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Suzuki RE5

Classic Japanese motorcycle restorations. Suzuki RE5 Rotary.

As readers of my website you will have realised I have a fondness for Japanese motorcycles from the seventies, unbeknown to you I also have an interest in rotary engines, the top picture is one of myself taken in the mid seventies as I study a rotor from my twin rotor Mazda RX3, now on this page I combine the two, a seventies Japanese motorcycle with a single rotor Wankel engine, may I intoduce you to the Suzuki RE5.

Suzuki presented it's first and only rotary engine powered motorcycle at the Tokyo Show in late 1973.
The RE5 M as the model was called was Suzuki's technical flagship at the time and a fine motorcycle. The engine originated from NSU in Germany and was smooth, quiet, powerful and had hardly any vibrations thanks to it's construction with no parts moving back-and-forth like the usual piston engine.
The rotary, or Wankel engine has a number of benefits over standard engines including a lack of camshafts, intake and exhaust valves and a reduced number of moving parts. Many manufacturers experimented with the engine type and some prototypes were presented in the early 70's but Suzuki was the only Japanese motorcycle manufacturer that used the rotary engine on a mass produced bike.

The design of the RE5 was not as revolutionary as it's engine. The instrument panel and tail light were contained in cylindrical shapes to play on the rotary theme otherwise the bike looked a lot like the company's two-stroke flagship GT750. Also included were a pair of unique to the RE5 exhausts that were air cooled in an attempt to avoid burning the rider's legs due to the heat created from the rotary unit.
What happened? The customers did find the RE5 interesting but not many actually bought the model. Perhaps it was the new technology that scared off the customers, perhaps the early recalls or perhaps it was the heavy fuel consumption? However Suzuki had invested millions of $ to the project and had built an entire new assembly line for the rotary engines but the machines wouldn't sell.
The cylindrical instrument panel and tail light were replaced by standard type items in 1976 in order to make the bike look more ”conventional” (the 'A' model) but it didn't work. The model and the whole rotary engine project was buried in 1977.
Suzuki's losts were in millions of $, an estimated guess is that it cost Suzuki $35,000 for each RE5 sold.

If Rotary Recycle did not exist then it would be necessary to create it.

In memory of Sam Costanzo, founder of Rotary Recycle.

The RE5A in the pictures below is mine, I bought it in an unrestored condition, I could see the potentional of a positive restoration as it ran, came with a print out of the engine compression and the Suzuki engine seal was still intact, it was all there and 99.9%original.
In this first photo the day it was delivered it looks pretty good, but it was taken in winter and the lighting conditions were very bad, the shade and shadows were hiding a number of minor problems.

This is how it looked the following day.
My plan at this first stage was to work from the headstock back removing everything except the engine. The bike came apart quite easily, I made a mental note of the things that needed repainting, repairing or replacing as I went along. To my relief I found no major problems. Probably the most cause for concern at this stage was how the petrol tank had 'pin holes' on the bottom left hand side which allowed petrol to seep out, this most likely accured through standing for eleven years with a small amount of water in the tank, I won't go into detail but I managed to sort it out.
My garage soon became littered with removed RE5 parts awaiting restoration.

Spraying the frame with the engine in place.
I had seen this method of wrapping the engine in tin foil and spraying the frame on another RE5 website and thought it was a great idea. I used 6 cans of PJ1 epoxy motorcycle frame paint in all as much is wasted, paint spraying in winter brings many problems when your facilities are limited.

Freezing conditions meant painted items had to come indoors to cure.
Both radiators were sprayed with PJ1 heat resistant paint, other painted items scattered the house to cure. The fuel tank sealant just would not cure in the garage as it was too cold, that came inside and cured on top of the central heating boiler.
My wife is very understanding.

Reassembly from the headstock back.
The items from my first of several orders from Rotary Recycle had arrived and good progress was being made. Cleaning, polishing, painting, repairing, refurbishing, fresh fluids, fitting of new parts along with restored ones and resetting everything to specification, all good fun. I used paint stripper to remove the yellowed bubbling laquer from the engine covers then polished them with Autosol metal polish.

Electronic ignition.
This one surprised me, I was told by the previous owner that many years ago an electronic ignition system was fitted to the bike but he had never discovered it's location. The conventional looking car type coil was obvious but the electronic module stayed hidden, so much so that even I began to doubt it's existance. Then one day I thought could it be possible that the module is actually inside the Suzuki igniter box, eureka.

The fuel tank repair.
The pin holes that allowed petrol to seep from the tank were exposed then covered with a thin layer of car petrol tank filler which was then blended and formed to the lines of the tank, then finished off using fine wet or dry emery paper and resprayed back to the bottom gold pinstripe. The inside of the tank was also sealed with a petrol tank sealant, no more leaks.

