Tate Casey’s 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750 Track Bike

It’s a track bike and a time machine all rolled into one.

Tate Casey 1986 Suzuki GSX-r750
Tate Casey’s plan to fix up a 1986 GSX-R750 evolved into a full-on track-bike build modeled after the famed LTD GSX-R Superbikes of the late ‘80s.Photo: Spenser Robert

Name: Tate Casey
Age: 67
Home: Costa Mesa, CA
Occupation: Engineer

Restoring old bikes has the ability to take you back in time, by working on them and riding them.

My time machine found me when a friend who had purchased two 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750s offered me the leftover one. Because I had previously restored a 1986 GSX-R1100 that I regretted selling, money exchanged hands for the forlorn and fairing-less bike. My past is littered with projects that started this way.

The original thought was to build an inexpensive track bike to have some cheap thrills with. As I can’t do any project half assed, the “cheap” part soon evaporated and a full on resto-mod plan evolved.

Why not build a GSX-R that would approximately replicate the riding experience of a mid-1980s Superbike and, while I was at it, reproduce the color scheme and equipment level of the special Limited Edition (LTD) model?

There were many modifications that I made to the original bike, mostly period changes that could have been made back then. GSX-R1100 forks, brakes and 18-inch wheels were used. Specially fabricated rearset heel/chain guards popped out of a CNC machine. A special countershaft sprocket cover was made from two separate covers to match the LTD look. My friend, Dutch who sold me the bike, provided the LTD-style seat to match the Airtech fiberglass cowl and fairings. Installing the various Yoshimura style vents and scoops was a real adventure for a fiberglass neophyte like me.

While all the appearance details were important to me, the focus of my efforts was the engine. My day job includes designing engine modifications for Ferraris and other exotics. I wanted the LTD cable-style clutch without the expensive and rare dry clutch set up it came with. The logical conclusion was to use the generation 2 engine from a 1989 Slingshot as it had the correct clutch type.

As engine performance can have a large impact on how a bike feels, I wanted a smooth powerband with a strong top end. In the end the power was there (113.5 hp at the rear wheel) and after extensive dyno tuning, the engine carbureted great.

The final test of all my work came when I got the chance to take my creation out on the track. The combination of light weight (391 pounds), good suspension, and power really surprised me. The Suzuki did all the right things and made some of the modern-bike riders look twice.

My GSX-R is more than just a track bike as it is also a rolling history lesson. I appreciate the engineering job that Etsuo Yokouchi of Suzuki originally did on the bike. The first-gen GSX-R was the granddaddy of all the current race replicas produced today. The basic layout of the components hasn’t changed much since then so they obviously did it right.

Also, there is a connection to the genius of Pops Yoshimura and Kevin Schwantz through the improved mechanical aspect of the bike and the riding experience. It was nice to visit 1986 again, but from the rider’s seat of a superbike instead of just reading about it in the old motorcycle magazines.

Senior Road Test Editor Ari Henning met up with Mr. Casey at a track day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. Ostensibly the rendezvous was to snap a photo for this article, but when Tate offered Ari a ride on the Gixxer, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Above is onboard video from the cockpit of the old GSX-R, a bike that Ari described as surprisingly powerful and very easy to ride. The liquid splashing about when Ari is on the brakes is gasoline from a freshly filled tank. Watch the video below: