Origins of the Original Suzuki Katana

Suzuki made waves lately after launching the successor to the iconic Katana. Suzuki had been languishing behind other manufacturers of late, but the Katana has once again launched them back into the fold.

It was a similar, if not identical, story which drove Japan’s smallest manufacturer to create the original Katana.

In 1979, Suzuki had nothing but the GSX1100. While it was a competent and fast bike, most buyers thought it was ugly. Consequently, Suzuki struggled in the European market. That year, Hans Muth (who designed the groundbreaking BMW R100S) approached Hans-Goerg Kasten and Jan Fellstrom with a project from Suzuki. The latter two were still at BMW Motorrad at the time. Kasten would later reveal that BMW Motorrad was very conservative during the time, hence the difficulty in pushing new designs through.

Muth was in contact with his friend, Manfred Becker, who was the marketing directory of Suzuki Germany. Muth had convinced Becker that the Japanese manufacturer needed something fresh since they were the most old-fashioned. Muth then invited Kasten and Fellstrom to join him in creating a new design firm to work on the new Suzuki. The company was named Target Design.

 

Target Design’s first task was to update the styling of the GS550. That prototype was eventually called the ED-1 (for European Design-1). It impressed the Japanese who then commissioned the redesign of the GSX1100. The second prototype was called ED-2, and it became the basis for the Katana.

ED-1 Prototype.

After a design drawing was sent to Japan, the manufacturer instructed the team to create a 3D model as quickly as possible. A clay mock-up was produced and sent to Japan where Suzuki quickly built a show prototype.

Both the ED-1 and ED-2 prototypes were revealed at the IFMA Exhibition in Cologne in 1980. Motorcycle fans went ga-ga over them. Rival manufacturers were caught off guard. Suzuki started manufacturing the bike they christened the Katana within months of the introduction.

ED2 Prototype.

Next to its contemporaries, the Katana looked like it rolled out of a spaceship. A typical bike of that era had a distinctly separate fuel tank, seat and battery cover (side panels). That design had survived since the early 1900s. But the Katana’s sculpted fuel tank and seat meet each other in a continuous line. Besides that, the fuel tank was pushed higher up to provide a narrow “waist” for the rider’s knees (the beginning of knee cutouts in the tanks today). This design became the basis of every modern motorcycle today (apart from modern retros).

So, like it or loathe it, current motorcycles would look pretty different if not for the Katana.

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