It’s easy with hindsight to knock the supersports bikes of the early 1980s, like the Suzuki GSX1100E, as lumbering dinosaurs of the Jurassic period of motorcycling. Potent, but large and heavy, these monsters grew because there was nothing to stop them. They were at the top of the performance food chain.
The evolution of bikes like the Suzuki GSX1100E from the relatively nimble four-cylinder bikes of the 1970s was a result of the demand for power and speed that outstripped the factories’ ability to find an alternative to the ‘more is better’ philosophy. Without the benefit of weight saving technology as each additional horsepower was wrung from the increasingly larger engines, more kilos were added to beef up the tubular steel chassis.
The Suzuki GSX1100E (or GS1100E in America) first appeared in 1980 as a replacement for the two-valve GS range. As the GS was always criticised as being a homologue of Kawasaki’s Z1, in one swoop the GSX changed the face of Suzuki’s four-cylinder, air-cooled line-up. The 1075cc four had a bore and stroke of 74mm x 66mm and while it retained chain-driven double overhead camshafts it now featured four valves per cylinder and the much-vaunted TSCC, or Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber. By machining a ridge between the valve pair and overlapping the valves slightly in the cylinder bore Suzuki claimed more swirl could be created with a resulting improvement in combustion efficiency. The bottom end still included a pressed-up roller bearing crankshaft and with a quartet of Mikuni 34mm carbs, the power was 100hp (73.6kW) at 8500rpm.
To accommodate this more potent engine, Suzuki redesigned the chassis and incorporated styling that broke the traditional Japanese mould. The unusual angular styling was accentuated by a large rectangular headlamp and heavy-looking tail section. The large dash also included a groundbreaking LED-style warning light panel. The 37mm front fork was a leading-axle type, now with air assist, and the sturdier swingarm an aluminium alloy fabrication based on those of the Yoshimura superbikes.
Unfortunately the rest of the chassis came from the dark ages. Although they included four-position damping adjustment, the twin rear shock absorbers weren’t great, and the front brakes were a pair of 275mm slotted discs gripped by a pair of weak floating-piston calipers. This was still the era where compromised floating-piston calipers went on the front while the rear had a superior dual opposed-piston caliper. Suzuki had yet to break away from the traditional wheel sizes of 19in on the front and 17in on the rear. And with a wheelbase of 1510mm and a dry weight of 243kg the GSX1100 was never going to be a nimble sportsbike. But when it came to outright performance it was at the top of the heap in 1980, regularly clocking 230km/h in road tests.
Ultimately the GSX1100E was something of a watershed, blending the emergent engine technology of the late 1970s with a dubious and overworked chassis that typified the power race of the period. And while the later derivations had a more unified look, it is the early examples (like our pictured bike, a 1981 US-spec GS1100EX) with their chunky, macho style that epitomise the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) of the early 1980s. Powerful, stunningly dependable, and with the looks of the time, the early GSX1100E represented a pinnacle in the age of the dinosaurs.
• The GSX1100E only lasted two years in its original form, gaining a black-finished engine for 1981.
• In September 1981 the GSX1100S Katana was launched. Power was up to 111hp (81.6kW) and the Katana styling inspired the 1982 GSX1100EZ.
• In 1983 the GSX gained a top half fairing becoming the GSX1100ESD.Along with the unfaired GSX1100ED it only lasted until March 1984.
• The GSX1100 grew to 1135cc for 1984 with the GSX1100EE (GS1150EE in the US). Power rose to 124hp (91.2kW). It got a box-section steel frame and a 16in front wheel.
• The final unfaired 1100 was the GSX1100EG, from March 1986 until October 1988. The last 1100 Katana was produced in 1990, celebrating Suzuki’s 70th anniversary.
There’s still life left in a GSX1100, here:
Find more GS1100s at this site:
Ron has this page devoted to his GS1100:
Here’s a GSX1100 history site: