Home » This 1930s Ford Flathead V8-Powered Motorcycle Is As Much Art As It Is A Dream Machine

This 1930s Ford Flathead V8-Powered Motorcycle Is As Much Art As It Is A Dream Machine

Flathead V8 Motorcycle Ts
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V8 power is a relative rarity in the motorcycling world. Aside from a handful of oddballs, the biggest and baddest production bikes you’ll find on the road today and in recent history will usually have threes, fours, or sixes. That’s why I’m always excited to see something different in the cylinder-count department, and this motorcycle qualifies. In 2014, a motorcycle builder created the two-wheeled masterpiece you see in the top graphic by mating a Ford 136 cubic inch flathead V8 from the 1930s into a custom cruiser frame. This motorcycle is timeless art that’s also completely functional, and one lucky person will be able to bring it home.

The marvelous flathead-fortified motorcycle is currently up for bidding at Bring a Trailer and it’s one of those times I wished I had fewer hoopties and more money. I’ve ridden Boss Hoss V8 bikes before and found those motorcycles to be a bit too ungainly. They’re so wide and huge that they make my Triumph Rocket III look svelte. But this Ford-powered bike – at least how it’s presented in photos – looks a lot more “normal.” I think much of that has to do with the Ford V8’s compact shape. This is not a chunky 454 small block as you’ll find spreading the frame of a Boss Hoss, but a more compact flathead V8 with just 2.2 liters of displacement. That’s fewer cubes than I get in my Triumph.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

And while the engine is the centerpiece of this build, I also love that there’s a lot going on with the rest of the build for you to feast your eyes on. Look at that seat and the paintwork on the tank!

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V8 Power

V8s are a relatively rare form of propulsion in motorcycling. The most famous name in production V8 motorcycles is Boss Hoss, which has been cranking out handfuls of V8-powered bikes each year since 1990. Boss Hoss goes big as it hooks GM LS engines, 454 small blocks, and 383 strokers to a custom motorcycle frame. Also big with a Boss Hoss is power, as the company advertises outputs ranging from 445 HP to 563 HP. Some owners will then tune their bikes for even more power.

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As of right now, you cannot buy a production V8 motorcycle from anyone else. Power-obsessed Australians created the PGM V8, a roadster powered by a slick 2.0-liter V8 created by slamming two Yamaha R1 engines together. It’s claimed to be the most powerful production motorcycle in the world with 334 HP on tap. However, it would appear that the folks at PGMV8 have never heard of Boss Hoss or the wild MTT Turbine Superbike. It also appears that there are perhaps only three of the PGM V8s in the world, so Boss Hoss beats it in production numbers, too.

Grid8
PGMV8

Another wild build is France’s Ludovic Lazareth’s LM 847. Lazareth robbed some Maserati Quattroportes of their 4.7-liter 470 HP V8 engines and lowered them into frames that look like something Batman would ride. Technically, these aren’t even motorcycles as they have four wheels. Amazing is the fact that while the LM 847 looks like a concept machine, Lazareth actually built 10 of them. This may be worth a deeper dig in the future.

Motorcycle history is chock-full of projects like these. Norton wanted to create a V8-powered sportbike with a 17,000 RPM rev limit, but that never reached production. There’s also the Drysdale V8, another Australian build with a 750cc V8 created by combining two Yamaha FZR400 engines. Four of those were sold. The Giancarlo Morbidelli V8 also needs a mention, a sportbike with an 848cc V8. However, given the bespoke bike’s price of £90,000 (later reduced to the equivalent of $45,000), Morbidelli failed to find many buyers.

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Lazareth LM 847 – Lazareth

I think you’re getting the idea here. Many have attempted to pair V8s with motorcycles and many have been successful in bringing them to reality. However, just morsels of these bikes have been sold, ensuring the V8’s rarity in motorcycling. V8 motorcycles have been a thing for over a century, and while I have not been able to determine the very first V8 bike, the most famous of the early V8s is certainly the Curtiss V8 created by aviation and motorcycling pioneer Glenn Curtiss. I’ll let the Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum detail how Curtiss ended up putting a V8 into a motorcycle:

Before achieving fame in aeronautics, Glenn Curtiss started his career with motorcycles. He began developing motorcycle engines in 1902. The first was a single-cylinder model generating 3 horsepower. In 1903 he designed an 8-horsepower V-twin engine. These models were followed by four-cylinder in-line engines ranging from 15 to 25 horsepower. In 1906 Curtiss designed his first V-8 engine in response to several requests from early aeronautical experimenters for powerplants for both lighter- and heavier-than-air aircraft.

The early aviation community was beginning to seek out Curtiss because of his growing reputation for designing powerful, lightweight motorcycle engines. As a manufacturer and racer of motorcycles, it was only natural for Curtiss to wonder how fast he could move on a motorcycle with his V–8 engine. He instructed his workers to construct a frame that could support the weight of the engine.

