The Suzuki GSX-R has been in production for almost 40 years, but the first-generation bike is still a banger. The round headlights, slabby bodywork and 80s color scheme look as good now as they did then. As far as we’re concerned, it’s ripe for customization.
Victor Wilkens of Seattle, Washington shares this sentiment, so he’s gone all-out with his 1986 Suzuki GSX-R750. This retro superbike wears a slew of mods—including an engine swap and an appropriately bonkers livery.
“I have this habit where I buy cheap bikes to commute with and then I tinker, buy new parts and keep tinkering,” explains Victor. “Rinse, repeat, and the bike quickly transcends into a precious artifact. A couple of years ago I fell into this trap again and built this.”
After months of searching through classifieds, a GSX-R750 popped up for sale in Monterey, California. It had lived a hard life until it was adopted by Victor; it was raced in the 90s, had been through a number of owners, and was then parked outside for years in the salty Monterey air. But Victor saw potential in the old Gixxer—plus it had a few period race parts.
Those parts included a set of Dymag magnesium wheels. But Victor knows that magnesium tends to corrode after a few decades, so he got in touch with Dymag for advice.
There was good and bad news. The bad news was that Dymag advised him not to use the wheels, due to their age and condition. But the good news was that Victor was able to sell them (presumably to someone with a display-only bike), and use the money to get the build started.
Replacing the Dymag wheels are the hoops from a 1999 Suzuki Bandit 1200. Apart from the wheel, the front end is mostly stock. Victor considered installing upside-down forks, but was particularly taken with the retro compression adjusters on the original forks. So he rebuilt those instead.
New EBC brake pads and a modern Brembo master cylinder provide improvement in the braking department.
The original GSX-R750 engine was badly corroded, so it was pulled out. The aforementioned Bandit 1200 donated its engine to the cause, which slotted in with little persuasion. The GSX-R and Bandit produce comparable power, but the 1200 has 90 Nm of torque at just 4,500rpm—20 more than the GSX-R.
Having such a strong engine meant Victor only needed to make a few choice mods to get it running right. Pod filters, a jet kit and an ignition advancer from Holeshot Performance were fitted, with the filters shortened to squeeze them in between the frame rails. The bike came with a Yoshimura exhaust system that looked and sounded the part, but it was modified to fit the taller engine.
To compensate for the extra torque, Victor braced, boxed and gusseted the frame. The swingarm received the same treatment, along with a Yamaha R1 shock. To improve the riding position, a Frankenstein set of rear sets was made from KTM, Tarozzi and Motobits parts, mounted on adjustable plates that Victor machined himself.
“The result is a fun driver with tons of torque and plenty of power for the street,” Victor describes. “The stiffer chassis and the reworked suspension make for a bike that handles very well.”
The GSX-R750 front fairing was in poor condition, so Victor looked to a friend who works in the aerospace industry. They made a new fairing using pre-impregnated carbon fiber, which is stronger and lighter than the original fiberglass. It was cut down to expose the engine, and since it was made anew, Victor opted for a single headlight design.
A yellow perspex lens cover added the perfect touch to this 80s weapon. The front and rear guards were also made of carbon, with the rear integrating a chain guard.
When it came time to turn his attention to the rest of the bodywork, COVID-19 hit hard, and Victor found himself with a lot of spare time. Not content with perfecting a sourdough recipe like the rest of the world, he tried his hand at metal shaping. With just basic hand tools, time and a double helping of patience, he knocked out a tail section and belly pan himself—incredible work for a first-timer.
The tail light was recessed into the rear end and covered with a smoked perspex lens. You can’t get much more 80s than a blue seat, so that was finished in marine grade vinyl by JP Custom Seats in Los Angeles. Matching Oury grips add to the vibe.
Describing the raw carbon finish as “less than perfect”, Victor turned to the paint. A matte clear was applied to the carbon, with blue swooshes and a large R logo. Sneakerheads will recognize the black and white pattern splashed over the fairing, tank, seat and belly pan—it’s modeled after the elephant print on the 1987 Air Jordan III.
Amazingly, the stripes and pattern were drawn freehand, before being sealed in with a clear coat. Together with the fresh paint on the engine, Victor has nailed the new color scheme. Equal parts retro and modern, its funky freshness hits the mark.
So what does Victor think of the finished Gixxer? “Ultimately, this bike is a failure,” he says.
“I set out to build a grungy commuter, but ended up with something too nice to abuse daily. The pandemic not only allowed me time to try metal shaping, but it also removed my daily commute. Perhaps my daily rider can be something nice after all.”