Gaston Motorcycle Werks restores / upgrades an 80s icon…
Introduced in 1985, the original Suzuki GSX-R750 would become a legend in its own time. The world’s first street-legal road-race replica that the average sport rider could afford, the “Slab-side” GSX-R would set the pattern for generations of sport bikes to come.
“It came with drop-dead gorgeous racer styling, to all intents looking like a factory endurance racer, and finished in factory colours to boot. In 1985 there was nothing sexier. And if it looked good in the showroom, it positively set the racetracks alight.” —VisorDown
In 1988, the first major revision came along, the “Slingshot” GSX-R750 with a short-stroke version of the oil-cooled engine featuring Mikuni BST36SS carbs with vacuum-operated slides whose cross-sections resembled slingshots. The engine made 112 hp at 11,000 rpm, good for a quarter-mile time of 11.04 seconds at 122.4 mph — only 1 mph slower than the GSX-R1100. And the engine was far from the only improvement:
“Every detail of the chassis and engine of the GSX-R down to the single bolt was reevaluated for the new 1988 model. The fairing was redesigned for 5.7% less frontal projection and 11% lower drag. The wheelbase at 1400mm made the GSX-R the most compact bike in the class. The lightweight aluminium alloy frame incorporated 45mm box tube main section and the cast swing arm pivot resulted in 60% more rigidity.” —Cycle World, 1988
Enter our friend Benjamin Segal of North Carolina’s Gaston Motorcycle Werks, whose Honda CB550 cafe racer we recently featured. Benjamin grew up in a small Southern California beach town, where he first came into contact with the mighty GSX-R750…
“I finished high school in ’86. In my last year, I had a pal who had one of these when they first came out. It was amazing with the blue paint scheme and I fell in love with it the moment I laid eyes on it. I always wanted one but there was always a reason to not pick one up, either money, time, or space was never there…”
Then, on a whim a few years ago, Benjamin decided to search for any GSX-R750’s for sale in his area…
“Ding, ding, ding. This rough, unloved, stretched, scratched and faded dream appears, and the wheels start turning.”
Benjamin had recently started GMW out of his one-car garage, which has since grown into a 4600 square-foot warehouse where he and partner-in-crime Jesse Hockman can build just about anything. However, at the time, a sport-oriented restoration of this ’88 GSX-R750 was an important stepping stone, reversing the questionable surgeries performed by the previous owner: extended swingarm, lowered suspension, pounds of chrome, etc.
Benjamin swapped the original swingarm for a beefier braced version from a ’95 model, and performed a ton of subtle but important mods: Racetech valving in the front/rear suspension, complete Renthal drive train, All Balls bearings throughout, Driven clip-ons, Michelin tires, a Zero Gravity windscreen, and more. Says Benjamin:
“Riding this bike is an exciting treat that will get your heart racing but parking it and looking back at it is simply sublime. I could just stare at it all day.”
Below, we get the full details on this high-performance 80s sport bike.
Slingshot Suzuki GSX-R750: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1988 SUZUKI GSX-R750.
• Why was this bike built?
This was a personal build.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I finished high school in ’86. In my last year, I had a pal who had one of these when they first came out. It was amazing with the blue paint scheme and I fell in love with it the moment I laid eyes on it. I always wanted one but there was always a reason to not pick one up, either money, time, or space was never there. Flash forward to November 2011 when, on a lark, I did a Google search for a GSX-R750 for sale near me. Ding, ding, ding. This rough, unloved, stretched, scratched and faded dream appears, and the wheels start turning. I’m thinking to myself: I could restore this and have the bike I have always wanted. The guy selling it was asking far too much for it and at the time there was not much interest in these vintage street/ race bikes, how things have changed! After some negotiation, the bike was in my van heading back to the shop.
For this build I really wanted keep the bike as close to original as I could but make some subtle improvements and clean up the nastiness the P.O. did to it – the extended swing arm had to go, the bike had been lowered and parts were chromed everywhere – including the wheels. Making matters worse the fluorescent windscreen was killing me.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Since I was trying to keep to the “restoration” theme, I didn’t go crazy making modifications. The one big thing I did was swapping the swingarm to a braced version taken from a 1995 model. It required quite a bit of fiddling to make it fit but once it was in it gave the bike a great look, it was worth the effort.
All the other mods were more subtle. Things like Racetech valving in the shock and fork, a complete Renthal drive train, All Balls bearings throughout, Driven clip-ons, Michelin tires, and finally a Zero Gravity windscreen.
I left the paint original from the factory and polished the heck out of it. The engine was left alone, it had great compression and since the bike had such low mileage, it didn’t make any sense to tear into it.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I don’t have a nickname, but it is most certainly known as “the one that got away.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
After making the suspension upgrades this bike was a blast to ride and surprisingly comfortable considering its purpose. Before making the mistake of selling it (I had an ’07 1098 Triclore at the time and thought who needs two sport bikes) I rode it several times from Charlotte to Asheville. The route I take is a 3-hour ride, and it was completely comfortable the entire time. Riding this bike is an exciting treat that will get your heart racing but parking it and looking back at it is simply sublime. I could just stare at it all day.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
The swing arm swap/ upgrade was the first time I attempted this sort of thing and an was an important step in the road to Gaston Motorcycle Werks becoming the shop it is today.
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Photos: Benjamin Segal