Deliveryservice (1)
National Air and Space Museum & Smithsonian Institution Archives

Curtiss took the motorcycle to the Florida Speed Carnival at Ormond Beach in January 1907 to make a run with the V-8. The judges agreed upon a two-mile run to get up to speed, one mile for the actual test, and two miles to stop the motorcycle. The machine’s braking system was minimal, looking like something that would be found on a geared bicycle. It was a hinged paddle device on the rear tire, which did not permit a quick stop. Tom Baldwin and “Tank” Waters, who traveled with Curtiss, positioned themselves on either side of the machine and pushed the motorcycle until the engine started. Curtiss recorded a speed of 218 kph (136 mph) during the run. He was dubbed “the fastest man on Earth.”

Each cylinder of the Curtiss V8 had a carburetor and the engine produced about 40 HP. That’s not a lot today, but back then it was like strapping yourself to a rocket. The Curtiss V8 is the only motorcycle to have ever held the outright land speed record. It was faster than any car, train, and even plane of its day.

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So, in theory, V8 bikes are a great idea.

The Olson V8 Flathead Motorcycle

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This motorcycle up for grabs is not one that you’ll storm down a beach with, but a cruiser with an engine note that can melt your heart.

The machine is the work of Dale Olson of Illinois. As the Naked Racer Moto Co writes, Olson built his own custom motorcycle by combining a Ford V8-60 flathead with a motorcycle of his design assembled from bits and pieces from other bikes. The motorcycle shop’s owner, Johnny Gee, was a friend of Olson’s and convinced him to offer V8 motorcycles to the public and Olson started offering custom motorcycles with V8-60 engines in the mid-2000s. Naked Racer Moto Co says Olson marketed the bikes himself first before signing a deal with speed shop Honest Charlie to sell the bikes.

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By 2012, Olson’s Flathead Motorcycles had produced 55 examples and he even expanded on the idea by fitting a couple of custom motorcycle builds with 4.8-liter 125 HP V12 engines from 1948 Lincoln Zephyrs. It’s not said how many custom bikes Olson has completed by now, but he still takes orders on his Facebook site.

This example is one of the V8-60 flatheads and it was completed in 2014. The highlight of the show is the Ford 136 cubic inch flathead V8 good for 60 HP. It’s said to have come from a Ford from roughly 1937 to 1940 and sports a Holley 94 carburetor, Mallory ignition system, electric start, and a Delco 12-volt alternator. As I mentioned before, Olson’s bikes are a mix of his design, such as the frame, and bits and pieces from other vehicles. In addition to the previously noted equipment, the motorcycle uses Harley-Davidson switchgear and AutoMeter gauges.

Olson’s original build for this motorcycle featured gold paint as well as different gauges, lights, air filter, and seat.

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As Mac’s Motor City Garage writes, the Ford V8-60 was the result of Ford’s effort to create a smaller version of the company’s standard flathead V8. In 1934 or 1935, Ford created a 2.2-liter V8 for its European operations. This baby V8 was reportedly problematic, with issues including overheating. Thankfully, Ford didn’t give up and created a second small V8, launching another 2.2-liter V8 (136 cubic inches). This engine was shipped off to Europe and fitted to cars in the United States in 1937. As Mac’s Motor City Garage continues, the V8-60, as it was called, was essentially Ford’s 221 cubic inch V8, but scaled down. These engines were panned in cars for their lack of power. However, the V8-60 found itself in boat racing and was a famed engine in midget racing. After World War II, hot rodders picked up these engines and souped them up. So, it’s only fitting to see one of these in a motorcycle.

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Something I love is the theming with this build. There’s a lot of brass from the headlight to the radiator overflow tank. Gold accents on the tank help the brass pop.

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The listing notes that this motorcycle comes with a single-speed direct-drive transmission, which pushes power to the rear wheel through a 1:1 bevel box and a drive chain. According to Olson, these motorcycles are capable of top speeds over 100 mph. I doubt you’ll be hitting the ton on this, but cruising and listening to that soundtrack. You also might not take it on a road trip because while the front suspension is handled by a telescopic fork, the motorcycle is a hardtail with a thin sprung seat.

Not everything is dated, however, because you do get dual disc brakes up front and a single disc in the rear. You also get warning lights and a digital odometer. Something you won’t be getting is a title or a VIN. The custom frame explains the lack of a VIN, and you’ll have to jump through a few hoops to get a title. Each state will have its own rules on how to get registration for a custom vehicle like this. The current owner managed to ride this motorcycle about 5,000 miles during their ownership.

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As of right now, the motorcycle is going for a pretty affordable price. Bidding is at $4,700 on Bring a Trailer with six days to go. You’ll have to scoop it up from Twinsburg, Ohio before working on getting it registered. The seller is offering this motorcycle up as a piece of art for display only. This motorcycle is a piece of art, but I hope the buyer gets it legal, puts it on the road, and lets the V8 sing.

Don’t worry, I’m not leaving you without a clip of the sound:

(Images: Bring a Trailer Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
3 months ago

Great article! Subject matter was so engrossing that I found myself on a side trip to find out how this little engine sounded, which in turn led to a discussion about why they sound so different (it’s the placement of the valves in the head) and so on.

