Freeth McIntosh Suzukis
17 November 2023
Built by hand in Auckland and raced by the late Rodger Freeth, Ken McIntosh’s Suzuki racers took on the best in the world, and won the prestigious Bathurst 500 multiple times.
WORDS: Ben Wilkins PHOTOS: Geoff Osborne, John Nisbett
This year saw the final NZCMCR event at Pukekohe, and one New Zealand’s great motorcycle builders was honoured. Ken McIntosh, and the bikes he built for Rodger Freeth to ride at Bathurst, were proudly on display – and two of them had never been seen together (more on that later).
At the time these hand-built machines were almost unbeatable in the right hands, winning races throughout New Zealand, and, famously, beating the big boys at Bathurst on multiple occasions. They are still winning races today. Ken McIntosh is a name that’s become well known in motorcycling circles, not only in New Zealand, but also around the world. As well as the McIntosh Suzukis featured here, Ken makes beautifully built Manx Nortons that are famous world wide and in high demand in the world of classic racing.
McIntosh Suzuki Bathurst Replica
A road-going McIntosh Bathurst Replica powered by Suzuki’s GSX1100 16-Valve. These are basically the same as the 1983 built machine that came second in the 1984 Bathurst. The standard 1100 is around 80hp. With a mostly standard motor (a Yoshimura pipe and the ports cleaned up) they make 102hp at the rear wheel. Add the extra power to a 100lb (45kg) weight loss over the GSX, they go very well. At the time they were considered the fastest road-legal bikes money could buy.
1980 Freeth McIntosh Suz
This was the first ever McIntosh Suzuki, built in 1980. This machine won every race it finished, winning at Hawksbury, near Blenheim, on its debut. Later versions featured brake-activated antidive on the front forks. Yoshimura GS1000 two-valve race engine, brought into NZ from Pops Yoshimura by Keith Turner in Napier. Yoshimura was claiming around 120hp at the time, which Ken thinks is about right, and is a very similar motor to those Crosby had in his Formula One bikes. It was later used by Dave Hiscock to win the NZ Open Class Championship.
1981 Freeth McIntosh Suzuki
The second McIntosh Suzuki, built in late 1981 and the first McIntosh to use the new 16-valve GSX1100 motor. Freeth and this bike won the 1982 Arai 500 at Bathurst at a new record speed, winning the race by a whole lap.
The engine was supplied by Rod Coleman (who’d decided the RG500s were too expensive to supply), which had been the training school engine used for mechanics to learn about the new 16-valve lump. Ken modified the chassis to take the new GSX motor (rather than the previous GS1000 motor) and added anti-dive forks.
At the time, well-sponsored teams Aussie teams each had a dozen sets of magnesium wheels, all wearing race tyres, Rodger and Ken won the race on the McIntosh Suzuki with just two wheels – both of which were in the bike... and spoked, built by Ken. Rodger said in one interview that he could get three sets of Ken’s spoked wheels for the same price as one set of magnesium wheels.
1983 Freeth McIntosh Suzuki
This machine was built at the same time as the Bathurst Replica road bikes in 1983, this McIntosh Suzuki took second place at Bathurst in 1984 after Rodger had taken a year away to finish his PhD in Astrophysics at Auckland University.
The Bathurst Replica road bikes are identical to this. Ken says Rodger picked this particular frame out of the ones he had in the workshop before he’d added brackets for batteries etc and it became the race bike. The others got brackets and became the Replicas – so, these really are true race replicas.
Powered by an air-cooled GSX1100 motor, it had to be downsized to 1000cc due to Aussie rule fiddling. Ken thinks it lost a proportional amount of power, somewhere around 10%. Back in NZ the bike was generally run full size as 1135 or 1175cc.
