Original Unrestored 1975 Suzuki RE5 Rotary

I’ve had a few unusual vehicles in my life but I’ve never owned anything with a rotary engine. I may need to step outside of my comfort zone, life is too short as we all know. This 1975 Suzuki RE5 Rotary can be found listed here on eBay in Strafford, New Hampshire, and the current bid price is just over $1,500 but the reserve isn’t met yet.

The Suzuki RE5 was introduced in late-1974 and was made for two model years, 1975 and 1976 in two models: the 1975 RE5 M model and the 1976 RE5 A model. It’s “pool or pond” for me, anything would be good. I wouldn’t be choosy on owning one but I have too many motorcycle restoration projects now, I can’t take on another one that’s even bigger and would be more expensive to do than the ones I have now. You can see how unique they are in any condition but when they’re restored they’re unique and beautiful.

The seller doesn’t say that this one was stored or is a barn find or anything like that, but clearly, it looks like it’s been off of the road for a while. There’s visible surface rust and general grunginess and it’ll need a full restoration which won’t be inexpensive. Small and simple motorcycles can easily be three or four thousand and sometimes much more to have a restoration shop do the work. I can’t imagine taking this RE5 into a restoration shop and giving them a blank check.

The 1975 RE5 had the famous “tin can” gauge cluster with a hinged cover and a similarly-shaped tail light. The turn signals are round and details like that make this model a fun vehicle to show off at a vintage motorcycle show and make it just fun to own. I know that I’m weird but I sometimes like to just sit in a chair and look at my vehicles, especially the unusual ones with the odd details and features. Hey, that’s a hobby, isn’t it, sitting?

The big thing with the RE5, of course, is the single rotary 497 cc Wankel rotary which had 62 horsepower and was water-cooled. It was revolutionary as there had only been a handful or fewer rotary motorcycles before this one. Cycle Magazine said, “It has become clear that the Suzuki rotary is the most elaborate motorcycle ever offered to the public…” This one starts with the choke but will need to have the carb cleaned and the usual work done for something that has been out of use for quite a while. Have any of you owned or ridden a Suzuki RE5 rotary?

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Comments

  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Never owned one but at the time it was released it was a mind bender. More worldly friends pointed out later to those of us ignorant to motorcycle history that a Hercules motorcycle (German?) with a rotary was made in the ‘60’s so this wasn’t anything really gamechanging an idea. IIRC too Norton went rotary later and made police bikes with rotary engines. The RE-5 is unique in its own way but a Norton Rotary would be a really cool find too.
    This one needs help and could be a challenge in finding replacement parts I’ll bet.

    Like 4
  2. Howard A Member

    Worth a “log in” on this one( everytime I comment on a “early access”. I have to re-log in, been that way for months,,,STAFF!!)
    Anyway, who else but Scotty would have the nerve or knowledge to take this on,,,possibly Jim. Quite a find, as far as motorcycles go, Suzuki pushed the limits. They were one of the last to offer a 2cycle touring bike, I think ( Water Buffalo), but these never had a chance. Rotaries were a “flash in the pan” for a while, made famous by Mazda, with limited results. I think people were just fascinated by another type of engine, even though, they were far from proven. I’m amazed someone amassed 11K miles on this, I’m sure the engine needs more than a carb clean, I suspect apex seals, that were the bane of early rotaries. Rotaries are awesome motors, for a 500 cc, I bet it would keep up with most 750’s, if it stayed running, that is. I read their smoothness of operation couldn’t be beat.
    The only rotary powered vehicle I owned, was a Johnson rotary snowmobile, I got it for nothing, had like 50 miles on it. It weighed a ton, and never did get it running. I think I threw it away.

    Like 11
  3. Derek

    I’ve had a go on one; a friend of a friend had one. Very smooth, but quite bulky.

    Hercules/Van Veen had its crank longitudinally and was aircooled, I think. I know a couple of folk who have Norton Commanders and speak highly of them.

    Like 5
  4. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    Scotty, you are good at digging these up. You featured one in 2019, and I remember reading about it and it’s uniquely-shaped gauge cluster.

    Like turbo bikes, kind of understandable why they never caught on, but I’m glad they are out there for us to discuss.

    Like 4
  5. geomechs geomechs Member

    I never was all that receptive to Rotary-Powered anything. Not that there was anything really wrong with them. I just dedicated my life to pistons, crankshafts and all the related parts in between. A friend of mine had a Mazda R100 that died without warning at a traffic signal at around 50K miles. I wasn’t surprised nor really cared. I remember when this bike debuted. Although it was phenomenal in every way I was about as impressed with it as I was with the Lawrence Welk Show; it was okay but I just couldn’t get turned on. I’m sure there is someone who is going to be completely captivated by this and they’re going to enjoy it immensely…

    Like 7
  6. Allen L

    Paging Rob Dahm.

    Like 3
  7. david r

    Nice project for Jay Leno’s team of mechanics, otherwise forget it. I wouldn’t take it as a gift,

    Like 1
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      He already has one and enjoys riding it.
      If someone offers you one and you don’t want it I’ll gladly relieve you of the agony! 👍🏻😁

      Like 9
  8. AZVanman

    It was probably ’81-82, I rode my Water Buffalo into the parking lot of a great used Japanese motorcycle parts store in Phoenix and right there in the spot next to me was an RE5. I had heard of them but thought they were just a failed prototype or JDM model. It looked like it had the same radiator as my GT750, but the RE5 had a fan and mine did not. That tiny engine was so bizarre, I had to learn more. I went in and found the owner and we talked about our rides for a while. When he fired it up to leave, I just remember the sound being so unique, but I still liked my 2-stroke twang better.

