Current motorcycle engines are pretty sophisticated. You don’t have to look at MotoGP engines to see it either, just visit any motorcycle dealer and look at the street bikes ready to follow you home. Many 600cc sportbikes produce over 100hp and 1000cc liter bikes develop over 150hp. The Suzuki Hayabusa comes in around 175hp and thanks to a well developed aftermarket, the big ‘Busa can be turbocharged, given the big bore treatment and, of course, fitted with nitrous, for unbelievable horsepower gains. At a recent horsepower shootout, one well massaged Hayabusa cranked out over 700hp!
Why not cars?
With a little imagination you might look at those engines, note their compact dimensions, peer under the hood of a small car and go hmm…
Well, before you pat yourself on the back for being so creative, it should be noted that folks have been putting motorcycle engines in cars for quite some time.
The Cooper Car Company was putting 500cc JAP motorcycle engines into a ladder frame special and making a race car back in the late 1940’s and BMW dropped a motorcycle engine into the Isetta in the mid 1950’s. Even earlier, in the 20’s and early 30’s, the Morgan Motor Company built their famous 3 wheelers with V-twin engines from JAP and Matchless mounted right out front. If you’re interested in very early micro cars and motorcycle powered cars you have a lot to choose from, there’s the Peel, the Velorex, the Berkeley and many others that most people have never heard of. There’s a large following and many active collectors for these early motorcycle/car hybrids but our focus here is on the modern engines produced today.
Factory built and kit based
There are a number of companies currently building motorcycle engine powered cars for both street and track applications. Some are complete factory built, finished cars while others are in various stages of completion or kit form.
Depending on your skill level, tools and facilities at your disposal, time, energy and intended application you’ll have to narrow down the choices and choose from there. If you’re thinking of buying or building one of these beauties, keep in mind, road legal in one country may not be road legal anywhere else, so be sure to check with local registration authorities and with the company producing the car as they may already have the answers you need.
Powering a car with a motorcycle engine is a bit more complex than dropping a smallblock Chevy into your old street machine. Motorcycle engines are not equipped with a transmission containing a reverse gear or motor mount placements designed to work with a car so any of these motorcycle/car hybrids are going to be custom built the first time around. If you’re comfortable building one off prototypes, you can start from scratch. Otherwise, you can take advantage of those who have done this before.
Builders have found many engines suitable for powering cars. Some current favorites are the Yamaha R1, Kawasaki ZX12, Kawasaki ZX9 and, of course, the Suzuki Hayabusa, however, any time you begin with a clean sheet, you can design for any engine desired.
There are twin engine variations and various turbo setups, two wheel drive and four wheel drive as well. The only limits are imagination, creativity and skill.
Motorcycle engine car companies
There are a number of companies worldwide in the business of creating complete motorcycle powered vehicles. Some are very well known, others a bit obscure but over time we intend to have a fairly comprehensive list.
Many of the cars below are variations on the Caterham, Lotus and Super 7 from England, but the problem on this side of the Atlantic is they’re all right hand drive. Super7Cars, up in Canada, builds a Super 7 in left hand drive powered by a Hayabusa engine with lots of available options, including turbo and intercooler.
Performance? Well how’s 0-60 in 3.78 with
roof, spare wheel, tools, jack, side curtains, mirrors and all-season tires, and fitted with a completely stock engine? It can be ordered in configurations up to 340hp. I’m starting to get a real warm fuzzy for these things, you get the performance of a superbike with full weather protection and a heater along with room for a passenger and luggage. Just imagine what this sounds like at full song on a twisty road …
This company, founded by Dennis Palatov, has built the DP1, an extraordinary Hayabusa powered track car, in fact he’s now built a whole series of cars. His web site documents in extreme detail the progress from initial concept to mockups and every step of the building process. If you are looking to see a very capable design engineer at work, visit his site, you will be amazed. I am definitely impressed. Don’t take my word for it, check it out.
Radical Extreme Sportscars
Formed in 1996 to build racecars powered by superbike engines, they have been very successful with a constantly evolving series of cars. Radical is also the creator of the SR8, powered by their own V8 engine, created by joining the top ends of two Suzuki Hayabusa engines to a common crankcase. This Hayabusa based V8 in original form is producing 363hp and looks stunning. Their newest SR9 is a larger displacement version, growing from 2.6 liters to 3.0 liters with a commensurate increase in horsepower.
