Suzuki GT380: Reader Resto

Date 24.1.2013

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Reader resto: Suzuki GT380

Restorations are all about rules: some you make and some are made for you. The restoration of my 1975 Suzuki GT380 is a story about learning and sometimes creating these rules.

Rule one: don’t bid on eBay after three beers.

I am only new to motorcycling, getting my LAMS pass in October 2010. My introduction to motorcycling was an adventure itself as I did my licence at HART during the rain that lead to the 2011 Queensland floods.

Three months later it was time for a project. I had been debating ‘car versus bike’ for a while and decided that a bike would be a good place to practice as it would have to be easier, right? So what to buy? With no research and no idea, I found a lovely green-coloured Suzuki GT380 on eBay from a local seller. After several days watching, I got rather enthusiastic about the whole idea. On the night the auction ended and after the aforementioned three beers, I decided nobody was going to beat me – it was mine for $760. I was filled with joy but the reality of the purchase proved somewhat more sobering.

Rule two: always study the photo carefully when buying ‘sight unseen’ (sub-rule two: don’t buy sight unseen unless you plan to spend up big).

On close examination of the picture of the bike, I started to notice quite a few things missing: headlight, footpegs, sidecovers, dress chrome, points cover and much more. No problems – the seller said that it turned over so the engine was going to be okay. I was looking forward to a quick resto.

The digital camera is a must for any resto. If you think you have taken enough photos, take more – trust me, you’ll need them when sorting out the giant jigsaw when you start reassembly. Also make sure you name the photos when you save them for later reference – close-ups of bolts and wires start to look the same after a while.

Rule three: whatever you think it’s going to cost, double it and add some.

The strip-down was pretty straight-forward. A key to any resto is to get the parts book, workshop manuals and the owner’s manual. Starting out on the bike I had little knowledge of all the variances in models and parts. A little research before starting would probably have saved a lot of money. Understanding the manufacturer’s model numbering sequence is the key as models with long production lives (the GT380 ran from 1972 to 1978) often have major upgrades and model changes, especially to cosmetics in order to freshen up the old model. One example is the GT380 went from drums to discs on the front during its model run.

Little things like sidecovers and seat trim through to getting the tank colour and decals right are costly traps for the newby restorer. I sourced a lot of parts from eBay: Paul Miller Suzuki in the USA (great source but expensive delivery) provided a completely new carb set and a polished set of engine covers. Discount Bike Spares in the UK was great for all the little things. The current strength of the exchange rate was great in keeping the costs down but rates are capable of changing dramatically overnight and good rates can’t be relied on.

Rule four: not everything the seller says will necessarily prove true.

The previous owner claimed the GT380 “should run with a little work”, so the restoration focus was directed away from the engine and towards the rest of the bike. I sent the tank off to Mark at Queensland Motorcycle Panel & Paint – not cheap but brilliant effort both with paint and decals. Ash at Ash’s Spoked Wheels proved to be a godsend. Not only are Ash and his team genuine motorcycle nuts, they went out of their way in pointing me to all sorts of specialists to help out – just what a resto newby needed. And they did a brilliant job relacing my wheels, getting the hubs hydro-blasted and getting my forks chromed and reassembled. A new complete set of exhausts was sourced from the USA via eBay (no drunken bidding this time) and, together with the front and rear mudguards and assorted bright work, the items were packed off to Gold Coast Electro Plating.

Once all the parts were regathered from the various service providers the task of reassembly began. Lots of trial and error and then more errors saw the bike reassembled and ready to be sent off to the mechanic to get running. An electronic ignition was sourced out of the UK to aid with running as the original three points set-up had a reputation for being a pain to maintain and also allegedly contributed to exhaust bluing (which, after the cost of chroming, was something to be avoided).

On the recommendation of Ash, the bike was packed off to the guys at Northside Motorcycle Tyres & Service. This was another bunch of bike enthusiasts. Mark and Adrian sorted some electrical issues (where I had reconnected things the wrong way) and set up the electronic ignition. Problem one: the bike kicked back on the first start attempt and broke the idler gear, so there was a delay while sourcing a new part from the USA. A second attempt found a new problem: fluids coming out the exhaust. Examination showed that the crank seals were cactus. Then the OMG (oh my god) moment – examination of the bores showed they were rusty and that the rods were also rather unhealthy. The only solution was a complete engine rebuild. So much for “a quick freshen up and she’ll be right”.

Rule five: a restoration should always include an engine rebuild.

A lot of cursing and cussing later (and thanks to the guys at Mick Hone Motorcycles in Melbourne who had all the bits for the engine in stock), the engine has been rebuilt by Mark’s team and reinstalled into the old girl. The messing with the engine took six months in itself and taught me not to assume you can take shortcuts and expect things to work out.

I learnt a lot from doing the first bike and am now just starting bike resto number six (a 1985 Kawasaki GPz600R). It’s all a bit of a blur considering I have been doing this for less than 18 months. Tragically, I have acquired ‘Guido-itis’ and now have 18 bikes in the shed ranging from a 2012 Panigale S to a 1963 Honda C92 in mid-restoration.

Overall with restoring, the joy of the multitude of little victories in bringing broken parts back to life is something you never tire of, although the frustrations can test the limits of patience. I couldn’t have done it without the assistance of my little helper to keep me company and for constantly asking the inevitable question – “Is it finished yet, Dad?”

And that brings me to the last and most important rule: there are no shortcuts in restoring a motorcycle. Patience and persistence are always required but the rewards are great.