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The 500/Five Debate

With photo material contributed by Eric from Northern Virginia, USA.

In late 1967, Suzuki made available a short wheelbase example of its new 500/Five twin cylinder machine to the press in several world markets. The December 1967 issue of Cycle World presented the new 500/Five model and listed its specifications, and following that, a collection of Cycle World road tests were gathered together and re-published by Suzuki as an advertising handout. This handout, also with a December 1967 cover date, included a letter from Suzuki detailing the changes made to the T500 design since the original road test had been done.

Here are scans of the two covers - the Cycle World December 1967 magazine on the left, and the Suzuki advertising brochure on the right.

That letter included in the brochure appears below, and a close-up of it beside it.

These changes then are the specifications for the long wheelbase T500 MK I, which for at least a short time continued to be called the 500/Five in the USA. Elsewhere - Canada for example, it was called the Cobra. The length of elapsed time between the original Cycle World article appearing, and the release of the reprint is unclear as both carry the same date of December 1967. Based on the data collected so far, what does seem clear is that the short wheelbase 500/Five variant was a pre-production model, used only for display and demonstration prior to the start of actual mass-production. I have yet to see any actual proof of one of these pre-production test machines still existing.

Not mentioned in the letter are what other changes were also made - one obvious one is that the exhausts were now longer to accommodate the change in length of the swing arm. It is interesting (at least to anoraks like myself !) to note that the first part number listed for the mufflers are 14301-15002 and 14302-15002 for the right and left on the MK I. Normal Suzuki practice was to change the last digit of a part number if it was a version change, so presumably there were two previous muffler styles prior to the first one (the 15002's) listed for the MK I. Possibly more documentation and/or original examples will surface over time.

With help from many other owners, I am recording 'starting' and 'ending' frame numbers - not to create a registry, but to try and nail down actual production numbers. The list is available at this link, and contributions are welcomed.

There is a persistent urban myth, which is regularly repeated in the press (see this fairly recent write-up as an example), that the 500/Five had a 10 fin barrel. None of the early news photos or photos in the Suzuki shop manuals show this - they all clearly show 11 fins. A possible explanation for the origin of the myth may be the ad that also ran in the December 1967 Cycle World issue showing the 500/Five - the fin just even with the top of the exhaust collar is in shadow, and so not clearly visible unless the photo is enlarged and so gives the appearance of being a 10 fin barrel. It could also be possible that some reporter just couldn't count !

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