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Motorcycles With Car Engines: A Brief History of Two-Wheeled Absurdity

In their own way, each of them is outrageous. But some are more so than others.

We don't generally cover motorcycles, but we're going to make an exception for these bikes since they feature car engines. Not powerplants that are cut-down or derived from an automotive application—no, these are quite literally car engines shoehorned into motorcycle frames with varying degrees of success and ergonomics.

To make this list, the resulting car-hearted bike needs to have been a streetable production model, although some were series production and some were conversions or customs built in bulk. There are plenty of one-offs out there with even wilder engines than these, but we're using this criteria to pare things down. And that means that the wild and wickedly cool Dodge Tomahawk concept, perhaps the most famous car-engined bike around, gets a nod here in the intro but won't be found below. It's memorable but not streetable.

EVA Track T800-CDi

Who would have guessed that the European Smart ForTwo's minuscule turbodiesel engine—at the time, the world's smallest direct-injection diesel engine—would ever find its way into a motorcycle? But that's exactly what the Dutch producer of the Track T800-CDi did for a few years. It was a big, adventure-style bike with lots of torque (89 lb-ft), although curiously it was only available with a CVT.

For the adventure-bike set, this could have been a game-changer, offering stupendous fuel economy and taking advantage of the easy availability of diesel in the hinterlands. Maybe someone will revive the concept with a similar engine.

Boss Hoss

If a 117-cubic-inch Harley Davidson V-twin isn't enough motor for you, the folks at Boss Hoss will shoehorn a 350-cube V-8 into a frame of their own design to create what has to be one of the largest production bikes ever. The "standard" model has an incredible 80-inch wheelbase and a choice of three incredibly powerful engines: a 445-hp GM LS3, a 430-hp 383 Stroker, or a 454 small-block good for 563 horsepower. All are equipped with a two-speed automatic transmission. And they're no lightweights, generally weighing between 1,100 and 1,300 pounds depending on exact spec. But they're not bodge jobs, for sure—these are well-made, well-finished machines. Why is Ozzy Osbourne sitting on one? No idea. Must be a Boss Hoss thing.

Münch Mammut

It wasn't the first bike with a car engine, but the Münch Mammut made a massive impression when it was revealed to the world in the mid-1960s. Emphasis on massive—while its 996-cubic-centimeter NSU engine, derived from the Prinz 1000, wouldn't raise an eyebrow today, it was outrageous back then. That wasn't the end of its wild equipment list: a huge 10-inch drum was laced into the front wheel, while in the back a cast magnesium wheel held an integral drum. The bike used a lot of magnesium for weight savings—in total, it weighed about 480 pounds and with 55 horsepower on tap could reach 115 mph on a good day. If there was a downside, it was that the bikes were massively expensive, starting at nearly $4,000 in 1966 dollars. That was several times the cost of an average car. Think of the Mammut as the Bugatti Veyron of 1960s bikes and you won't be too far off. There was a short-lived attempt at a revival circa 2000, called the Mammut 2000 and utilizing a Cosworth-modified 2.0-liter engine that was turbocharged for extra measure. That's what you're looking at on top of this article. A handful were made before the project was shut down.

Sabertooth Motorcycles

Now apparently defunct, in the early 2010s Sabertooth would build you a cruiser with a Ford V-8, creating in some respects a FoMoCo fan's equivalent to the more established Boss Hoss. Several models were available, from the basic WildCat with a Ford Racing 302 all the way up to the improbable TurboCat, featuring a twin-turbocharged Ford Modular 4.6 V-8 good for a claimed 600 horsepower through a 330-mm-wide rear tire. Like the Boss Hoss, these were big machines that clocked in at 1,000 pounds or more, while they also featured two-speed manual transmissions. (A four-speed automatic was in the works at one point.) Too big to fail? Apparently not.

Olson's Flathead V-8 Motorcycles

Dale Olson's creations are more custom than the other factory-built creations on this list, but we thought they were too cool to exclude. Olson fits Ford Flathead V-8s into modified frames. He's even built a bike housing a classic Lincoln-Zephyr flathead V-12, which you can see and hear above. Olson is apparently still building bikes, and if you're interested you can check out his Facebook page here.

Van Veen OCR 1000

Many automakers and even a few motorcycle manufacturers got excited about the Wankel rotary—just as reliability issues and a succession of oil crises sank most of the attempts. Companies as diverse as Norton and Suzuki fielded rotary bikes, and Van Veen's was perhaps even more obscure. The Dutch company had previously imported Kriedler motorcycles, but the OCR 1000 was a mostly in-house affair. The motor, however, was sourced from the ambitious but doomed Comotor project, a joint venture of rotary pioneer NSU and Citroën. Van Veen didn't have the resources to solve any of the Comotor's issues. The bike, also, was heavy and thirsty, and shockingly expensive. Less than 50 were built in total.

Brough Superior Austin Four

Between the World Wars, there was perhaps no finer maker of motorcycles than the Brough Superior. George Brough was, you might say, the Ettore Bugatti of British bikes. And the BS4 was his Bugatti Royale. The engine was a small inline four-cylinder pulled from the tiny, affordable, and decidedly non-luxurious Austin 7—think of it as the Model T of the U.K. But its engine was compact and readily available, a 696-cc sidevalve engine. Brough retained the Austin gearbox, which meant the driveline was very long. The ingenious solution was to give it split rear wheels with the shaft-drive terminating in between them at a bevel drive hub. Not only was this bike car-engined, it was also a dually.

While it wasn't much fun to ride solo, it handled a sidecar rig just fine and was overall a beautifully built, if exceptionally unusual, conveyance. Brough built 10 of them—Bonhams sold one of them in dilapidated condition in 2016 for an eye-watering $414,579.