried.

Fred Nix’s bike/running too lean in the rear cylinder, melted a piston. Walt Fulton, one of the best road racers
Harley has, yet on the slowest H-D, was running steadily at least, in contest with teammate Dan Haaby.
The trio of Suzuki 500s fared half bad, half good. Jimmy Odom ran well until a slack chain mangled the rear
wheel sprocket. Art Baumann and Ron Grant linked up and “freight-trained” into the top four,
then. Art had to pit with broken expansion chambers. Grant then picked up 2nd spot as Gould, farther
and farther behind Rayborn, pitted. Grant placed 2nd at the finish, but only after he met with
near-disaster in his scheduled gas stop. His pit attendant failed to tighten the gas cap and, when
gasoline sprayed from the tank as he left the pit apron, he fell. Fortunately, he was far enough ahead
of 3rd place Mike Duff to push the Suzuki back for more gas, restart, and recapture 2nd place.Rayborn
finished at an average speed of 100.882 mph, slower than last year’s winning record.

Mert Lawwill, running on the same lap as Yamaha rider Duff, had inherited 4th. Another lap back,
Englishman. Gould finished 5th after three pit stops. Bart Markel-oblivious to the fact that his rear
brake disc had broken off completely-vindicated his unusually conservative tactics by coming in 6th,
the first time he has even finished. Most of the Triumphs and BSAs were non competitive, as these
companies have been well out of the hunt since 1967 when Gary Nixon won Daytona.Thus it was somewhat
amazing that AMA No. 1 Nixon motored to a 9th place finish, his engine sounding very ratty.

Best of the BSAs was Eddie Wirth’s, and while Eddie is not a road racing
specialist by any means, he rode smoothly to finish 20th. Best of the Kawasakis was the 500-cc
three of Dave Simmonds, finishing in 17th. Also on the same lap and placing 19th was Bill Manley’s
500. It was not a bad performance, considering that the Three has only been in production a few ‘
short months.In terms of national points, Rayborn’s 1 st place gives him a great start on the AMA season.
Markel’s prudence paid off well, giving him a nice bonus as he enters the summer season of
half-mile nationals-his strongest card. Both Nixon and Lawwill also will be very much in the fray.

l. Cal Rayborn, Spring Valley, Calif… H-D
2. Ron Grant, Brisbane, Calif. ……. Suz.
3. Mike Duff, Toronto, Canada ….. Yam.
4. Mert Lawwill. San Francisco, Calif…H-D
5. Rod Gould, Oxfordshire, England … Yam.
6. Bart Markel, Flint, Mich. ……… H-D
7. Tom Rockwood, Gardena, Calif. . . Yam.
8. Peter Kellond, Vancouver, Canada . Yam.
9. Gary Nixon, Baltimore, Md. …… Tri.
110. Dan Haaby, Orangevale, Calif. ….. H-D
Time: 1:59:19.18

Ron Grant pulled off 2nd in the race – a great effort – if the race hadn’t been delayed a week,
maybe Suzuki would have won. Average speed: 100.882 mph

XR05 BarrelsKarl Matthias Hübben pokes his lens into some strange places to unveil TR500 porting for us.

Seeley TR500 and XR05 – Courtesy Kevin Fletcher
The bike in question is a I have relic of the 1971 / 1972 era.  The frame is an original Mark I Seeley and was originally purchased from Colin Seeley by Eddie Crooks back in 1970 / 1971.  

The engine is basically the same specification as the one raced to victory in the 1976 Manx Grand Prix by Les Trotter.  The photo’s were shot in Canada last August at the Annual VRRA festival at Mosport Park in Ontario.  

That’s Les trotter with his girlfriend D’reen staring out at you.  Still riding TR 500’s after all these years!!!  This was the second outing for Les on this bike in 2001, he finished 3rd at Daytona on it in the Formula 500 event in early March.

I have a real XR 05 in the garage. 

 I also have a real TR 250 that Les rode for me for 12 years.  We won the Kenning Classic series on the TR 250  2 years in a row, runner up the following year and got a second place in the classic MGP on it in 1995.  If you look at the crooks site these statistics are listed on their success stories page but I owned the bike… not Martin or Eddie!  I have had an association with crooks Suzuki going back to the time of Frank Whiteway in 1967 / 68, in fact I see Frank about twice a year and his daughter lives in Canada not too far from me.
 I have attached some shots of the XR05 for you to take a look at. 

 When I got the bike it was alleged to have been an Ex Jody Nicholas machine but there was no proof of this to be had.  That is Jody standing next to the bike.  The picture was taken at New Hampshire International Speedway in the US around 1996 or so.  Jody came up from his home in California for a weekends racing and autograph signing.

Thanks to Kevin Fletcher for the pics and info.

TR500 Watercooled MkIII – 1975

Bore and Stroke: 70 x 64
Carbs: 2 x 38mm Mikuni VM38SS
Compression: 7.4:1
Max HP: 80 @ 8900rpm
Max speed: 160 mph
Dry weight: 140kg

TR500s at Daytona 1971…I just love this picture and the next!
TR500s at Daytona 1971

Jody Nichols on his TR500 …what an impressive angle of lean!


Author: muzza