Z Cars Ltd
Z Cars makes the motorcycle powered Mini, one of the most "gotta have" cars around as well as the Tiger. Several configurations are available, both single and twin engined R1 power, Hayabusa and turbo Hayabusa in the Mini and all sorts of Tiger variants.
The Smartuki is one of their most famous conversions. It’s a GSX-R1000 powered Smart Car with 180hp, 0-60 in 4.2 sec. and 12.4 quarter miles. I like it. See it here : The Smartuki
Distributes the Tiger in various forms for both street and racing. Powered by several motorcycle engine configurations. The Tiger Z100WR with twin ZX12R engines does 0-60 in 2.9 seconds!
Tiger makes a variety of cars, both motorcycle engine powered and with automotive engines, too.
Speads Race Cars
Designed to look like a Formula 1 race car, it has a steel tube frame and will accept many different motorcycle engines. They have a Formula 1000 racer, the Astra Summerhawk, that uses 200+ horsepower superbike engines and it looks the business. They also are building a full bodied sports racer. Top designers, top shelf racing components, these are serious cars.
Dax Cars makes several kit cars, some based on the AC Cobra and some modeled after the Lotus like many of the other companies here. Their Dax Rush MC is the Lotus version powered by one of several different motorcycle powerplants. The photo here is a ZX12R version. The regular configurations are for either a Honda Fireblade (CBR900RR in the states) or a Hayabusa.
Fisher Sports Cars UK
Fisher makes the Fury and the Menace. Their cars can be built for either road or track. The engine options are extensive and include a wide range of motorcycle engines, the R1, Hayabusa, Fireblade and ZX9. The Fury is a kit car and there is a gallery of cars on their web site that builders have already completed.
F500 by Hartham
Hartham is building a Ducati powered Fiat 500. The engine will be from a Ducati 999R with a power output of 150hp. A carbon fiber composite chassis, Brembo disc brakes, six point racing harness and similar components will make this a real mini racer. The car is supposed to retain the looks of the original Fiat 500 though no photos of the F500 are available yet, at least not that we’ve seen. The photo here is of the original Fiat 500 so imagine appropriate paint, wheels and tires along with all of the other components. It has the same appeal as the Mini conversion done by Z Cars.
The R1ot, is a purpose built track day car powered by a 150hp Yamaha R1 engine. And if you’re wondering about performance, the total package weighs 410 kilograms, that’s 903 pounds! I’ll bet some Harley dressers get close to that weight. Built by Sylva Autokits, a company that’s put together a lot of very quick and successful track cars, they look like they have another nice one.
A recheck of their website shows they’ve moved on from the R1OT and now offer a newer car with a new design and powered by a Rover engine, so the R1OT is no more. Interesting while it lasted.
Owosso Pulse and Jim Bede’s LiteStar
Both the Pulse and the LiteStar were essentially the same car, originally designed by Jim Bede of BD5 and BD5J fame, the little experimental aircraft that was very neat. After the aircraft was built, Bede decided to try his hand at cars and came up with the LiteStar. After some business disagreements, the Owosso Pulse was born which was the same car but built without Jim Bede’s involvement. Power was originally a Yamaha 400 with an electric reverse, though several other engines were used over time and eventually progressed all the way up to a Gold Wing 1200. Story here.
This Harley Davidson V twin powered roadster is built on a tube frame with a fiberglass body. The engine runs through a three speed automatic transmission with overdrive from the Mazda RX-7. The car will easily get up to 100mph. It’s built in South Africa and sold in California and Arizona as a roller minus the engine. Looks nice.
This started out as a racer, designed to compete with Corvettes and Vipers. It was designed for a twin turbo V8 with 960 horsepower, but after things were well along, the sanctioning body, Grand-Am, changed the rules and focused on Daytona prototypes making this obsolete as designed, so Barry Watkins came up with an alternative using two Harley Davidson V twins. If there are awards for knockout looks, this one wins big. Story here.