As it all went back together thankfully there were no disasters, stripped threads were repaired, bearings, bushes, pipes and cushions etc were replaced, a cracked pipe was repaired with plastic metal and the exhaust system cleaned up very well. Probably the biggest problem was sealing the fuel gauge and petrol cock to the tank, even with new seals fitted they leaked petrol, a bit of Hermatite solved the problem. Recovering the seat made a positive visual impact. The radiator cover, fan shield and oil filter were resprayed in Vauxhall silver.

Work begins on the headstock and forward.
The clocks were a challenge with heavy water marks on the inside of the glass,(plastic really). These were stripped and resprayed with Plastikote and the water marks polished out using a very fine metal polish. The yokes were resprayed to match the frame and bearings freshly lubricated, the suspension was stripped, legs polished then all reassembled with new seals, oil, caps and a rechromed headlamp shell. All new brake pipes, new bearings and a new old stock front mudguard(fender). The wheels front and rear actually needed little attention other than a good clean and polish.

It's spring and were so close now.
Everything is back together, all fluids topped up, petrol in tank, new battery fully charged. Choke on and press the starter button, coughs and splutters then eventually starts. I warm it up with no problems.

The RE5A is ready, everything is sorted and preperation is made for the first road test.
This will be the first time ever that I have ridden an RE5. With a gallon of fuel in the tank I'm off for the first test ride, I get half a mile up the road and it cuts out and won't restart. I wait a while and it restarts but cuts out again on my way back. It's obviously fuel related, but what I thought? I read up on the RE5 archives regarding fuel problems, I fit new wider and better insulated fuel pipes and a trasparent inline fuel filter and try again. Exactly the same problem but now I can see that the fuel filter has run empty. To cut a long story short this was the problem, South Wales where I live has many very steep hills and the gallon of fuel in the tank was not enough to feed the carburetor when going up hill, all the fuel went to the back of the tank. Filling the tank with fuel sorted the problem.

Premature death of spark plugs.
The bike runs well, some hesitance (as most do) between three and four thousand revs but not bad at all. On further run outs a new problem arose, spark plugs cutting out. Plugs would last from 200 yards (cleaned) to about 70 miles on a new one, I had four plugs under the seat when ever we went out for a ride. I decided to reset the carb using the angle gauge and reset the oil feed pump to carb setting, ran a bit better but still killed plugs. I reset the ignition timing from 10 deg. BTDC to 5 deg. the tick over was lumpier but smoother at higher revs and on the over run, but still it killed plugs.

These are all burned out plugs consumed by one RE5.

I read about a guy in Australia using a spark plug adapter to mask this problem, and to cut another story short I took the same route and have not looked back since, infact I'll stick my neck out here and state that I think it starts and runs even better with this fitted. So pleased with this bike now, it starts on the button hot or cold and gives a good return from a gallon of petrol riding two up, average 40 mpg.

This is the first photo taken on the first run out through the valleys of South Wales.

Could this be the best used (ridden) A model in the country?






End result.
A win at Swansea Classic Bike Show, July 2007.

Another win September 2007.

Winter maintenance 2008

Drain and replace all fluids.

Replace clutch plates and springs, oil seals and gaskets and rebuild water pump.

Both wheels rebuilt, new stainless steel butted spokes, rim tapes, inner tubes and Contnental Tyres. Also new chain and sprockets.

2008 Season.

'Best in Show' 2008 at the VJMC Nab's Head Classic Bike Show.

My Suzuki RE5A wins 'Best in Show' and 'Furthest Travelled' (277 miles) at Nabs Head Show 2008. North West of England VJMC.

The VJMC magazine Tansha Aug 08, centre spread photo taken as we arrive at the Nab's Head Show.

George Fogarty presents me with 'The Best in Show Trophy'. This is the toughest competion for a show of this size, thanks to all.

2009 winter maintenance, nothing major. Renew air filter, oil filter, gearbox oil, sump oil and top up coolant then a good cleaning and polishing.

First show of the season and a 'Best in Show' win from the VJMC South Wales section and 'Best Japanese' from the Sunbeam Motorcycle Club at the 2009 Cardiff show.

An established bike show at Camarthan. The South West Wales Motorcycle Show 2009 and the RE5A takes second place. Also a second place at Abadare Motorcycle Show.

A new year 2010 and little maintenance as I hardly used the RE5A last year so oil levels were checked but were obviously o.k.and the antifreeze coolant was changed for a 5 year cover type.

Here I am on the 21st Feb 2010 taking second place in the 'Vintage japanese Class' at The Bristol Bike Show'. A national well attended show that goes back many years and covered in the motorcycling press, another great day for myself and the RE5A but it was soooooo cold.

A national and well established bike show at Sheppton Mallet, Bristol. The RE5A takes second place. WOW!

Thank you!

Sadly Rotary Recycle closes 2014, thanks go to Jess for running it over the years.

RE5A sold, February 2012.

Other cool links and HOME.

RE5 enthusiast's site. U.S.A.
Jay Leno talks about his RE5.
(NEW) Restoration of the RE5 M.