At the time Rodger had a display board claiming it as having 150hp… because Dave Hiscock was claiming his had 140hp. This bike was in a big crash at Gracefield, Wellington, and much of the running gear was used to build the 1985 single shock machine. Much later, with original parts from Rodger’s widow, Ken rebuilt the bike. The motor was rebuilt with the original cylinder head, carburettors, his original cams and the same Yoshimura pistons Rodger had used when he built the motor originally. It was dyno’d on Brett Roberts’ dyno at 144hp at the rear wheel, so would have been making over 150hp at the crank. It originally ran on 18-inch rims, but was fitted with 17-inch wheels when the bike was restored.
1985 Freeth McIntosh Suzuki
This was the final iteration of the McIntosh Suzuki race bike. The ‘Single-shock’ sported a 1000cc GSX1100 16-valve motor and was built in 1985 using parts from the 1983 machine. The chassis is very similar to the previous twinshock bikes but with extensive modification at the rear end to accommodate the single shock and linkage to drive it. In Rodger’s hands it was the winner of the 1985 Arai 500 at Bathurst, again downsized and running as a 1000cc machine. It also won many NZ titles and championships in 1985 and 1986.
The 1983 and 1985 machines had never stood alongside each other until the finial meeting at Pukekohe earlier this year, a special moment for Ken and many race fans. The original bodywork was made out of aluminium and used to make the moulds for the fibreglass bodywork. When the bike won Bathurst in 1985 the bike ran a 32 litre fuel tank, but for the final two years Ken built a 35 litre tank that he says was the size of an ‘aircraft carrier’.
‘New’ McIntosh Suzuki
This is one of the ‘new’ McIntosh Suzuki’s,sporting a 1275cc, 16-valve GSX motor. Ken says that when he first wanted to build a ‘big’ motor everyone told him the problems he’d encounter. He got a 4mm over-stroke crank from Vance & Hines in the U.S. which were built for drag racing and went from there. This, with only 2mm oversize pistons, gave what he was after – and that’s within the realm of maximum oversize pistons from Suzuki. This motor is making a whisker short of 170hp at the rear wheel, and just short of 190hp at the crank at only 10,000rpm, so it’s a real bruiser and incredibly fast.
The new bikes are built with no real differences to the original race bikes other than 17-inch wheels and the customer’s preferred rear shocks. Ken, and Peter Welch who’s been working with Ken for 40 years, use the same frame jig and the same welding torch as back in the day. He says they even uses the Suzuki Katana ‘chopstick’ 37mm forks, “Which the riders seem to love… everyone hated them back in the day.”
Q&A WITH KEN MCINTOSH
How many McIntosh Suzukis were made?
I originally made over 40 of the McIntosh Suzuki kits.
Are any of your kits road legal?
Most of the original Bathurst Replica kits were for road bikes. Only about 10 were race bikes. Most seem to have survived. There were three Bathurst replica road bikes at Puke’ this year.
How much power did they make?
A standard 1982 Suzuki Katana road bike made about 85hp at the rear wheel on a Dynojet dyno. Rodger Freeth’s original 1135cc motor, rebuilt to original specs, (as ridden by Rodney O’Connor at the 2023 Festival), has just over 140hp.
What power are you getting from the new build bikes?
The full spec 1275cc motors we build now are close to 170hp at 10,000rpm.
How much of the machine is hand made by McIntosh Racing?
More than half is done in house or by our sub-contractors. In New Zealand we make the frame, swingarm, fork yokes, fibreglass, alloy tank, footrests and handlebars, as well as all the mounting hardware and axles. We also make the McIntosh wire wheels, if ordered. We have just done some 17-inch sets for both road and race. The originals were 18-inch diameter, but tyre choice in that wheel size is now very limited. The bike seems to really like the modern 17-inch tyres as we have enough chassis stiffness to suit the grip levels. Pete Welch has built all the race motors in house in recent times.
What would it cost to buy one now?
Getting hold of new McIntosh Suzuki, the price would depend on the build spec, but you’d be looking at around $100k for a full spec race bike today. The chassis kit is $30,000, plus GST. The original bikes cost around $12,000 to $15,000 in 1982. For comparison, a brand new Suzuki GSX1100 in 1981 was around $6500. The original race bikes very rarely come up for sale.
Article kindly provided by kiwirider.co.nz
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