2003 Suzuki GS1200SS

2018 Stuart Collins & Drive-My

If it’s true – and this heavily reworked GS1200SS really is Steve Elliott’s last build – then it’s a mighty impressive full stop to a quality body of work


Saving the best till last


2003 Suzuki GS1200SS2003 Suzuki GS1200SS


Steve Elliott doesn’t do standard. Never has.He’s been modifying, improving,fettling and upengineering a succession of air and oil-cooled inline-fours for years.Decades in fact.His Kawasaki Z1-R has been with him since the early ’80s, evolving bit by bit into the outstanding Moriwaki replica it is today.Despite tempting offers to part with the Kwak,Steve will never sell it.Rightly so,it’s part of him.

Plus its bores brush against the last available set of works Moriwaki pistons in existence, sourced direct from the legendary Japanes tuning firm itself.‘Special’ doesn’t even come close. You only have to step into Steve’s garage to understand his life in bikes.A mix of ’70s and ’80s race components,performance parts and memorabilia cover the walls and shelving units that overlook the centrally positioned bike bench.Swivel chairs upholstered with Steve’s old Moriwaki replica Crowtree leathers provide visitors with a perch from which to take in the wonder of the space.

As I look around at the numerous Spencer repArais,Simpson Bandits,Z1-R tanks,Moriwaki parts boxes, metalworking machinery and photos of Steve’s misspent youth I’m overwhelmed by the most acute case of garage-envy I’ve so far experienced. It’s hard to stay focussed as my attention is simultaneously drawn to Steve’s fleet, parked outside on the back lawn. Next to his Zed is an ultra-low-miles, tastefully modded RC45; a subtly yet extensively upgraded CB1300 (the one-off billet yokes are enough to overwork my senses on their own).

Then there’s his Duzuki – a TL1000-powered 916, a brutal blend of Latin precision and Japanese grunt. I could spend all day just staring at the details and engineering of each bike, but it’s Steve’s latest creation that’s brought us all the way up to Cumbria: a Yoshimura 8-Hour GS1000R-inspired GS1200SS. Steve’s had the GS for 12 years and, remarkably – not to mention uncharacteristically – for him, he resisted tinkering with it for most of that time.

And despite quite fancying a 1200SS for some time prior to that, he wasn’t actually looking for one when this one turned up. “I was trawling eBay, like you do, for Moriwaki and Yoshimura stuff, when this popped up. It was badly listed under ‘exhausts’ because it had the Yoshi full system already fitted, so I put a bid on it. Then I get a call from my mate Jon Keeling [of Racefit – JM] who says he’s seen this GS and is going to put a bid on it, not knowing I’d already done that. I got to know Jon years before after he outbid me on an obscure Moriwaki book that I’d stayed up until 4am to buy.

I thought ‘who the hell else in the UK would be mad enough to stay up all night just for this book?’. We’ve been mates ever since, and he kind of owed me one because of that so we agreed I should have the GS and he would drive all the way down to Bromsgrove to get it for me.” The seller had broken his legs in a rally car crash,making the 1200 superfluous to requirements.His bad listing was indeed his loss and Steve’s gain.

The bike was dusty,having been laid up for a while, but once cleaned up it was mint,as you might expect for something showing only 600kms.Getting it for just £3750 made the whole deal sweeter still. “This GS was so good to ride that I left it alone,” says Steve.“The only thing I changed were the front calipers to a pair of Lockheeds off a Formula 2 Ford – the Yoshi pipe was already on it.I wanted to use it as-is,but of course in the end I couldn’t help myself.” Jon Keeling was also instrumental in the GS’s transformation.


2003 Suzuki GS1200SS2003 Suzuki GS1200SS


“Jon knew I’d always wanted a Spondon frame or swingarm, and because the firm was winding down it would be my last chance to get something made by them. So I took the plunge, removed the standard ’arm from the bike and gave it to Spondon so they could use it as a reference. It’s a one-off and, I believe, one of the last swingarms to be made by them.” The quality is outstanding, as you’d expect of a pukka Spondon part. Fabricated from the firm’s trademark triple-box construction, it radiates mechanical brawn and engineering excellence in equal measure. It truly is a work of art. Fitting such an exquisitely crafted upgrade to the GS’s rear end meant one thing, however. There was no turning back and this Suzuki was going to be a full-on project.

