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The Suzuki Katana is a sport motorcycle designed in 1979–1980 by Target Design of Germany for Suzuki.
The Katana name was later applied to a range of sport touring motorcycles in North America through the 2006 model year (also offered in Europe but without the Katana moniker), and starting at the change of the millennium to a line of 49 cc/50 cc scooters in Europe.
The Katana's design started when Suzuki hired Hans Muth, ex-chief of styling for BMW, to update the company's image. The three-man Target Design team consisted of Muth, Jan Fellstrom and Hans-Georg Kasten. Kasten was still with Target Design as of 2003.
The design worked through several variations, with the public being allowed to see the ED1 and ED2 versions. This original design was a 650 cc (40 cu in) model called the ED-1 (European Design 1). The ED1 design featured a forward nose and a shaped, blended fuel tank with a merged fuel tank-to-seat arrangement at a time when squared off fuel tanks and flat-faced bolt-on accessory fairings were the norm. The design also incorporated favorable aerodynamics, with a special emphasis placed on high-speed stability, and was repeatedly wind-tunnel tested in Italy. The same generalized design forms had already been used early in 1979 for a one-off MV Agusta from the same design team, which never saw production.
The production Katana of 1981 differed only slightly from the prototype; changes included a small wind deflector screen, paired mufflers, and black accent paint on the front fender and air box covers. Target's design philosophy - keeping components compact and close-fitting - was applied to all areas of the bike's design to reduce production costs, weight, and number of components required. Examples include the overlapping dials on the instrument cluster, and the offset petrol filler which allowed for a clean continuous seam weld on the tank.
In late 1980 when the GSX1100S Katana hit the street, it was claimed by Suzuki to be the fastest mass-production motorcycle in the world, ensuring the new looks were matched by unprecedented performance levels. So radical was the design departure from previous mass-market cycles that most major motorcycle magazines of the era thought the design would not appeal to the masses. Nevertheless, it was a sales success, and the motorcycle had a lasting impact on motorcycle design. Portions of the design ethos are still visible in many current sport motorcycles, including the faired-in aspects of both the seat and the tank.
In 1980 at Intermot, the Cologne motor show, came the ED-2, an 1,100 cc (67 cu in) version based on the Suzuki GS 1100.
Several variants of the 1982 (Z model year) Katana 1100SZ were produced by Suzuki to support racing. The GSX1000SZ (circa 1981) was a 998cc variant of the GSX1100SZ produced in sufficient numbers to homologate the type as production machine that was eligible for modification for racing under the then current international superbike racing rules which included a 1000cc capacity limit. The GSX1000SZ had frame serial numbers beginning with GS10X-500001~, and were fitted by the factory with a performance inlet camshaft (part 12711-49201) paired with the same exhaust camshaft as the standard GSX1100SZ (part 12700-45820). The 1000SZ also sported round-slide VM32SS Mikuni carburetors and were often fitted with optional wire-wheels which were lighter and with an 18" rear allowed tire choices more suitable for track.
The GSX1100SXZ "Wire-Wheeler" was an even rarer factory-built, and peculiarly southern hemisphere variant of the standard Katana 1100SZ. Faced with the single-seat Honda CB1100R, which on paper looked likely to be the dominant machine in the upcoming local production racing series. The New Zealand Suzuki distributor at the time asked Suzuki for a new upgraded machine to beat the Honda. Suzuki Japan responded by building 20 units of the New Zealand E27 spec GSX1100SXZ. During this period Suzuki sales were at an all-time high in New Zealand (around 42% market share) due in large part to Suzuki's race track successes. In 1981 Kiwi Suzuki rider Graeme Crosby had finished fifth in the World 500cc championship and successfully defended his TT Formula One title. The E27 SXZ was fitted with wire-wheels, more powerful GS1100GZ front brakes, Mikuni round-slide oval-bore VM32SS carburettors, larger 33mm bore mufflers (same as fitted to the previous Castrol 6 Hour special the GSX1100T), performance camshafts (thought most likely to be Yoshimura profiles as Pops Yoshimura was building Suzuki Superbikes and TT machines for competition during this period), braided brake lines, and an extra set of clutch plates.
Twenty units of the E27 where delivered to South Pacific Suzuki Distributors (Colemans) as 20 units were the minimum required to homologate the machines as production motorcycles rather than racing specials under the rules of the New Zealand Autocycle Union -then the governing body for motorcycle sport in New Zealand. The GSX1100SXZ was crowned the overall 1981/1982 NZ National Production Champion (riders Dave Hiscock, Neville Hiscock and Robert Holden), but failed to win the 1981 Castrol 6-Hour, Suzuki's only Castrol 6-Hour loss for 5 years. 25 more units of the same E27 spec SXZ machines were built by Suzuki and exported to South Africa.
Australia also received its own E24 (Australian market) SXZ which were also fitted with wire-wheels. However, the Australian E24 SXZ were NOT fitted with any of the other performance parts as per the New Zealand and South African machines. The Australian machines were fitted with standard unmodified SZ engines. The 1100s were raced with mixed success in Australia in 1981, but rule changes for the 1982 Australian Castrol 6-Hour production race saw teams scrambling to find 1000cc versions. In New Zealand the wire wheeled bike won the 1981 National Production Championship and numerous club and National races. The bikes were rendered obsolete for racing by the release of the 'race replica' Suzuki GSX-R750. There were plans for an MY1983 Katana 1100SXD to be produced but this never went into production. One pre-production unit was produced for the then New Zealand distributor Colemans Suzuki (the bike is still owned by Rod and Carl Coleman), and this unit carried a slightly higher specification than the E27 spec SXZ machine.
The number of SXZ machines built across New Zealand and South Africa markets was a total of 45 units.
Suzuki also produced 550 cc (34 cu in), 650 cc (40 cu in) and 750 cc (46 cu in) versions of the Katana. The 650 had a shaft drive, while the 1984-1986 SE/SF/SG 750 is distinguished by having a pop-up headlight. The air cooled GSX family, of which the Katana was a member, gave way to the oil-cooled GSX-R series in 1985.
The Katana name was reused, primarily in the North American market, for the revised GSX-F series from the end of the 1980s through to 2006. However, in Europe and other markets, the GSX600F, GSX750F and GSX1100F are considered to be the direct replacement for the GSX550E, GSX750E and GSX1100E sports tourers. The GSX-F range comprised five basic models split into two general eras: the 1988–1997 GSX600F and GSX750F, the 1988–1993 GSX1100F, followed by the 1998–2006 GSX600F and GSX750F, both of which were heavily restyled for the 1998 model year. These same models were offered in Europe, but without the Katana name; the Katana name was absent in Europe from 1986 until the 1999 arrival of a 49cc/50cc line of Suzuki scooters.
The original design ethos reappeared at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, when Suzuki rolled out a concept bike called the Suzuki Stratosphere, which heavily incorporated many facets of the original ED1/ED2 designs, although tied in a new transversely-mounted narrow 6-cylinder engine.
A model appearing in 1984 was the Katana 750SE with a pop-up headlight, still using an air-oil cooled engine. These were very popular even when their performance was easily out done by other competitors at the time.
Features used by the design team for the original Katana can be seen in many motorcycles of the 1980s through the present, from the XN85 Turbo bike to subtle markings on the RG250 two strokes. The fact that modern sport motorcycles generally have fairing and seats that visually merge into a sloping-at-the-rear fuel tank is directly traceable to the original Katana ED1/ED2 design series.