Soooooo, who wants to buy a legendary Japanese racebike from a legendary Brit rider?
On June 20, well-heeled buyers can start throwing money at Mick Grant’s 1982 Heron Suzuki XR69 racebike, a factory-built machine that Grant used to great success. Supposedly, this is the machine Grant used to win the North West 200, and one of only three XR69 survivors in existence.
So, uh … what’s a Suzuki XR69? Sounds like something from an aerospace skunk works program, and that’s kinda the answer. The XR69 was the result of mixing-and-matching Suzuki’s production-based race bike parts with its GP chassis.
The story begins with legendary tuner Pops Yoshimura. In 1976, Suzuki released the GS750, its first four-stroke four-cylinder street bike. The 750 immediately developed a reputation as the first Japanese big-bore four with respectable handling, and Yoshimura started developing a race bike around the platform. This resulted in cooperation with Suzuki; soon, Yoshimura was working on the GS1000.
A capable tuner (which Pops Yoshimura certainly was) could muscle up the GS1000 considerably. Yoshimura had the 1000 boosted to 130+ horsepower, and ran into the usual performance bike problem. Add too much power, and the chassis can’t handle it. What to do?
The answer, in this case, was the XR69. In a textbook Suzuki move, the engineers raided the parts bin. Yoshimura built a new, stronger frame that was close to the silly-fast XR23 two-stroke GP bike. The designers also put Kayaba forks and shocks (first version had dual shocks, later version had monoshock) on the XR69, same as the GP bike’s equipment. They upgraded the brakes to GP-spec units, too.
The engine saw plenty of tuning trickery as well. As these bikes would have been raced by different teams, it’s probable that no two were the same. Bike-urios has a great write-up on XR69 history here, detailing some of the clever engineering that went into it. Remember, the original GS1000 engine had an eight-valve head (two valves per cylinder). This air-cooled engine was already close to becoming a dinosaur by the early 1980s, when it saw its greatest successes.
In the years since, tuners have continued to modify these machines to keep them on the pace in vintage racing. This write-up from Oz-land details the improvements on Cameron Donald’s XR69, which include a GSX1000 head, with four valves per cylinder and many other tweaks. That’s the eventual fate of most of these machines.
However, this particular bike is supposed to be sold in period-correct condition. The ad says it’s got billet forks, magnesium or titanium fasteners and brackets, a dry clutch, magnesium carburetors. The air-cooled four-cylinder engine (based on the GS1000) comes with twin-spark heads.
Suzuki gave this motorcycle to Mick Grant when he retired from roadracing. It’s for sale at Car and Classic, and the advert says that nobody but Grant himself, the Suzuki support team, and journo Alan Cathcart have ridden this bike (Cathcart rode it for a Classic Racer write-up). Grant says the bike is exactly set up the way he raced it, and since retiring, he’s barely ridden the bike, which is why he’s selling. As per the advertisement:
My full factory XR69 has been in my possession since I retired from racing in 1985. It is the exact specification as when I raced it. It was given to me by Suzuki. To the best of my knowledge there were only five or six of the special bikes made. For some reason my bike seems to be the best specification of them all, it has a dry clutch, magnesium carburettors, billet forks and twin sparking plugs.
“I only know of two others that still exist, one is an ex-Roger Marshall bike with a collector in Ireland, and the other is an early twin-shock XR built for Graham Crosby.
“This machine is in very good mechanical and working condition. In the past I’ve demonstrated this machine in South Africa and at Oliver’s Mount, Spa Francorchamps, Brands Hatch, Mallory Park.
‘It is a lovely bike to ride and still feels as fresh as when I was racing it. On this bike I had lap records and second places in the Isle of Man. I won the North West 200 on it, set the lap record Donington Park and came second in the Macau GP.
That’s an impressive resume for the bike, which nails down several key collectability points. With the MotoGP-derived chassis, early Japanese superbike DNA, street circuit accolades, and a legendary Brit rider as owner, this could be the most collectable motorcycle available in the world right now (unless you’re into choppers).
The online moto-pundits think this machine will sell for at least £90,000, which works out to approximately $127,000 US. That means only high-end collectors, or maybe a museum, will be able to pay. Hopefully, no matter who gets it, the machine will end up on display somewhere so the public can ogle it (the Barber museum would be a great location).