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The Metamorphosis of Suzuki

From cotton weaving looms to one of the most respected motorcycle and car manufacturers in the world, Suzuki has adapted with the times.

Contrary to popular belief, Suzuki produced cars before they moved into the two wheeled market, but the early days of the company were devoted to the production of weaving looms. The father of the company, Michio Suzuki, the son of a Japanese cotton farmer, created a brand new version of the weaving machine in the coastal village of Hamamatsu, Japan. A successful business was built upon his invention, providing employment and wealth for the company and its staff during the first thirty years of its incarnation.

Although the loom side of the business was still enjoying success, Suzuki thought the time was right to diversify, so after studying the market, he decided that the way forward would be the development of a car. In 1937, a development programme was launched, and within two years many prototypes integrating a cast aluminium gearbox and crankcase had been built. However, the company had a setback as the Japanese government declared civilian cars a non-essential commodity at the outbreak of World War 2. When the war ended, Suzuki once again concentrated on the production of looms as the US government gave the go ahead for the shipping of cotton to Japan. The company flourished for a short while as orders increased, but the rug was pulled from underneath them when the cotton market collapsed in 1951.

This could have proved the death knell for Suzuki’s operations, but rather than call it a day, the company once again turned their eyes toward motor vehicles. At this time, Japan had a dire need for cheap, reliable transportation, and a number of companies had begun to produce a clip-on engine which could be attached to a bicycle. Suzuki’s breakthrough came with the development of a motorised bicycle named the ‘Power Free’. Powered by a 36cc engine, this unique vehicle was the first to feature the double sprocket gear system, which allowed the rider to travel by pedal power alone, engine assisted pedalling or engine only propulsion. So ground-breaking was the new innovation, that the fledgling democratic government offered a grant to the Suzuki company to assist research in motorcycle engineering. This was the birth of the Suzuki Motor Corporation. By 1954, 6,000 ‘Colleda CO’ motorcycles were passing out of the factory gates every month. The Colleda was a single cylinder 90cc machine, which proved good enough to win a prominent motorcycle race during its first year of production. At this time, Suzuki also began development of the ‘Suzulight’ automobile, which featured front wheel drive and four-wheel independent suspension.

In 1955, Suzuki produced a larger offering in the form of the 125cc four-stroke ‘Colleda COX’, and an improved version of the two-stroke called the ‘Colleda ST’. The TT model, introduced in 1956 was in essence the forerunner of the Grand Prix bikes. By the standards of the day, the TT was regarded as a high performance machine, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 80 mph, and leaving in its wake, machines with much more power at their call. This motorcycle also showed a touch of finesse and featured some luxurious accessories, amongst these were indicators.

By 1958, 50, 125 and 250cc motorcycles were available from Suzuki, and the familiar ‘S’ logo was introduced. Many of you will know that the logo is still being used on motorcycles today. Engineering research went hand in hand with corporate branding, so when in 1960, Suzukis made their first appearance at the Isle of Man, it was an important milestone for both departments. By 1962 they had claimed their first World Road Racing Championship in the 500cc class. In 1964, the company set its sights on motocross Grand Prix, but enjoyed only limited success.  

1976 saw the introduction of a range of four stroke machines, such as the GS400, a 400cc twin and the 750cc GS750. The shaft driven GS850G came along in 1978. So called ‘Superbikes’ were beginning to appear and the GS1000S was developed as Suzuki’s contribution to this class. In 1982, the turbocharged XN85 was introduced, and before the year was out, Suzuki had claimed their eighth consecutive victory in the 500cc class.

It’s fair to say that, had it not been for the Second World War and the later collapse of the cotton market, Suzuki could well have been solely a car manufacturer today, or worse still, not even in existence.