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Suzuki History
From looms to cyclemotors

I try to tell the story of the Suzuki Motor Company on these pages, as accurate and correct as I know it. There are several stories of the history of Suzuki on the Internet, books and magazines. Unfortunately most the stories contain sevear errors. I try to do a better job but cannot swear that the result is 100% accurate or true. If you find any errors or have something to add, please contact me.

The Suzuki Motor Company was founded by Michio Suzuki, a son to a Japanese cotton farmer. He was born in Hamamatsu, a small town 200 km from Tokyo, in 1887. As Michio grew up he became a carpenter and an enterprising young man. In 1909, at the age of 22, he constructed a pedal-driven wooden loom, and started to sell his product. Suzuki Loom Works was founded. The business went well, the order stock was growing and Michio Suzuki further developed his machine for the silk industry. New, much more sophisticated machineries were developed and the business was blooming.

Eleven years later, in 1920, Michio Suzuki decided to introduce his business to the stock exchange. The days of a small family business were long gone; Michio Suzuki needed the capital to be able to expand the business to meet the demands of the growing market. The founding of Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company (Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo) in March of 1920 is regarded as the start of the Suzuki Motor Company as we know it today. The company celebrated its 80-year anniversary in 2000.

Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company got the capital needed for the investments and the company was now growing fast. Already in 1922 the Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo was one of the largest loom manufacturers in Japan.

By that time, Japan was not the large industrial power that it is known today. The most important export items were fabrics and cloths. In 1926 the new-established Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company started to export looms to the Southeast Asia and India. But the market was soon to be sated, the high-quality looms from Suzuki lasted practically forever and the demand for new looms was getting gradually smaller. Suzuki started to consider manufacturing other things on the side of the weaving machines.

There were hardly any manufacturers of motorcycles or cars in Japan before the Second World War. Soichiro Honda was to build his first cyclemotor in 1947. In Europe and the United States there had been motorcycle and car industries for decades.
The Otto motor had been patented in Germany in 1876 and the Einspur, Gottlieb Daimler’s first motorcycle prototype was built in 1885. Robert Bosch introduced a low-tension magneto the motorcycle before the end of the 19th century and by the time Michio Suzuki was designing his first loom, European companies like Zedel (later NSU), Royal Enfield, Puch, Peugeot, Norton and Husqvarna were already producing motorcycles, as well as Indian and Harley-Davidson in America. There were already motorcycle magazines and motorcycle clubs organized reliability trials in Europe. The first Isle Of Man TT-race was held in 1907, two years before Michio Suzuki started his loom works.

There’s no question about it, the Japanese were not pioneers in designing motorcycles. The Japanese manufacturers came into the business decades after Europeans and in the beginning they mostly copied the design and the technical solutions of the European machines. But we all know what happened; a couple of decades after the Second World War the mighty Japanese manufacturers dominated the motorcycle markets of the world.

But let’s get back to the time before the war. Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company is an impressive company but there’s little demand for its products. Suzuki considered going into the automotive business. 20,000 vehicles were imported to Japan annually, still not satisfying the growing demand for cheap commuting vehicles. Michio Suzuki noticed the market gap and made his first move.

In 1938 Suzuki made its first prototype of a car, based on the Austin Seven. The Suzuki research team had bought an Austin from England, dismantled and studied it and a few months later was able to make a replica of the Brittish 737cc car. Japan possessed little technical knowledge of how to produce good cars or motorcycles and imitating the car manufacturers in Europe seemed to be the way to get started.

But the timing was lousy. Japan was already prepairing for the war. The project was abandoned and the Suzuki’s version of the Austin Seven was never mass produced. That wouldn't have been that original idea anyhow, Nissan's first automobile was based on Austin Seven.

After the war followed a period of rebuilding and economic instability. The manufacturing of weaving looms was renewed but a wave of strikes at the forties and in the beginning of the fifties and the post-war chaotic financial structure nearly destroyed the Suzuki Loom manufacturing Company.

According to a story it was Michio Suzuki’s son, Shunzo, who came with the idea of motorizing his bicycle a fall day when riding home from a fishing trip. Without any specific goal, only for his own pleasure, Shunzo went to his drawing board at home and started to design his own cyclemotor. Nevertheless the story is true or not, manufacturing cyclemotors saved the company from the edge of a crash.

