Late in the year of 2008 I receive an email from a gentleman I don't know offering me an RE5M to restore that once belonged to a seventies celebrity, I'm interested but could you send me a few photos first was my reply.
Shock and disbelief as I looked at the photos that were returned. The bike had been stood for 30 years undercover in a back garden in London, everything metal was badly rusted, everything aluminium had oxidised to a point were I'd never seen worse, anything chromed had lifted, every thing plastic had.....well you can see the photo!
Not worth it was my first thought but I could use the bike as spares for my 'A' model and perhaps sell the remainder of parts on eBay? I accept the offer of the bike but to break it rather than restore it, a week or so later it's delivered to my home by a local courier. On my drive it looked even worse, along with the rust there was rotting leaves, dead grasses, dead snails and other unrecognisable rotting bits 'n' pieces tucked away within the frame, I got the Karcher power washer out and gave it a good blast, this made a remarkable improvement to the apperance of the bike as some rust, dirt and other long settled debris was washed away.
A money pit?
I stood back and examined the bike, it was all there but what a rust bucket I thought, as I stared at it I felt a change in my attitude towards this rare motorcycle, I could'nt let it die, no I had to restore it rather than break it for spares, this is going to be very expensive and a challenge I explained to the wife, do it she commanded. I let the previous owner know of my decission and he was well pleased.
The right decision?
With the decision made to restore the bike I also had to take into my consideration that it had to run, so before any large amounts of cash were thrown at the restoration I set about preparing the RE5M to get the motor running.
For a couple of months I regularly squirted Castrol engine oil through the spark plug hole, most of it ran straight through the engine and created a puddle of oil under the exhaust manifold.
I then carefully turned the engine over with the kick start, it seemed to be free and as I remember made the same sound as my A model when I restored that, adding more oil got it moving quite freely. I removed the manifold and inserted a finger to feel the 3 apex seals, they pushed back freely, can't believe this I thought to myself.
Unbelievably the coolant and sump oil looked like new even though it had been stood for 30 years, the petrol tank and tap were full of treacle but the carburettor was surprisingly clean but I cleaned it all out again to be sure. After a few hours working on the electrics I could spin the engine on the starter button, amazing. I turned it over on the button a good number of times to blow out the exccess oil, it was looking promising.
Using one of my spark plug adapters fitted with a modern plug and a can of pre mix connected to the carburettor I tried to start it, within a few attempts it fired up filling the area with smoke from the burning oil, I couldn't believe it. As there was no exhausts fitted the noise was deafening, it reached operating temperature and even ticked over although not smoothly, I could stop it and restart it no problem.
I decided to switch it off knowing that I had a runner, I kept shaking my head in disbelief. I just hope it will start again after all the work and expense that I had in mind.
A mamoth restoration.
So the strip down of the RE5M has started, the frame, fuel tank, seat, side panels, air box, clocks, front forks, (excluding the inner tubes and covers) headlamp, brake discs and calipers, handlebars, engine/gearbox (obviously), both radiators and grill, exhaust manifold, fan and shroud, front and rear wheel hubs and indicators along with other small items are to be saved, same applies to all the electrical components. The front and rear fenders, headlamp ears, chain gaurd, exhausts, wheel rims and spokes, horn, rear shoxs and bumper bar and many other smaller pieces have rusted too far and will be put to one side.
Down to just the engine in the frame.
Removing the wheels left only the engine in the frame, with the engine bolts all loosened the frame was then turned on it's side and then the engine bolts removed, the frame could now be lifted vertically leaving the engine on the floor.
How good does that look?
The stripped down frame was taken to a local coating specialist for powder coating, meanwhile I cleaned up the engine proper housing with a rotary wire brush wheel on a flexible drive after first removing the outer cases, I got good results using this method as the finish looked original.
With the cleaned engine back in the powder coated frame using the same method to put it back as I removed it only in reverse it was looking very good.
