Sixty years ago, 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) was faster than most street legal vehicles could attain. A works GP racer like the AJS 7R was only good for between 180 km/h and 190 km/h. In the ’50s the “Ton Up Boys” were a subculture of motorcyclists in the UK whose motorcycles were modified and tuned to achieve and excede the magic 100 mph or “ton” top speed. “Doing the ton” became more than just about speed; it was a lifestyle which rebelled against the norms of society. Rock and Roll music, denims, leather jackets and cafe racing were all part of being a ’50s Ton Up Boy or a ’60s Rocker. These guys created the biker image which is still very much part of motorcycling today.
In a world where modern superbikes do 300 km/h off the showroom floor, the “doing the ton” benchmark may seem irrelevant, yet this is not necessarily the truth. The resurgence of the cafe racer’s popularity means that many ’70s and early ’80s motorcycles are being modified. Most of the most popular candidates struggle to achieve 160 km/h. For example, a Honda CB400 Four is only good for 150 km/h.
Our featured motorcycle, a 1980 Suzuki GS450 will have no problem to do the ton. Although Suzuki gave the official top speed as 160 km/h, I personally can vouch that a true 175 km/h can be achieved. Suzuki were the last of the Japanese manufacturers to move to four stroke technology. Only when it became obvious in the mid ’70s that their two stroke watercooled triple 750cc was losing market share to Honda and Kawasaki four stroke, four cylinder models, did they reluctantly design their own four stroke engines. Suzuki launched their first four stroke powered models in 1976; the four cylinder GS750 and parallel twin cylinder GS400. The GS450 became available in 1980. With 44hp and a six speed gearbox, it was one of a few motorcycles which could give my hot Yamaha R5 350cc two stroke a run for its money.
KCR who built this cool GS450 cafe racer, have been a longstanding Suzuki dealership in Kempton Park. They are better known for their fabulous, show winning Suzuki Boulevards but have begun restoring classics and building cafe racers. Even in standard form, the rear set foot controls and overall stance of the motorcycle is sporty. KCR have fitted a retroracer seat, clubman handlebars, and a short front mudguard to enhance the racer look. Rear gas shocks improve the nimble handling. The GS450s have a great sound and these open exhausts amplify this exhaust note. The polished rims and engine casings, bright new paintwork and general attention to detail are typical of all KCR’s custom builds.
Perhaps it is time to organise a social event to which the cafe racer fraternity can bring their machines and attempt to “do the ton”. This gathering would be a celebration of old fashioned performance and a tribute to the original “Ton Up Boys” who started the whole cafe racer society.