1968 Suzuki T500 Cobra

Featured this month is Ian’s 1968 Suzuki T500 Cobra.

Ian’s T500 Cobra has a 492cc, piston ported, air cooled, twin cylinder, two stroke engine with oil injection. When first introduced, it was the world largest displacement air cooled two stroke in mass production. It is equipped with drum brakes front and rear, 12 volt electrics, kick start only with a five speed gear box, and it was capable of over 100MPH in stock trim. Over 100,000 units were sold world wide during its ten year production run (pre-production 500/Five, 1968 Cobra, 1969 through 1975 Titan and then the 1976 and 1977 GT500). It also had great success in racing and is still enthusiastically campaigned on vintage racing circuits in the USA, UK, France and Australia. Stock engines produced about 46 BHP at 6000 RPM – engines built for vintage racing can produce over 70 BHP.
Q: Perhaps a bit of background to begin with ?

A:This was a local purchase and was reasonably complete when I acquired it. Cobra specific parts are difficult to source, and this one had most of the hard to locate bits and so was worth restoring.

Q: Why this bike ?

A: I have a 1977 GT500 which is the last year of production, and as the Cobra is the first year of production, adding this to the collection nicely book ends the series.

Q: What is the bike’s history ?

A: This specific bike was originally sold in Saskatchewan and came to Alberta in 1982 and has now had five owners from new. I actually managed to track down the second owner and he was able to confirm a few details for me that I was curious about such as the original colour and few other things. It was his main mode of transportation when he went to university, and has had an interesting history – it was once stolen and then recovered, has suffered a few spills and was made over to look like a later model by removing the chrome tank panels and filling in the cavities with body filler. It was ridden hard and put away wet like most bikes of that era, but over all was well cared for and should be on the road again in 2013.
Q: What have you done so far ?
A:The tin is out for paint with Guy at Cyclemania Artworks in Okotoks, and the trim is out for chrome currently. I have had to rebuild the transmission (failure is common with early models due to an engineering design defect), and have had a crack repaired in the crankcase by Derek at Trillion. As soon as some seals arrive I will have the crankshaft rebuilt by Joe at RPM along with some cleanup on the barrels, and then I should be able to start re-assembling it. I keep a project log with photos etc at this link for folks who might be interested in reading a bit more about the build.
Q: What about parts availability for a 45 year old machine ?
A: Availability of most of the running gear and engine parts is not too bad – I typically buy my reproduction emblems and tank badges from Reproduction Decals in Ontario and I will be getting a reproduction exhaust system from Marcel in The Netherlands who has been really helpful in the past. I have also sourced some rare parts and stainless reproduction parts from Reiner in Germany from whom I buy a lot of my hard to find GT750 parts. Reproduction connecting rods and crankshaft bearings are available from Pete in the UK, but otherwise Suzuki still can supply a surprising amount of stuff. In other cases you have to either make it yourself, or be inventive: I had to fabric a Cobra style horn as none are available anywhere, likewise I made a new airbox from the remains of two rusted out ones. I have arranged for a company in California (CSM) to reproduce the battery mats, and as well several owners located around the globe are currently arranging for ‘correct’ reproduction seat pans to be made. You do what you need to do.
Q: Other comments ?
A:There are a lot of folks with Japanese two stroke expertise right here in Calgary which is a real benefit when trying to sort out a project like this – we normally meet each week in Fred’s garage and they all know who they are so I won’t list them by name, but they have been a huge help on this and previous projects.