I had already made a mental list of the parts needed for the restoration, a very small number came from an established U.K. Suzuki dealer, a few bits off eBay, the larger items came from a contact within the U.K. and then there was Rotary Recycle in the U.S.
It's coming on.
With the engine looking good more components were added within and to the frame, the largest being the front forks.
These were rebuilt using NOS stanchions and seals, the sliders were so badly oxidized and pitted that I decided to have them grit blasted, I then sprayed them using a filler paint which I then rubbed down followed by a few coats of Audi Metalic Silver spray paint which again had to be rubbed down before finally adding a couple of coats of clear laquer.
As I had a number of badly oxidised pieces my intention was to paint them all using the same process so that they have the same texture and are colour coordinated.
The engine cases and other polished aluminium pieces seen above were again very badly oxidized, these were cleaned using a water vapour method but obviously this did not remove any pitting, this was removed where a polished finish was required using a disk sander and different grades of grit, then finer grades of grit were used by hand with water to remove any swirl marks before finally finish polishing using various polishing mops.
At the end of this process my arms ached so badly I could hardly lift them to wash off the powdered aluminium that had deposited all over the exposed parts of my body.
Safety goggles and a mask are mandatory when carrying out this type of restoration work.
The M model clocks were quite a challenge to restore as the aluminium outer covers had oxidized so much. The plastic cover has some spider webbing but not too much to warrant replacing.
My first attempt to paint the covers was not good enough so I stripped off my first attempt and started again, one thing I learned was that lacquer darkened the paint slightly, we live and learn.
Same method for the tail section as I used on the clock covers, also did the same to the backs of the indicators and front fork sliders for the same reason, colour coordination worked well.
The exhaust manifold was shot blasted to remove 30 years of crud, this now proved to be a good base for the VHT paint that I chose from a classic car restoration site.
After stripping and cleaning the carburettor I fitted a new carb gasket set, setting up the carb is fidely and complex but the Rotary Recycle protractor makes it easier but it will still need fine tuning out on the road.
These were a mess and needed quite a bit of time to clean up after eventually managing to remove the pistons using a grease gun. Retaining the original pistons I just replaced all the seals and polished up the slider bolts.
The brake slave cylinder internals were seized solid, I had it soaking for a week in releasing fluid but no joy, eventually I decided to use a punch and bigger hammer and go for it, eventually the piston and seals were free without any damage, fitting a new kit and body gave good results.
I replaced the badly corroded no good shocks with a pair bought from a fellow RE5 owner, they were in fair condition but not to my standard, RR had non to offer as Jess knows my restoration standard so I had to look elsewhere.
I found a guy who advertised refurbishing shocks and after veiwing his work at a recent classic bike show I decided to trust him with mine, as you can see the end result is outstanding.
So close now and looking positive.
The next problem was the fuel tank, looks pretty good in the photo, one or two blemishes but the paint is original. The inside is a different story, it's full of rust. This did not scare me as I had learnt along the way how to deal with this problem, no gravel or harsh chemicals involved just everyday consumables.
You may find this hard to believe but it works, seal the tank with a couple of home made steel or aluminium plates underneath then fill the tank with a mixture of cheap supermarket Coca Cola alternative and toilet cleaner descaler (Harpic Duraguard in the U.K.)at a ratio of 3 parts Coke to 1 part toilet cleaner and leave for 1 week. Empty contents and you will be surprised as the rust has gone, rinse out the tank and dry inside then seal with your favorite tank sealer, job done.
Warning. Don't leave the petrol tap or low petrol sensor attached or the mixture will eat most of it!
Almost there with the tank, seat and side panels fitted.
The original wheel rims could not be saved as the corrosion was too deep so an excellent pair were provided by Jess at Rotary Recycle. I had them rebuilt locally using stainless steel butted spokes to the original hubs that were treated to a light grit blasting and final polish to the outsides, all new wheel bearings, new rim tapes, inner tubes and Continental tyres finished them off.
Fitting the wheels gave me great pleasure as the bikes almost complete. Just the exhausts to fit and the brake hoses to connect and to sort out a paint problem, a disaster when the original firemist orange paint peeled away from the side panels.