“The standard bike has got a bit of the old works GS1000R endurance racer about it. I wanted to take it several steps further. I’d already got a book from Japan, ‘The Legend of Yoshimura, 50th Anniversary’. It’s got loads of pics of the GS1000R Suzuka 8-Hour bike, so that became a real help for both reference and inspiration.” A swingarm as burly as this Spondon could easily make conventional shock absorbers look out of place, even weedy. Steve turned to UK firm Nitron for assistance. “It’s basically running two monoshock units. They’re fatter than normal twin shocks, but on this bike they look ‘right’. Racefit had previously built some muscular looking specials and had done the same thing, so again it was Jon who put me on to the idea. I sent the dimensions and specs to Nitron and they built them for me.

I like the fact they’re a British firm – we’re a nation of engineers, plus they’re on your doorstep if you want to up-spec or change things around.” Steve’s preference for British engineering continues with the wheels. “For me, you can’t beat Dymags for look or quality, so they had to be old-school H-section. I’ve always gone with the widest available rear tyres on my bikes, so the GS runs a 6.25 inch rim and a 200/55 17 rear, with a 120/70 17 on a 3.75 inch rim at the front. ” Nothing original, except the front mudguard, remains up front.

Years of building specials has given Steve a real eye for proportion – the magic ingredient that can make the difference between a perfect build and a dogs’ dinner. Steve’s SS is clearly the former… “I wanted fatter forks to compliment the back end, but they had to be conventional teles – upside-down units wouldn’t suit the look I was after. Stock GS forks look a bit spindly; I was going to fit a set off a 1250 Bandit and even went as far as buying a pair, but they’re no fatter than stock at 43mm. So I sourced a set from a GSX1400 – they’re 46mm.”

Yokes are bespoke, naturally, TZ750-style, made by Mark Toon at Racefit. They’re a perfect blend of exquisite subtlety; trick without being shouty. The CNC’d ‘grain’ that fans out from the centre of the top yoke reinforces their quality. While taking in the magnificence of the yokes, I realise there’s something missing. No ignition switch. Steve grins before explaining, “It’s a race replica and I didn’t want an ignition barrel spoiling the lines, so I did away with it all together.”

Ignition is now taken care of by two toggle switches mounted on a plate above the right side cylinder head – one for ignition, the other for the ECU. Neat, although Steve can’t leave the bike anywhere. Not that he would… A set of 320mm floating Spondon discs are gripped by a pair of impossibly rare one-piece AP Racing four-pots. “They’re proper GP spec,” explains Steve. “Ex-Ian McConnachie, machined from solid.

I got a box of spares with them, so I stripped and rebuilt them, and they’re currently running carbon pads. Some folk make a big thing about the Yamaha blue-spot calipers, but AP were doing one-piece units way before that. These are from the mid-’80s. I machined the carriers myself.”

“ON SOME BUILDS THE BACK STOPPER IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT. NOT ON THIS BIKE”

By now you’ll understand that Steve doesn’t do things by half or cut corners. If a part isn’t A-grade it simply doesn’t make it on to his bike. No ifs, no buts, no compromise. Take the rear brake. On some builds the back stopper is an afterthought, a ‘that’ll do’ because it’s the fronts that count, right? Not on this bike. “The rear disc is fully-floating – I think it’s ‘Braking of Italy’, I’ve had it for 15 years – with an AP 4-pot caliper; it’s a NOS part that I’ve had for about 20 years. The carrier is fully-floating, with needle-roller bearings – I made it myself.”

It wouldn’t look out of place on a GP bike. Oh, and the torque arm? That’s bespoke too, in titanium. Remarkably, given his penchant for modifying and upgrading, Steve has left the SS’s engine alone. But there’s sound reasoning for his decision. “I did think about it, obviously – cams, carbs, maybe even pistons, but then I remembered how good it is to ride and there didn’t seem much point. It runs a Unicorn Japan box to remove the 180kph speed limiter [the restricted top speed of all home market bikes – JM], and it’s got the Yoshi system, loads of bottom end grunt, plus it’s now a fair bit lighter than stock – why mess with that?” Why indeed?

The stock 1200 motor is a strong unit with more than enough about it to slap a wide grin on the chops of anyone with a pulse. Steve has tweaked the carburation a touch to complement the pipe: “I’ve shimmed the needles and gone from 95s on the mains to 105s just for peace of mind and also to safeguard against the crap pump fuel you now get.” The Yoshi pipe was originally all black, like the bike. The downpipes are hand-bent steel. Steve thought the ‘boom box’ silencer was steel too. “It cracked at the mounting bracket; when I came to fix it I realised the can is aluminium, so I rubbed back the paint.

