1981 GN400 sales brochure photo

Suzuki’s GN400 street thumper never sold any better than the mediocre SP370/400 dual-sport bike it sprang from, and was forgotten not long after its production run ended in the early eighties. With Yamaha’s SR500 continuing to enjoy a huge cult following around the world, I must wonder if the GN400’s failure was due not to the 100cc displacement disparity, but the GN’s tacky cruiser styling (or “custom,” the term popular at the time).

But a more SR-like profile would have been so easy to achieve! The illustration above shows what could have been, but never was. Since the GN400 shared its frame design with the SP400 dual-sporter, very little prevented Suzuki from combining the SP’s flatter seat and racier, more “standard”-looking fuel tank with the GN’s other street-oriented bits. The GS400E’s forks and handlebars were bolt-on replacements for the buckhorn bars and wheelbase-extending leading-axle front end fitted to the GN. The only truly new parts needed would have been the side covers and the red rear seat cowling. The rest of the bike is pure production GN400.

Would the resulting “GP400” have been superior to the SR500? Well, no. But as a former owner of a GN400X, I have a fondness for the tractable, reliable, mildly-tuned mill, and a GP version would have offered a distinctive appearance certainly more appealing to the typical thumper shopper than the chopper-esque GN.

GN400s are still pretty easy to find, but most of them are well worn and badly abused; SP370/400 bodywork in good shape would be harder to find. In spite of that, a part of me would love to put in the considerable parts-chasing legwork necessary to make Suzuki’s missed opportunity a reality and create a wormhole back to an alternative history, circa 1980.

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