Under the radar
Years produced: 1972-1977
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 38hp @ 7,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 95mph
Engine type: 371cc, air-cooled two-stroke inline triple
Weight (w/half-full tank): 178kg (392lb)
Price then: $925 (1972)
Price now: $900-$2,000
Remember back when you could still buy a brand new, out of the crate, street-legal two-stroke motorcycle? Those were the days … Nixon was president, Vietnam was a raging mess, and … wait. What was so great about those days again? Ah, yes. The motorcycles.
Although two-stroke engines are rare in new motorcycles today, back in 1972 the Suzuki GT380 was one of a handful of two-strokes sitting on the sales floor at your local Suzuki dealership. The younger sibling of Suzuki’s landmark water-cooled GT750 “Water Buffalo” (introduced in 1971), the three-cylinder GT380 Sebring was introduced to the U.S. market in 1972 along with the bigger GT550. The GT380 landed right in the middle of the 350cc-400cc field, one of the most hotly contested displacement categories of the day.
Sporty, but not sportingThe original 1972 Sebring arrived as a fairly sporty motorcycle, but only to a point. Though the competing Kawasaki triples were known as rockets, the Suzuki GT engines were tuned more for smoothness and reliability than peak power. The odd three-into-four pipes and the rigid foot pegs limited cornering clearance, and while predictable, comfortable and smooth at touring speeds, when pushed hard it wobbled in corners due to its limited suspension and a tube frame that could have been stiffer. This was not a track bike.
The air-cooled GTs shared Suzuki's new Ram Air System, which forced cool air to pass through the cylinders and behind the block when the bike was in motion, preventing the engine from losing power due to high cylinder head temps. Unfortunately, the GT triples still developed a reputation for seizing their middle pistons.
The GTs also featured Suzuki’s refined automatic fuel and oil mixing system, called CCI, which helped lower exhaust smoke levels. The GTs also were the first in the Suzuki line to feature vacuum-operated petcocks, a feature that was later used on all of Suzuki’s bikes.
The Suzuki GT380 was blessed with a large gas tank and a large seat, though engine vibrations transmitted through the passenger footpegs made the bike less than fun for passengers. The little GT also featured a locking gas cap (unusual at the time) and rubber lip seals on the spark plug wire caps to keep moisture from shorting out the system. Though the cylinder head was cast in one piece, the cylinders were three separate units.
Through the yearsThe Suzuki GT380 received some small improvements over the years of production. For 1973, the GT380K came with a 275mm disc at the front in place of the drum brake used on earlier models. It was an improvement over the drum, but only if it was dry: It was hopeless in the wet. A few small changes were also made to the frame and exhaust system to provide a bit more ground clearance and reduce vibration. The 1974 GT380L had constant-velocity carbs, an available cooling fan, and the final drive sprockets were changed to raise the gearing. The bike now also featured a gear indicator. The 1975 GT380M saw the carburetors revert to the slide type, while the 1976 GT380A model stayed essentially the same, other than evolutionary paint color changes that happened throughout the bikes’ tenure. The end of the line came with the GT380B in 1977, which can be easily identified for it’s black (instead of color-matching) sidecovers.
In truth, the models between 1975 and 1977 look a lot like each other, with only minor color or accessory options separating them visually.
In the end, although the little GT was as strong and reliable as similarly displaced four-stroke machines, the rising gas prices of the Seventies and the higher fuel consumption of most two-strokes didn’t make for the best pairing. Add to that the introduction of Suzuki’s four-stroke GS series in 1976, and many buyers wondered why they should deal with gas-guzzling, smoking two-strokes if they didn’t have to. Many simply decided they didn’t want to anymore, and when Suzuki's new 1978 models arrived, the small triple was gone, along with the rest of its GT siblings.
Though the bigger GT750s have had quite a following since they were new, the 380 has been forgotten by most people. That, and the fact that quite a few were made and imported to the U.S., has kept prices low.