    Like 1
  9. AnalogMan

    I owned one of these in the mid 70’s. I found a dealer with a leftover new 1975 RE5. It was the only one they received, and they couldn’t sell it – until I came along. I paid $1,000 for it, a fraction of what a new Honda 750 cost (which I couldn’t afford).

    I was drawn to the bike both for its futuristic Star Wars sci-fi looks, and the iconoclastic rotary engine, which, as many have said, might have been better in theory than practice.

    The bike was great fun to ride. The sound was unique, similar to a Wankel car (not surprisingly). I thought it sounded like a jet engine spooling up for take off (though a bit more whiny). As expected, it was very smooth, totally vibration-free. Like all Wankels, it had plenty of hp but little torque down low, which didn’t matter as much on a bike that revved so quickly. It was plenty fast, much faster than it looked. The lack of engine braking was a little disconcerting, and took getting used to.

    The gas mileage was abominable. I consistently got 25 mpg with it, whether gently causing down the highway or playing on winding roads.

    It was thoroughly impractical as a ‘daily driver’, both due to complex maintenance and poor reliability/longevity. But it did feel very special to ride. As a purely collectible and occasional use toy now, it could be a lot of fun – you likely won’t see another one at any bike gathering. Though, I suspect most of the parts are now unobtanium. Even back in the 70’s Suzuki dealers didn’t want to service them. The dealer I bought it from made it crystal clear that he never wanted to see me, or that bike, again. It was impossible even then to get a Suzuki motorcycle dealer to work on them. Nowadays you’d have to be your own expert or seek out one of the faithful.

    I heard back then that Suzuki wanted to wash their hands of this bike so badly that they literally dumped their spare parts inventory into the ocean. What a useless waste.

    It would probably be almost impossible to get one into running condition, or to keep it that way (unless you’re Jay Leno and have access to talented mechanics and can 3-D print anything).

    Like 10
    • Terrry

      I hoped they dumped the Mikuni-Solex carburetor into the ocean along with the other parts. That thing was impossible to tune just right. The bike always ran unevenly at low speeds.

    • PATRICK LABARGE

      I had one in the early 1980’s. It was one of my favorite bikes. You could really wind it up with an unlimited RPM. It just didn’t seem to care. It didn’t have a lot of low end torque but it had a long power curve between shifts and was a lot of fun to drive. So smooth. If I were a bit younger I’d spend the money to restore one of these just to feel that rotary engine type of ride again.

      Like 4
  10. Terrry

    The ’76 was a much better bike. Most of the bugs were worked out and it had a “traditional” motorcycle instrument cluster and tail light, straight off the GT750 “water buffalo”. All ’76’s were black. I bought a leftover one new, in 1977. Rode it for 3 years and never had any trouble except a burned out voltage regulator. Easy fix. It’s a physically big bike and not very powerful for its size but was very comfortable on long hauls. And the higher it revved the smoother it got!

    Like 8
  11. Barry Traylor

    Back then at the Suzuki shop when I took my Suzuki Titan 500 for service we used to call that thing of the top of the Rotary a juice can.

    Like 1
    • Terrry

      I had a Titan too! A ’75, in fact I traded mine for the ’76 RE5 (the one that looked more like a motorcycle, no linch box!))

  12. Cycle Salvage Kevin

    Suzuki was my favorite brand. Back in the early 1990’s I saw an ad in ‘Old Bike Journal’ for this exact same bike. The ’76 model had boring ‘regular’ gauges, turn signals and taillight but the first year those parts represented the ‘rotary’ theme. The bike was in my state and reasonably priced. I bought it. It hadn’t run for awhile but with 1400 miles it was in outwardly ‘showroom’ condition. I live on a farm so no matter which out building I’d store my collection in the field dust covered everything. So, it sat in my living room for a few years. I was simply fascinated by it’s air scoop exhausts, 2 barrel carb, futuristic instrument enclosure and the odd engine.
    Then came time to get it running. I enlisted the help of an old friend who was a Suzuki mechanic who actually was sent to RE5 school back in the day. I tracked down a new NGK spark plug for lol, only $35 and we set to work. The 2 BBL carb was corroded inside and quite complicated. So, we didn’t get it to run. I sold to a good friend in St. Paul, MN at break even. He in turn sold it to another friend up there and he mastered the beguiling devil! The washing machine on 2 wheels still runs like a top. I was happy to have briefly owned yet another oddball, bragging rights you know. lol

    Like 8
  13. Dave

    The last place I saw one was at Cycle Warehouse in Butler, Pennsylvania. It looked like new. They have built a good reputation for having those Unobtainium parts for quite a few brands.

    Like 3
  14. tonywa28 Member

    FWIW – I looked into parts availability for these about 4 years ago. It was downright sad. Particularly the engine seals were hard to find. Maybe things have improved, but I would doubt it. Go in with your eyes open.

    FYI – I rebuild old Lotus cars for fun, so I have some “skills” at locating parts…
    YMMV

    Like 1
  15. angliagt angliagt Member

    In 1980,while waiting to pick up my new Suzuki –
    GS550E (black – nice looking bike,but not much fun to-
    ride),I noticed an RE5 across the road.Interesting bike,
    but had no real desire to own one.

  16. Ricardo Ventura

    The model is beautiful but I prefer a GT 750 2-stroke, which in my opinion, is the best Suzuki product.
    It deserves to be preserved.

    Like 1
  17. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Auction update: this Suzuki sold for $3,200.

    Like 1

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