It looks much better in bare metal.” A one-off bracket, made by Steve’s mate Garry Dixon now anchors the can to the subframe. As handsome as the stock GS is, the fairing position is a touch too Bosozoku (crazy Japanese bike gangs) for me. Too high, and too far back. Steve thought the same, making an all-aluminium bracket from scratch with Garry Dixon to position it lower and an inch or two forward of the front wheel spindle. This minor tweak (the positioning, not the work involved) has made a massive improvement to the bike’s stance and lines.


2003 Suzuki GS1200SS2003 Suzuki GS1200SS


The bottom of the screen now follows the top of the tank and seat unit, while the line from the fairing’s cut-out flows seamlessly into that of the seat. Makes you wonder why Suzuki didn’t do this in the first place. Steve’s had to lower the ’bars a touch for clearance, but that’s a minor price to pay for aesthetic perfection. The fairing itself is a Kevlar/glass-fibre mix, and way lighter than standard without sacrificing strength.

Steve had bought a fairing based on the works GS1000R’s, complete with single headlamp aperture and side vents, from Germany, but it was damaged when it arrived so he used it as a mould to create the one on the bike. Steve’s mate Southed (it’s a Cumbrian thing), a ridiculously gifted engineer who’s previously built his own Caterham, and a sea plane of all things, made the fairing: “He’s a glass fibre wizard.”Once again ‘that’ll do’ just wouldn’t do. The screen is TZ750, cut to fit.

The whole thing mounts onto the bespoke fairing frame with four quick-release pins – a nod to the race bike as well as a neat engineering solution. Paint is by Dream Machine to Steve’s spec. Neat, clever and perfectly executed engineering solutions abound. Like the grab rail bungs that Steve’s machined, and the damper fasteners – again Steve’s handiwork – used through the front end and inner fairing.

The whole thing has the feel and look of a high-end factory special, like a mega-money homolgation special, as if it’s been built in a race shop by top level race engineers – it’s that good. Now in his fifties, Steve says this may be his last build. He now just wants to enjoy his bikes. If so, what a way to bow out. But does it ride as well as it looks?


DEVILISH DETAILS 

A stock 1200SS is a thing of awe, and when it’s been the subject of Steve Elliott’s attentions, it’s elevated into a whole different dimension

Perfect paint Thework of Dream Machine to Steve’s exacting standards. The ‘12’ on the rear boards (the Suzuka bike’s number) have since been covered. “Theywere too much.”

Full factory There’s more engineering around the rear hub than in some complete bikes. Spondon milling is delicious.

Smokin’ pipe Early ’80s-style boom-box Yoshi pipe is no longer available. Downpipes are hand bent. An essential ingredient for this build.

Got the hump Early GS1200s, like Steve’s, have a ‘humpier’ tank – perfect for the look of aGS1000R replica – and a digital speedo/anologue tacho combo.

One-off wonder The bespoke fairing cage is black anodised aluminium. Steve’s level of detail is extraordinary; the cage’s mount to the top yoke runs a bearing and each and every mounting bush (homemade) is damped.

Up front Made from scratch in glass fibre, using an inferior quality part as a mould. Headlamp is a PIAA gas discharge unit. Rear light is LED, homemade.

Best of British This country makes some seriously trick parts, like the magnesium Dymags, floating Spondon discs and AP calipers that grace this build.


SPECS

Engine

Type oil/air-cooled, dohc, 16v inline-four
Capacity 1156cc
Bore x stroke 79 x 59mm
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Ignition transistor
Carburation 4 x Mikuni CVR32
Exhaust hand-bent Yoshimura 4-1

Transmission

Primary/final drive gear/chain
Clutch wet, multiplate
Gearbox five-speed

Chassis

Frame tubular steel double cradle
Front suspension 46mm telescopic forks, fully
adj (GSX1400), one-off Racefit yokes
Rear suspension Spondon aluminium swingarm,
twin bespoke Nitron shocks, fully adj
Front brake 2 x 320mm fully-floating Spondon
discs, one-piece 4-pot AP Racing calipers
Rear brake 1 x 220mm fully-floating disc,
one-piece 4-pot AP Racing caliper
Wheels magnesium Dymag H-Section,
3.75in front, 6.25in rear
Front tyre Dunlop Sportmax, 120/70 ZR17
Rear tyre Dunlop Sportsmax, 200/55 ZR17

Dimensions

Dry weight 197kg (est)
Wheelbase 1460mm (57.5in)
Seat height 770mm (30.3in)
Fuel capacity 18 litres

Performance

Top speed 150mph (est)
Power [email protected] (est)
Torque [email protected] (est)

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