Sheene, winner of the 1973 FIM Formula 750 Championship on a Suzuki TR750, was asked to visit the Hamamatsu factory, where he proceeded to clip 1.5 seconds off the test track record on the new 500 Four, following up with second place in the season-opening French Grand Prix behind Read’s MV. Inevitably though, there were teething problems chiefly associated with engine seizures and wayward high-speed handling. Sheene ended the season sixth in the World Championship and, in the Manufacturers’ Championship, Suzuki finished third: not bad for a completely new machine. With this, 1974 was considered to be a development year for the XR14. It was 1975 that was really going to shift the game with the XR14 going into factory production. For 1975, Suzuki contracted Barry Sheene and Tepi Lansivuori to race the XR14s. The engine basically stayed the same: 5-port cylinder and bore/stroke 56.00 x 50.5mm but, with fresh tuning, the engine presented 100bhp at 11,200rpm with torque at 6.7kg per metre at 10,500. The XR14 was also given a new and improved frame. The overall performance of the 1975 RG500 XR14 was now radically good. Its crackly scream drank fuel at a ridiculous rate and, once the pilot hit the +6,000rpm zone, the acceleration up to 11,200 was violent. This was a machine designed for only the most ballistic of pilots and was completely impractical for anything other than top-level racing. Suzuki had succeeded in making a great, glorious and completely berserk machine. Capable of +270kph, the XR14 went on to slaughter its competition and take out world championships – most famously with Barry Sheene on board. Perhaps more importantly, the XR14 was the first machine to
offer independent privateers the opportunity to truly compete with well-heeled corporate teams. From this perspective, the XR14 was a great leveller. The bike went on to win the Riders World Championship in the 500cc class in 1976 and 1977. Originally imported new and direct from the build factory, this example is bike number 7 (engine and frame numbers 11007). It is stunningly original. The only non-factory-correct elements of this machine are the front brakes which were replaced with Brembo (Lockheed pattern) callipers. This was a common upgrade of the day as the original alloy brake discs had a dubious reputation under extreme conditions. Initially raced by one of New Zealand’s great 1970s’ pilots John Woodley (‘Gentleman John’, Woodley*), it was acquired from Woodley by Geoff Sell. In 1987, the current custodian became owner of the machine and undertook a full restoration including of the motor. The crankshafts were replaced and cylinders honed to suit 0.13mm oversized pistons (taking the displacement to 499cc). Since then, the bike has been stored correctly and started every six months. It has done less than 60 minutes’ track time since 1987, most recently appearing at the 2011 Mansfield practice session. The XR14 was and remains a game-changer. It certainly positioned Suzuki as the dominant force of the late 1970s and for that deserves the recognition it gets as one of the most successful race-bike designs of its period. Suzuki built a glorious and completely berserk machine which was and remains complex, consistent and influential – the XR14 Mark I – and which, with very few being created, is a true modern classic.
Classic Motorcycles and Cars of the Day auction catalogue