Today is the big day, I fit a brand new Yuasa battery and fit the exhausts and check that nothing is left off that should be on.
With 5 litres of fresh fuel I add 100 millilitres of Castrol engine oil and give it a good sturrrrrr, this is correct for 50:1 as recommended by Suzuki when trying out their engines on a test rig, I pour it into the tank without spilling a drop.
I'm nervous as I push on the choke, I turn the key and the cover flips up, I'm so tense that it makes me jump just like Bruce Willis did in the toaster scene in Pulp Fiction, I briefly hear that distinct whine as my thumb stabs the starter button, the engine turns over for about 5 seconds, it tries to start, I pause then I press it again and instantly it bursts into life bellowing out smoke from the burning oil through the exhausts, amazing as this is only the second time in over 30 years that the engine has been started, remember I last started it about 12 months ago just to make sure it was a runner.
For the next few days I start it up every day and bring it up to operating temperature, I can rev it past 4k with no problems and ticks over just as it should. Easy to start and feels very strong, stopping the engine then restarting absolutely no problem. Again I'm using one of my spark plug adapters with great results.
In the photo above the 'M' model poses with the 'A' as I move my motorcycles around in the garage to make room to put the final touches to the 'M'. Front brakes still not connected, no side panels fitted and today I realized that the gear indicator was not working as I drove the bike through it's gears while on the center stand, I'll address the latter issue at a later date.
So the RE5M is ready for the first road test, the brake hoses have been connected (wise move), oil is seen to be reaching the carb and the black side panels are on loan from my A model as my others are still at the painters.
I warm her up ready for a short run around the estate, as I drive around everything feels good and familiar, no the gear indicator is still not working but then I notice neither is the speedometer, oh no! I drive around and around hoping that it will kick in but no, back to the garage.
I have a wrecked M model pod and remove the gear indicator as well as the speedo, I transplant them both into my own pod and try again, yes they work.
Now I need to get the bike tested (M.O.T.) to conform to U.K. road laws, the weather is forecast good for the next week so I book it in for the following day, a pass makes me very happy but driving it to the M.O.T. station there was a misfire above 4k revs but I think I know what the problem is. I then pay the road tax for the bike (�50, more expensive than some cars, parasitic government) and now I'm totally legal. By the way I'm now running on clean petrol, no premix. I've also changed all the fluids again to be safe.
Back to the misfire, still there. When I serviced my A model last year I fitted a brand new genuine Suzuki air filter, still sealed in the package, result...big misfire, I replaced my old air filter, no misfire. I tested this out several times, the problem was the air filter. Now the M has the new air filter fitted and has the same symptoms, replacing it with the old filter from the A model cured it, very strange?
First big run out today (17th April 2010) and covered about 100 miles. The above photo of the RE5M was taken by the road on the Brecon Beacons in South Wales on a lovely spring day.
On return the fluids were checked, engine oil showed no visible change on the dip stick, the oil tank was lower by 9 mm as I marked it beforehand, obviously good that it's using oil and the coolant level showed no change.
Looking good for the RE5M.
To celebrate the bike's first run out in over 30 years a toast was made to the RE5 whilst drinking Sake and using a few made up Japanese words.
The first show for the RE5M resulting in a win at the Swansea Classic Bike Show 2010.
Another showing of the the RE5M resulting in a double win at the West Wales Motorcycle Show 2010.
Best Bike and also Best in Show.
The second Swansea show of the year for 2010 at Llandore, another RE5M win.
More wins followed with a 'Best Japanese' at the Bristol Classic Bike Show 2011, 'Best 70s Bike' at Uttoxeter 2011, 'Best rotary' at the Stafford Classic Bike Show 2011 and 'Best Japanese' at the Llanishen Classic Bike Show 2012 and Ist place 'Best 70s Bike' at Stafford Oct. 2012.
Ride with the RE5M across the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.
Click on 'Ride the RE5M' below.