In November 1951 the engineers of the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company started to design an engine that could be attached to a bicycle. The idea was not unique, there were actually over 100 other Japanese companies that had came up with the same idea. Soichiro Honda started his Honda Technical Research Institute in 1946 with renovating used small engines used by the Japanese army during the war and mounted them onto bicycles. A year later Honda started to make their own engines. By the time Suzuki put his first cyclemotor into production Honda (now renamed to Honda Motor Company) owned 70% of the commuting market.

Before the 36cc Power Free engine was released, a 30cc prototype, that was given the name ”Atom” was created by Suzuki. The Atom was never mass produced.

The high quality of the Suzuki’s cyclemotor made it to stand out and made it a big hit in Japan. Many of Shunzo Suzuki's original ideas were used on the final product.
The engine was a "square" 36 x 36 mm piston-ported two-stroke mounted within the cycle frame, just above the pedals. It powered the cycle through the normal pedalling chain and required special chain-wheels to enable the rider to free-wheel while the engine was running. The engine could also be pedal-assisted, or disconnected completely.

The system was so ingenious, the Patent Office of the new democratic government granted Suzuki a financial subsidy to continue research into motorcycle engineering.
Unlike most of its competitors, the Power Free did not use army surplus or proprietary engines and was built entirely by Suzuki. Suzuki manufactured even the carburettor and flywheel magneto.

The Power Free, launched in late '51, was only on sale for a few months before it was substantially improved. Just after the release of the Power Free the Japanese goverment changed the requirements to be allowed to ride a small motorcycle. No driver's license were longer needed to ride a bike with an 4-stroke engine up to 90cc or a 2-stroke engine up to 60cc. Suzuki started immediatly to develop a new cyclemotor which engine capacity was increased to 60cc. and a two-speed gear was incorporated.


Powerfree '52Power Free E1 1952

Engine type: Air-cooled 36 cc 2-stroke. 1 hp/ 4.000 rpm.

Click on the image for larger format. Here's even larger picture.

Here's more pictures of Diamond Free, sent by Joe Broussard, USA.

In 1953 a new model, the "Diamond Free" was introduced. This was built on very similar lines to the Power Free and used the same method on transmission. The engine capacity was now 58cc (43mm x 40mm); neat alloy side panels tidied up the unit's appearance. Power output was 2 bhp at 4000 rpm.

Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo ”Diamond Free” sketch and engine prototype. Presented in 1953.

There were many detail variations during the production of these cyclemotors, particularly in the design of the fuel tank, chain covers and exhaust system, Additionally, a variety of special frames was available, incorporating such features as drum brakes, strengthened or sprung forks, and even crash bars.

The Diamond Free had the usual handlebar controls: a lever operated clutch, a thumb lever for the choke, and a throttle twist-grip. The two-speed gearbox was controlled by a lever mounted on the frame's seat tube.


Diamond Free 1953

Engine type: Air-cooled 58 cc 2-stroke. 2 hp/ 4.000 rpm. Two speeds.

Click on the image to view it in a larger format. Click here for even larger picture.

Although virtually unknown in the West, many thousands of Power Free and Diamond Free machines were sold in Japan. 1954 saw the end of Suzuki's cyclemotors with the introduction of the "Mini Free". This was a 50cc moped, being only sold as a complete machine.

By 1954, Suzuki was producing 6,000 motorcycles per month, and changed its name to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd in June 1954.

Mini Free was, however, still very cyclemotor-like in appearance, having a conventional bicycle frame. The engine was mounted ahead of the bottom bracket and a Vee belt from the engine drove a pulley clipped to the spokes of the rear wheel. The Mini Free continued in production until 1958 and a more conventional moped, the "Suzumoped" replaced it.

Here's more Mini Free pictures and facts.

1954 SJK Mini-Free. An early Suzuki moped with a two-stroke engine and belt drive.

Suzuki's involvement with both cyclemotors and complete motorized bicycles was stopped in 1959. Since then its under-50cc output has been mainly fixed-footrest machines.

More: SJK (Suzuki Jidosha Kogyo) and Colleda models

More: The Colleda models 1954—1961

More: Suzuki racing models 1953—1959

More: Suzuki models 1952—1969

More: All Suzuki models

Sources: Suzuki Motor Company, The Encyclopedia Of Motorcycles, The History Of Japanese
Motorcycles etc.

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