Motorcycle Powered Go Karts
Go karts are a natural choice when thinking about motorcycle power. They’re small, lightweight and easy to modify for a variety of engines. This kart comes in two flavors, the original is powered by a 1988 GSX-R 1100 engine putting out 115hp with a 0-60 of under 3 seconds and top speed of 105mph which has to be pretty exciting with your butt about an inch above the asphalt. The newer version sports two seats and the engine from a 1994 Honda CBR 1100 XX. Output is 164hp.
Three students at a Dutch technical school were thinking about a proper graduation project and came up with the BladeKart. A 900cc engine from a Honda Fireblade combined with a TIG welded frame resulted in a pretty nice piece. Final performance figures are not yet available but considering power to weight, those figures should be pretty stout. Full story here.
Scale NASCAR type cars with motorcycle power
These cars come in two versions, an oval racer and a road racer, the first powered by a Kawasaki ZX1100cc or ZZR1200cc engine while the road racer gets a Kawasaki ZX 1200cc (standard) or ZZR 1200cc (optional). The oval racer has about 140hp while the road racer is around 185hp. Speeds are proportional from 150mph to 175mph respectively.
These 2/3 scale cars are replicas of Nextel Cup racers and use Yamaha XJR1300 engines with about 125hp. Bodies are just like their big brothers, plus they have full roll cages and tube chassis, you get in through the window, 5 point harness, the whole deal.
They’ve been racing since 1996 and they run ovals and road courses. New cars are constructed in Bowling Green, Kentucky and are available as a roller or complete car.
Motorcycle powered 3 wheelers
SUB 3 Wheeler
Three GM designers set out on their own to build a car from scratch, designing and building everything themselves. This car has a TIG welded frame, fiberglass body and a Suzuki 1000cc V-twin situated next to the driver for a 50/50 weight distribution. High performance in a three wheeled canyon carver. See the story here.
The Spykster, built by Australian, Dan Quelch, is powered by a Yamaha R1 engine. Dan had an unfortunate collision early in his riding career and decided he wanted more stability in a vehicle than he had on his motorcycle. After years of design work and lots of sheer persistence, the Spykster was born. A TIG welded frame with a fiberglass body, you ride the Spykster like a motorcycle, on top as opposed to inside like a car. Nice looking vehicle and he’s currently looking for a manufacturer. Full story here.
This is different, you take a regular motorcycle, remove the front fork, plug it into this front end assembly and you’re done. The finished product looks very cool, kinda like a Formula Ford or something similar with zero to 60 of 5.3 and 13.9 1/4 mile with the ZRX1100 prototype. Looks fun.
Grinnall makes several different vehicles, some very nice trikes from the Triumph Rocket 3 and BMW motorcycles, a 4 wheel car powered by an Audi engine and of interest here, the 3 wheel Scorpion 3 powered by your choice of several K series BMW powerplants.
If you like the idea of motorcycle engine powered cars like we do, the older variants are fascinating. The old Morgan 3 wheelers were very cool looking and there is a company in England, Triking Cyclecars, building kits with a Moto Guzzi engine. Their website is a bit difficult to get around so I’ll let you dig out the details if you’re interested. Looks like they have both kit and preassembled models available. There are also a few photos that look like they rebuild some of the originals, too.
Motorcycle powered concept vehicles
When the corporate designers go to work on a motorcycle powered car you get a concept like this, the GRX, utilizing the 1500cc flat six originally used in the Gold Wing. This has been around for a while though Honda doesn’t seem inclined to actually produce it. Nice looking concept, though.
Here’s one that Suzuki put together for the show circuit a couple of years ago, powered by the superb Hayabusa engine. It’s 1400 pounds of sheer fun, at least it could be but it never went beyond the concept stage. It sits on 20 inch wheels and had all sorts of neat electronic wizardry. They could probably sell a ton of these if they ever produced them and breathless rumors to that effect continue to surface. We’ll see, but don’t count on it.
Another nice concept, this one from Aprilia. Power is from a 550cc version of their supermotard engine along with electric motors in the wheels, this is actually a hybrid because the V-twin can be shut off for total electric running.