There is a descriptive term which I have heard several times recently with reference to certain custom motorcycles. The term is “a Frankenstein Bike” and it refers to a motorcycle which has been built up from the remnants of several scrap motorcycles. The older and more recognised term for such a motorcycle is “a Bitsa” but I must say that the Frankenstein reference really gets my imagination working. The vivid image of the laboratory with the mad Doctor creating his grotesque and taboo creature from body parts acquired from the local graveyard, immediately comes to mind. This image equates well to the image of an obsessed amateur motorcycle customiser in a half lit garage, combining salvaged parts from various, often incompatible models to create a new highly personal motorcycle.
Our featured motorcycle started life as a Suzuki GS550. By 1976 Suzuki was the only Japanese manufacturer not making a four stroke motorcycle. The fact that the other Japanese manufacturers were already producing a range of four cylinder motorcycles made it imperative that Suzuki’s four cylinder motorcycles be successful from the outset, which they were. The GS750 arrived towards the end of 1976 and was highly rated. When the GS550 was launched six months later, the motorcycling press were not overly enthusiastic about this relatively plain motorcycle. The truth is this was an excellent motorcycle which outperformed the Honda CB550F as well as the Suzuki GT550 two stroke which ithe GS550 was to replace after about a year of both the four stroke, four cylinder and the two stroke, triple being available simultaneously from Suzuki dealerships. The 49hp engine with a six speed transmission was good for a screaming 180km/h in a frame which could handle better than the competition. Suzuki were known to produce comfortable motorcycles for long distance rides and the GS550 did not disappoint. Despite a lukewarm response from the press, the GS550 sold like hotcakes to a public that knew better. In August 1978, just over a year after the launch of the GS550, Suzuki launched the GS550E which no longer had the spoke wheels and had gained a disc brake in the rear instead of the original drum brake.
Franco from Johannesburg describes his garage built Suzuki GS550 as a Frankenstein bike and although most of the components are off various Suzuki models, it would take a trained eye or a lucky guess to identify this brat styled motorcycle as a GS550. The rolling frame is GS550, The engine is from a GS550E and the tank is off a GS450. Franco purchased all these and other bits from Golden City Cycles in Cleveland Johannesburg. Rob from Golden City Cycles, Franco advises, usually has a stock of suitable older motorcycles for sale as well as tons of spares and he provides friendly advice and assistance. The Cowley 4 into 1 headers are matched to a short exhaust made by Franco. The seatpan was made and covered by Franco after having it professionally stitched. Flipped handlebars serve as clubmans with a bar end mirror fitted to keep the front end’s profile low behind the single speedo gauge. All the electrics are housed in the box under the seat. The spray painting of the petrol tank, which makes the GS450 tank appear very 1960s Honda to my eyes, is one of the few tasks not executed by Franco himself. This GS550 oozes streetwise attitude from any angle!
Franco’s efforts have resulted in him building a motorcycle from what essentially was scrap. This is not a motorcycle that has been customised. It is a motorcycle that has been created; first in the builder’s imagination and then in reality. What do you have parked in your laboratory?