When Suzuki released the four-valves-per-cylinder GSX1100 on the motorcycling world in 1980, it obviously had something very different in mind than the bike you see before you now.
This particular version of the square cam-box ET came about when as, Kevin, the owner, says: “I’d always wanted a bobber/chopper but, back in the ’80s in my younger days, had to make do with standard Japanese bikes. I’d always planned one, but then day-to-day living, and family, happened and your priorities change, as they do, so bikes disappeared from my life for thirty-plus years. Then I guess what they call a midlife crisis kicked in, and the yearning for the bike I’d always wanted started rearing its head again.
“I’d seen the HUC Wormburner frame a couple of times with Bandit engines in, and really liked the look. After several visits to see Ali at Cold Steel Customs, he suggested I try the older GSX engine instead (everyone’s got a Bandit, haven’t they?), and have something even more different. It sounded like a plan, and worked out a very rough timescale – I didn’t want to spend a fortune, and was in no particular rush, so we agreed some basic requirements, and that the build’d be done in any spare time Ali had around his other work. We agreed on the engine, and that I’d get the frame, and I said I wanted a King Sportster tank painted in Black Cherry Candy. The rest I’d leave to Ali and his amazing vision and skills, and I’d call in from time to time to see how it was going, and have input into the design decisions.”
Now Ali, who runs Cold Steel Customs in Bristol, is actually a Harley man, and builds some of the best rideable custom Harleys in the south-west and beyond (there can’t be many non-standard Harleys in the area he hasn’t had a hand in), so building a custom bike with a Japanese engine’s not something most people’d associate him with but, apparently, this was his thing in the dim and distant past, and he fancied a change from the Harley builds.
After months of searching/putting the word out (these engines’re rare these days as they’re very popular with old-school drag-race guys), an 1100 ET motor turned up for sale, reputed to be in good order. Ali went to see it – cosmetically it looked good enough to use, and could be cleaned up, so a deal was done. With the engine back in the workshop, and the cases cleaned, the strip-down commenced so the internals could be checked, and measured, and fortunately everything was as it should be… except for the pistons and barrels – they were quite badly scored internally. The bores were honed smooth, and a Wiseco 1170cc piston kit purchased and fitted. With everything else checked, and now satisfied the engine and gearbox were sound, Ali reassembled it.
The next part of the build was to put the engine in the frame and bolt it up. Did it fit? Err, not exactly, but it was close so the custom build process began with frame modifications to get the older, and larger, engine in, removing brackets and manufacturing new ones. Wormburners are, you see, really designed for Bandit engines, and old air-cooled GSXs, and GSs, are quite a lot larger and heavier than the later oil-cooled GSFs. Between Ali and engineer extraordinaire Mike the Pipe, new brackets were welded into the correct position to take this particular engine.
One of the stand-out features was always going to be the bespoke exhaust system. Ali and Mike spent some time going over ideas, working out what could be achieved with the Wormburner’s legendary less-than-ideal ground clearance issues, and they decided on an ambitious, high-level, swoopy, in-yer-face 4-1 system that doesn’t run below the frame and so doesn’t compromise the small gap below the motor. Mike, who’s a dab hand with exhausts (as you might guess from his name), is happy with the end result, complete with heat-shields, and it’s a testament to his fabrication and welding skills.
Over time, various bits and pieces were either sourced, or designed and made, like the battery and electrics boxes, and further frame mods to take the new parts. The rear mudguard was decided upon, and dry-fitted to allow for bespoke brackets to be measured and designed, and the handlebars were envisaged as low and wide (anybody who knows Ali’ll know he likes wide n’ low ’bars, so it goes without saying the ones for this bike’d be such). They’re effectively two-piece ’bars made of machined risers with ’bars welded on each side, and a spacer/brace attached to give the correct spacing to fit the yokes. The end result looks great, but probably won’t help you filter through traffic.
The asked-for King Sporty tank was modified for an external sight tube (simple, but effective); a complete GSX-R USD front end fitted, along with a custom rear wheel spindle and bespoke cone nuts; a vintage-style solo seat; a classic Sparto rear light (don’t see many o’ them these days) and Bates front light… the list goes on and on. Time was ticking by, and the dry build was eventually finished, and the new bespoke loom, with its micro-switches, mirrors and indicators, tested (Kev’s requirement not Ali’s), and the engine was fired up, running just as it should, and sounding amazing. That done, the bike was stripped down for paint and powder(coat), by Mitch at Winford Cars and Bristol Motorcycling Powder Coating respectively, and then reassembled in quick time.All of this took place over a period of two years (it was a spare-time build, and Ali’s very much in demand, so doesn’t actually have much spare time) but, that said, he’s very pleased with how it’s turned out and, more to the point, so is Kevin – the finished bike far exceeds his expectations. He’s now the owner of something rather special – a bike far better than he always thought he’d have.
Suzuki GSX 1100ET (engine (honed barrels, oversized Wiseco piston kit, DNA air-filters, Dyna coils, one-off stainless exhausts, braided oil lines), Gasoline Alley HUC Wormburner hardtail frame (modified), one-off alloy foot-rests/controls, Suzuki GSX-R 750 wheels/brakes/USD forks/yokes/rear brake master-cylinder, aftermarket brake lines, one-off ‘bars, Arlen Ness master-cylinder, one-off switches, Biltwell grips, aftermarket clocks, King Sportster tank, aftermarket sprung solo seat, Penz Bobber rear mudguard, one-off battery/electrics box, one-off torque arm, one-off jockey-wheel chain-tensioner, one-off loom, Bates headlight, Sparto tail-light, micro LED indicators