In honor of it being 30 years since Suzuki’s first GSX-R750 came to America, we hereby present what I’m pretty sure is the rarest of them all, the bike that proudly wore two “R”s before others had even one, the super-rare race-homologation special 1989 GSX-R750RR – also reverentially known as “RK” among the few collectors who know this bike exists.
It may be a bike even Suzuki wants to forget, or maybe to deny existed, since it’s basically a rolling mea culpa, Latin for “our bad.” The original low-mass GSX-R750 of 1985 (it didn’t come to the U.S. until ’86) was a tremendous worldwide success, a motorcycle lots of people say was the first streetable racebike, as opposed to all the raceable streetbikes that had preceded it. It was good enough to win the FIM World Endurance Championship in 1987 and ’88, in fact. Flush with victory, Suzuki jumped into a redesigned GSX-R in 1988, with an all-new chassis and a new, shorter-stroke engine that would make even more horsepower! In the ’80s, if a little was good, a little more was better. Bore and stroke went from 70 x 48.7mm to 73 x 44.7mm.
Well, maybe the new chassis was better once you raised the bike a little to fix its ground clearance problem, and the new engine might have been better in theory. But in the hands of all the people who’d been racing and winning on the revolutionary Gen-1 GSX-R, the new short-stroke engine was sorely missing in the midrange muscle department, and wasn’t powerful-er enough up top to make up for it. Meanwhile, here came the competition in the form of the Honda RC30, Ducati 851, Yamaha OW-01, etc. What to do?
What Suzuki did was to stick the old long-stroke motor everybody knew and loved into the RK, making its racer clientele happy while providing no visual clue to everybody else that this was not the new GSX-R engine it was trying to move out of showrooms: Maybe not exactly something to be proud of from a manufacturer’s standpoint, but making the RK the highest evolution of the original GSX-R, and certainly the rarest. (As a testament to the rightness of the original design, bore and stroke of the 2016 model retains the 70 x 48.7mm of the original ’85 thirty years later, possibly the only thing about it that remains the same.)
Who knows where Wiki got the 500-produced number? That was how many Suzuki was supposed to have built for FIM homologation. Who knows how many still remain? GSX-R expert Chris Redpath of MotoGP Werks thinks there may be six or seven in the U.S.; none were imported here by American Suzuki, but quite a few made their way to Canada. Chris’s collection contains one RR that’s considerably modified, but believes the one that belongs to our mutual friend Tom McComas may be the nicest, most original one he’s seen.
Easy visual clues that you’re looking at the real deal, should you trip over one in a barn, are the braced swingarm (more rigid for dealing with race tires), a cut-down aluminum gas tank and more aerodynamic fairing made of fiberglass instead of plastic, for less weight and more high-speed slipperiness. A sand-cast, thicker engine case pokes out the left fairing lower. And of course, the one-piece fiberglass tail section with red number plate. Tres chic.
The frame is also a bit different, stronger up around the headstock and with lighter, reshaped tank rails. The fork is a 43mm cartridge unit; the rear shock uses a remote reservoir and is compression- and rebound-damping adjustable. Carburetors are 40mm Mikuni BST constant-velocity “open-air” items, purpose built for rapid jetting and other trackside adjustments: very special, very rare (and very expensive), says Redpath.
Digging into the engine internals, we find a close-ratio six-speed gearbox, controlled by a heavy-duty clutch with an extra drive plate. The crankshaft, valve gear and connecting rods are all supposedly identical to the “factory racers,” according to Suzuki’s press materials, as are the cylinder head and 10mm dual-electrode spark plugs. A big curved radial-flow oil cooler was meant to keep temperatures under control, in addition to a lower oil cooler meant to service just the cylinder head.
At a time when Honda’s gear-driven, titanium-connecting-rodded RC30 V-Four was gathering all the attention and selling for $15,000, the GSX-RR would set you back £8999, or $16,200 in 1989 dollars. Which is probably another reason Suzuki didn’t bother importing them into America. We all recognized even at the time that the RC30 was semi-instantly collectible, and the very exotic Ducati 851 had just stepped off the boat, too. The GSX-R, then as now, was the plumber’s van of roadracing, built to be used and abused, crashed and parted out; they were expendable.
But, if you already have a zero-miles RC30 and an OW-01 (and an 02, and a couple Ford GT-40s and God-knows-what-else stuffed into your Venice, California beachfront manse), and you’ve been Ben Affleck’s go-to stuntman since 1997’s Armageddon (Tom just wrapped the 16th Affleck movie), but more importantly, you won the Yamaha Seca II Challenge championship in 1993!, then you need a GSX-R750RR and so you shall have one. Roadracing, Tom says, is where he learned he has a rare talent for crashing and “hucking myself off buildings.” Mr. McComas has a bunch of great motorcycles, but this RR is his favorite.
Tom McComas: “I remember seeing that bike back in ’89 in some moto mag and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever not seen in person. Pure unobtanium. Like the white spotted Bengal tiger. I love the balance of the shades of blue and the red in the corners – the tail, tank and lowers. I love the subtle differences from stock like the squat tank, raked windshield, and black triple clamp and bar ends. Compared to it, most modern bikes just look like tampons.”
“I love that I looked for 15 years and finally found it in Calgary. I talked with the guy I bought it from on the phone for an hour and and a half. We talked about the bike for the first two minutes. After that, it was like speaking with a long lost brother. We finally got to the point where we negotiate price. In my head I was prepared to pay $20,000. I said, ‘What do you want for the bike?’ He said $25,000. I was like, ‘Damn, the number in my head was twenty.’ He responded, because of the kind of guy he is by saying,’Twenty U.S. is twenty-five Canadian.’”
“I asked if he wanted me to FedEx him a deposit check. He said we have a deal as long as you’re here within a month, the bike is yours. Then I found out you can’t import a bike from Canada unless it’s 25 years old. I did the complex math in my head. It was exactly twenty-five years old. So I flew up with a brick of hundreds in each cargo pocket of my shorts, lost one of them, finally found it in the crack between the console and the seat, and made the deal.”
Jesus and Allah both wanted Tommy to have it. The Canadian guy he bought the bike from is planning a visit soon. Personally, I’m with Tom. When I got here, old guys chewed my ears off about Triumph Bonnevilles and BSA Gold Stars and I listened out of respect, but I never quite got it. Now I’m the old guy, and I can feel this beautiful young motorcycle, as Raymond Chandler famously said, in my hip pocket: 1989 was a very good year for classic sportbikes, and this might be the rarest, most collectible of them all.