I also discovered that this wasn’t the first flathead V8 in a motorcycle. The previous attempts worked mechanically but weren’t nearly as neatly intergrated as a total package.

Just about when I say nevermore to your constant litany of campers, you come up with a gem like this and draw me back in. I guess the campers are a small price to pay for your motorcycle content! Thanks and keep them coming.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
3 months ago

I wondered if anyone had put a Saab V4 in a bike and found this;

https://www.saabplanet.com/saabsa-saab-two-stroke-engine-swapped-in-motorcycle/

Is it still around somewhere?

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
3 months ago

The old men who would ride that flathead hog should be careful not to get their long ballsacks sucked in to that air filter 😉

Duane Cannon
Duane Cannon
3 months ago

Allen Millyard, a nuclear research engineer from England, built a V-10 motorcycle and went 183.5 mph 2-up. Allen grafted two KZ1300 cylinder blocks together to make a 70-degree V-12 motorcycle. The Flying Millyard is a true work of art. All of his motorcycles are built to actually ride, and they are beautiful. And he built one of the most innovative downhill mountain bikes ever. All in his backyard shed while his wife brings him scones and tea. The man is pure genius.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Duane Cannon

Pretty sure he also made a V8. And lots of Kawasaki H2’s with extra cylinders. One of the best channels on Youtube.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago

Nev trust a man named Honest Charlie. I would love to have the bike though.

George Millwood
George Millwood
3 months ago

Although it was a racing bike you must acknowledge the engineering masterpiece that was the Moto Guzzi V8 from the ’50s. I once interviewed Bill Lomas who raced it and he lamented that they didn’t have the time or funding to fully develop it. He spoke of it with glowing regard.

Kendall Gray
Kendall Gray
3 months ago

I’m from the other end of the motorcycling pool. Not interested in grumbling, pocketa-pocketa cruisers or fast as hell organ donator friendly wheeled cruise missiles. I like a bike that gets the hell out of my way and gets me where I am going without a fuss- some pleasant mechanical noise, the fun of the ride at a comfortable speed, and that’s it.

However? The sound of this thing has me ninety percent interested in having it. Just to hear that engine noise rumbling along with me.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember that the flathead Fords before ‘56 had significant overheating issues. In 56 they went to dual water pumps which pretty much solved the issue.

source: half-remembered beer-rant by my bil’s father who ran only 56 Ford trucks. 14 when he passed, including one with a homemade rollback bed (out of bulldozer hydraulics) and a 700 with an excavator arm & bucket on the rear. I got the habit of writing tune up specs & any special notes on the underside of the hood from him.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I understand that all flathead fords put a whole lot of heat into the cooling system because the exhaust valve is on the inside of the vee, but the exhaust port is on the outside of the vee, so the exhaust has to run through the block and water jacket for like 4″.

I’ve always wanted to build a super custom flathead reversing the intake and exhaust ports to create a hot vee flathead that would not have this issue. Twin intake manifolds on the outside of the motor would be wild

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I’m not sure about 1956 being magical. In fact, I believe that the “Y” block OHV V-8 was introduced in 1954 and put in trucks by 1955. All flatties had dual water pumps (my grandpa’s ‘49 coupe had dual water pumps). They kinda had to have dual pumps as the little intake manifold didn’t have any cooling passages like modern V-8s to feed a single pump.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

Perhaps I’m remembering wrong and it was about the notch in the door. I’ll have to ask my bil

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

56-57 was the start of the era of wraparound windshields. While the ‘56 didn’t have the radically wrapped windshield of the passenger cars, they did get the slightly extended door that came back to meet the “A” pillar.

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
3 months ago

If memory serves, there was a company similar to Boss Hoss that used Windsors, because the battle between Chevy and Ford is eternal and must be fought on all fronts. A solid minute of Googling and no results says I may be crazy, but I remember this being a thing.

What I could find (so I’m not completely insane) is, for those who don’t think small blocks or LSs are unwieldy enough, Boss Hoss does also offer a big block.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

did you mention the Eisenberg EV8? V8 Choppers dot com also does the boss hoss thing, but with a slightly less chunky tank and Radiator setup.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago

The single use case I can see for bikes like this, is a double-leg amputee who has a deathwish and rides solely by means of hand controls.

There is so much heat coming off the area where your legs should be, that not having them is the only logical choice.

Ophidia
Ophidia
3 months ago

I would feel like the coolest mfkr ever cruising around on this bad boy. Look at it twist when revved the engine– I wonder how much effect that could have on it if you gave it the beans in a corner. It’s not really designed to give it the beans in a corner, though.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Ophidia

it is a legit problem shared with the inline fours of Indian past, probably also with the triumph Merc mentioned. Gyroscoping affects and all. V8 bikes work a bit better when the rotating mass of the engine is in the same direction as you would like to go in a straight line.

Ophidia
Ophidia
2 months ago
Reply to  JDE

I have a 2006 Kawasaki VN2000D (2 liter v twin) and it torques pretty good when you rev it, too. It’s front to back (or back to front?) though so no weird handling issues.

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