Sabotage Motorcycles resurrects a sun-scorched 650 Katana…
The Suzuki Katana caused quite the stir upon its introduction in 1981. Designed by Hans Muth, BMW’s former chief of styling, the Katana was one of the first mass-produced Japanese motorcycles to use a European Design (ED). Muth immersed himself in Japanese culture, particularly the work Zen in the Art of Archery — a book that gave Robert Pirsig inspiration for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
When presenting the bold, sharp-edged design to Osamu Suzuki, Muth said:
“The sword first serves as a weapon, but a katana also has a mythological meaning in Japan. If you don’t treat it right, its sharpness can be lethal. The same is true for a motorcycle.” -Hans Muth via Cycle World
While Muth’s “ED2” design led to the radical big-bore 16-valve GSX1100S Katana, his team’s original design (ED1) was for a more subdued 550cc model, which would be brought to production as the GS550M Katana and GS650G Katana.
Introduced in 1981, the Katana 650 was a shaft-drive, purpose-built machine with an air-cooled 673cc DOHC inline four that made 73 hp and 42 lb-ft of torque, good for a 13.2-second 1/4 mile and top speed of 124 mph.
“The result may not look all that Italian but it does have a certain something and it’s faster than everything in its class and most 750s.” -MCN, 1981
When this ’81 GS650 Katana showed up at Australia’s Sabotage Motorcycles, it was a sun-scorched ruin, a victim of nearly a decade’s neglect. At first, Giles and Andy weren’t sure it was worth it to restore the baby Kat…
“Then we heard the story. The owner bought the bike brand new from the showroom. Which is rare to hear these days, especially with a 1981 bike. He was in the navy back then and travelled all over Australia with the bike, dropping in to different naval bases, and generally travelling the country.”
What followed was a restoration on a monumental scale: every last nut, washer, bracket, grommet, seal, bearing, and piece of bodywork needed attention. The Sabotage boys give us the full details below, but suffice to say even they could hardly believe the transformation — this was less a restoration than a resurrection. Says Giles of the riding experience:
“Like riding a miracle. Others would have sold it for parts or just scrapped it. Luckily our client had a sentimental attachment to the bike enough to want to fund the restoration.”
Below, we talk to Giles and Andy of Sabotage Motorcycles for the full story on the restoration, and a special thanks goes out to Andrew Jones of Machines That Dream for bringing us this story and the incredible gallery of photos. Enjoy!
Katana 650 Resto: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
We spend our time creating highly custom motorcycles, with a strict focus on vintage and modern classic-styled bikes. Our aim is to design the bikes with a nod to their vintage roots, but with a modern and funky twist. We do almost everything in-house, making as much as possible from scratch, or modifying parts to suit.
We’re two guys who met by chance in the car park of Bunnings (how very Australian!) when we both happened to be on our 70’s Hondas.
For over 6 years we’ve put our skills together so that we can restore and customise motorcycles almost completely ourselves. We want to push the limit with what can be achieved with our skills, tools and determination.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1981 Suzuki GS650 Katana.
• Why was this bike built/restored?
The owner brought us the bike after he’d left it neglected for well over a decade in the QLD sun. We even questioned why bother. Then we heard the story. The owner bought the bike brand new from the showroom. Which is rare to hear these days, especially with a 1981 bike. He was in the navy back then and travelled all over Australia with the bike, dropping in to different naval bases, and generally travelling the country.
After he got married and had children, the bike was ridden less and less. Whilst the bike was complete and in original condition, the years of being left did not fare well. The Queensland sun is brutal. A mate of ours who came by our shop a few days after the Katana had been dropped off asked, “What happened to this one, was it set on fire?”
We knew we had our work cut out. Every single nut, washer, bracket, grommet, everything needed considerable attention before re-fitting it to the bike.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The brief was to bring it back to the condition it was when the owner bought it, using and retaining as much of the original or OEM parts as possible.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Not a lot actually. However we used almost every skill we have to get this bike back to shmicko condition: fabricating and welding new mounts to the exhaust headers, fibreglassing the virtually destroyed seat pan, seat upholstery, re-wiring the bike, etc, etc.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Like riding a miracle. Others would have sold it for parts or just scrapped it. Luckily our client had a sentimental attachment to the bike enough to want to fund the restoration.
• Was there anything done during this restoration that you are particularly proud of?
That we agreed to take on the job, and completed it. It truly was a monumental restoration. Whilst a keen eye will point out a few non-OEM finishes, this is a near-factory restoration, from what was a truly destroyed motorcycle.
The fork stanchions had to be re-hard-chromed; the engine was totally stripped, vapour blasted, honed, valves lapped, and rebuilt according to spec; the paintwork was meticulously done by Smith Concepts; the brake calipers and discs are now cerakoted for longevity and colour matched as close as possible to the original paint; frame blasted and powder coated; wiring harness stripped down, repaired, re-soldered, and reinstated with some parts replaced with new; sourcing the correct colour vinyl for the seat; the list goes on, and on.
Follow the Builder
Photos by Andrew Jones: @machines_that_dream
I really like that you include information and pictures of the doner bikes.
Agreed. I like that BB does that too, as it gives a fuller picture and story.
Great job and beautiful bike. congrats