Work began as early as '73 on just such a motorcycle. Suzuki's inkling that its first big four-stroke could not fail was proven true by '75 as it watched its poor-handling and weird-Alice RE5 Rotary lose momentum and nosedive into oblivion soon after its debut. So Suzuki stuck to basics with its new four-stroke engine, incorporating many of the design cues found in Kawasaki's hammer-reliable Z1 powerplant: overbuilt crankcases, the same basic lower- and upper-end architecture, etc. Reliability could not be chanced.
Power would be plentiful, but not overwhelming. Styling would be basic and handsome, not funky or new-wave. And handling would be world-class via a stiff and well-designed frame, above-average suspension bits and smart details such as needle swingarm bearings instead of the more common plastic or bronze bushings. The idea was to outrun Honda's not-so-fast-and now seven-year-old-CB750 and outhandle the powerful 903cc Z1, which packed an engine that could overwhelm its flexy chassis with a flick of the wrist.
It worked-and spectacularly so. Right out of the gate, Suzuki's '76 GS750 impressed with solid looks, decent comfort, above-average power, a nearly indestructible engine and, most importantly, high-speed handling that put every other streetbike to shame. It was the first superbike to get it right.
Cycle magazine summed things up nicely in its September 1976 road test: "The GS750 fits in everywhere Suzuki hoped it would. It is the fastest 750 you can buy, has ... comfortable suspension and generous open-road range. It has enough cornering clearance to make mountain-road lashing a reasonable proposition. It is quietly stylish, beautifully proportioned, carefully built and correctly compromised to be many things to many people without short-changing any particular enthusiast group. It is without question the best motorcycle in the 750 class."
Not surprisingly, sales were even better than Suzuki had hoped.
Our own Roland Brown wrote this: "The [first] GS wasn't just the best bike I'd ever ridden by far, it was arguably the most competent superbike on the road. And boy was it fast! Especially to someone whose own bike was an old Triumph twin."
The first GS affected amateur roadracing overnight. "When the GS came out, club-racing changed," recalls Jack Seaver, a longtime rider and racer who worked Japanese dealership floors in the '70s and '80s. "The hardest-partying group in WERA (Western Eastern Roadracing Association) was headed up by Ed Bargy, who nicknamed the GS750-dominated class the Whisperjets because they were so quiet and fast. Well-ridden GS750s were capable of winning 750 Production, 750 Modified Production (re-named 750 Superbike around that time), Open production (against really wobbly Z1s) and Open Modified Production. They also raced in Formula One, which pitted real Grand Prix bikes against anybody who thought they had a chance. The GS was the first production bike that could get around quickly enough to figure in F1. What's more, the GS750 instantly cured Suzuki's weirdo streetbike cred caused by its two-stroke triples. It wasn't until the twin-cam Honda CB750 of '79 that anybody seriously challenged the GS."
The GS impacted professional roadracing as well, a Yoshimura- built example winning its debut AMA Superbike race on September 11, 1977, at Laguna Seca with Steve McLaughlin in the saddle. Veteran racer and journalist John Ulrich tested the 944cc machine and said, "It was magic, and my first ride on an AMA Superbike. When I raced it at Ontario Motor Speedway during an AFM weekend, I went faster on it than Wes Cooley had gone on his Kawasaki Z1 Superbike there. That would all change the first time Wes got on a Yoshimura Suzuki, but it was fun while it lasted!"
Drag-racer Terry Vance echoed Ulrich's praise. "If it wasn't for the GS750, I'd be working some parts counter in Inglewood," said the multi-time NHRA Pro Stock champ and successful businessman. "That's the bike that made the GS1000 possible, and without that I'd have missed my opportunity."
Vance continues: "Byron [Hines, his partner] and I were racing Z1s and doing well. We won a couple of championships. Suzuki Marketing Director Gene Trobaugh had this big-picture vision to radically improve Suzuki's reputation on the heels of the new bike. He came to see me and Byron at RC Engineering; we were just kids. He put a plan together, we signed a contract and they sent us a bike. When we pulled the crate off, everyone gathered around; no one had seen a GS before. We started winning pretty quickly, and away we went!"