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Feature - Assessing two classic buying options

Suzuki GT550

Resto or Barn Find?

June 13 2020

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

How do you assess the better option?

Here's a conundrum: do you buy a bike that's already restored (above) or the proverbial barn find that needs recommissioning (below)? These two examples of seventies Suzuki GT550s are both for sale and provide a great example.

Suzuki GT550

The first example is a 1974 GT550L currently on Just Bikes and is priced at Au$10,750. The second is a 1973 GT550K and is on Ebay. Bidding finsihed at Au$5700.

Alright, the first thing to do is assess what you're dealing with. Before you start the hunt, If you have access to a local marque club, or a body like a vintage Japanese bike club, join and start asking questions. (You may also find a better buy within the group.)

The restored bike visually at least looks absolutely right for the year. Older Suzukis are relatively easy to check out, thanks to the suzukicycles.org website. It's GT550 model history page is here.

Here are two factory shots for those years (keep in mind other colours were offered).

1974 - GT550L

Suzuki GT550

1973 - GT550K

Suzuki GT550K

Fish through the info and you'll see there are subtle visual differences such as the different sidecovers between 1973 (the barn find) and 1974. Having established the later bike looks right, it's time to ring the owner of the resto.

I'd want to settle in with a cup of tea and a list of questions. Try not to make it an interrogation, but a conversation. You want to get to know the person as much as the motorcycle. What I'm trying to assess is what they are like and how much they know about this bike and motorcycles in general. Someone who cares and has a reasonable depth of knowledge will do a better restoration and is less likely to be ripped off by dodgy workmanship.

Along the way I'm after some sense of how long ago the resto was done, what was done, who did the work, and has the bike been getting a little exercise since the work was done. And, of course, you'll want some sense of whether they'll move on price.

What about the barn find on Ebay? Well, the listing says it's been sitting for around 20 years and that it comes with a few spares, while the odometer indicates around 24,000 miles.

Visually, it looks like the thing is complete. and we're told the engine turns over but hasn't been started. The exhausts don't look too bad and one advantage of two-strokes is these systems tend to last reasonably well thanks to copping an internal coating of oil when they're run.

The downside is you're probably looking at an engine rebuild to replace seals that have been sitting too long to be trusted. While you're in there, count on checking the operation of the oil pump, while budgeting for the replacement of gaskets and probably piston rings.

Count on a major clean-out of the fuel system (including the tank), with the likely issue of rust in the latter. Just a note on fuel systems: if they have been sitting with unleaded fuel in them for a very long period (years), it's possible carburettors or injectors will be in need of a total rebuild (or thorough checking, at least) and, at the extreme, replacement. ULP is incredibly destructive, much more so than the old leaded fuels.

Instruments (speedo and tacho) may or may not be working after all this time - in any case the long idle period won't have done them any favours, so half expect a rebuild somewhere along the way. Let's add a set of tyres - they'll be useless by now - and what about the chain and sprockets?

Here's your key question: what do the parts add up to, in addition to any workshop time you may have to pay for? Be realistic, as doing a job like this takes skill (much of which you can learn) and perhaps more crucially, the time to put in an extended and consistent effort to get the job done.

Having to stop and restart a rebuild is disruptive and increases the resources needed. On the plus side, it can be a throughly enjoyable process, if you have the time to devote to it.

Now if you have a look at the photo of the barn find, you may notice two issues: the body work has been resprayed with no stripes on the tank and the seat has been recovered. If you want something that looks dead original, that adds significantly to the cost. I'd also be a little curious to know why it was done, though it's likely no-one knows after all this time.

One issue you may want to consider is what will the end product be worth? Collectors lean towards first models of anything, or the earlier the better - even if it's the first model that has all the problems!

It's one of those truisms of restorations that most people who sell soon after the job is done do not get their money and time back - that's potentially to your benefit if you buy one that's already been done to a high standard. But there is nevertheless potentially enormous satisfaction in doing it yourself.

Which one would you choose?

See this link for a 1973 Cycle World Suzuki GT550 road test

Here are a couple of GT brochures for the years bracketing the ones highlighted above - 1972 and 1975.

Suzuki GT550 1972

Suzuki GT550 1975


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