"It's a really special bike," O'Shea says with a grin after recounting the protest story. "It's the Cooley title bike, the only one left of two, documented by a letter from Fujio [Yoshimura, head of Yoshimura R&D] to Craig Vetter, which says Cooley's backup bike was parted out and that Vetter got the primary machine."
While Cooley rode Yoshimura-Suzuki Superbikes in '78 and '79 (winning two races on his way to fifth overall in '78, then grabbing his first AMA Superbike title in '79), the '80-spec machine was even more advanced, reflecting the constant, hectic pace of Superbike development in those days.
Longtime motojournalist John Ulrich put it well in a Yoshimura GS1000 tech story he wrote in 1980: "In racing there is a word for people who don't improve their bikes every season. The word is loser. To win, development must never stop. Every year's machine must be better than the last." Every race's machine was more like it. Rapidly progressing technology, the teams' pioneering DIY spirit and the absolute necessity not to get behind on one's cheating all helped fuel the headlong development.
Based on the Suzuki GS1000 that debuted in '78 (Suzuki's first big four-stroke, the GS750, was introduced in '77), the '80-spec machine was a powerhouse, its highly modified 1023cc inline-four pushing the bike to 167 mph at Daytona, with a chassis that offered reasonably stable handling that seemed to outclass everyone elses. Positively narcoleptic (by modern standards) frame geometry-60.25-inch wheelbase, 27-degree rake and 5.9-inch trail-plus top-shelf suspension bits-a GP-spec Suzuki RG500 fork and high-end KYB shocks angled at 54 degrees-helped keep the 133 claimed peak horsepower (at 10,000 rpm) from turning the modified double-cradle steel-tube frame into a wobbling two-wheeled hinge at high speeds, as the Yoshimura Kawasaki Z1s Cooley rode in earlier years had been. Lightweight RG500-spec Dymag wheels in 3.25-in.-front and 3.75-in.-rear widths helped suspension action considerably. Although the trick fork and wheels were replaced when the bike was sold to Vetter, O'Shea had acquired the correct parts at press time and planned to install them shortly. "Money was tight in those days for Pops [Yoshimura, the company's founder] and the RG pieces were hard to get," O'Shea told us, "so they'd yank them for next year's machine and put less-special parts on the old bike."
The Cooley racer has a mean, stripped-bare look, one buttressed by the heavily braced swingarm, the lack of sidepanels or battery, radically cut saddle, 31mm Keihin CR smoothbores inhaling through polished velocity stacks, and the sexy cockpit fairing patterned after the stock item on Suzuki's '79 and '80 GS1000S. Ready-to-race weight with a full tank of fuel was 450 pounds-about 20 pounds more than today's production literbikes. Privateers at least had access to the parts to build such weapons, but the cost was dear: $15,000.
In an '86 Cycle Guide story (our own Charles Everitt had been CG's editor before then), Cooley brilliantly captured what it was like to ride the era's Superbikes: "It's the power I really like about these bikes; I like coming off the turns and being able to grab a whole handful and having the front wheel come off the ground, sliding [the rear wheel] a little bit."
My ride aboard the Cooley racer at Barber wasn't quite that exciting, but it did shine some light on the almost holy regard enthusiasts-me included-held the near-mythical machines Cooley, Spencer and Lawson rode in U.S. Superbike racing's glory days.
Settling into the roomy cockpit was sublime, the 26-inch-wide handlebar placing my hands at what felt like the perfect height and angle for aggressive riding and control. I could have used a taller seat, though Cooley's a bit shorter than I am, so he probably felt right at home. The bike felt low and long as I motored out on the Barber circuit, quite unlike today's shorter, taller literbikes.
Power was impressive, though again, it paled in comparison to my expectations, or the unreal yank of any modern literbike. I'm sure the videos I've seen of Cooley, Lawson and Spencer banging 'bars and sliding through corners had me thinking these things were going to be real handfuls to ride. This one, however, wasn't; at least not at the medium-fast pace O'Shea and I were running. In fact, it was the Cooley bike's surprisingly mellow power delivery that surprised me most-it hit hard on top, but there was plenty of flexible grunt between 7 and 10 grand, all of which made riding the bike quickly a relatively easy proposition.
O'Shea proved the point awhile back by running the Cooley bike at the AHRMA races in Daytona. Although an ignition gremlin forced him to race the Pridmore Kawasaki, you've gotta love the idea of a guy actually racing a bike as cool and valuable as this one. "I don't intend to let it sit and gather dust," O'Shea says. "This bike wants to be on the racetrack."