One of my favorite things to do is find motorcycles so absurd and so powerful that even diehard motorcyclists would think twice before sitting in the saddle. Perhaps one of the wildest examples of this has shown up for sale on Facebook of all places. This is the Bill Wildt WARbike, a drag motorcycle featuring two Turbonique rocket thrust engines that make a claimed 6,640 horsepower together. It drinks a gallon of fuel a second and it was supposed to complete a quarter mile in five seconds at 275 mph.
This wonderful, frightening machine was found by our friends at Opposite-Lock and it’s currently for sale for $40,000 by a seller in West Chicago, Illinois. The WARbike, which is an acronym for Wildt’s Astro Racer bike, isn’t a road-legal machine. In fact, it doesn’t even have a throttle. You basically just hit a button and hold on for dear life.
One Man’s Crusade To Save Motorsport
This motorcycle is the work of Bill Wildt, a man who filled Chicago and Milwaukee television screens with motorsports for over three decades. His WARbike had never even seen a track before his death in 2021 at 78 years old, though it was a showpiece for his life’s mission: the Bill Wildt’s Motorsport Advancement Crusade. Wildt wanted to save motorsports in America by advocating for motorsport while producing his own show. Public access television show Motorsports Unlimited ran for over 35 years and 1,400 episodes featuring anything with an internal combustion engine. Wildt decided that the best way to compete against Wheel of Fortune and Monday Night Football using cars was to have them presented by blond women often wearing swimsuits.
A 1989 Chicago Reader article explains:
“I’ve raced since I was 13 years old,” Wildt says. “Having been in it all my life, I was well aware of the things that were contributing to the demise of motor sports. At some point in your life, you have to decide ‘Am I gonna do something about it or should I just shut up and forget it?’ In my case, I was probably the most likely candidate to try to do something.”
Wildt decided six and a half years ago to give up his normal, middle-class life to save the country from the extinction of racing. At the age of 40, he quit his job as O’Hare airfreight supervisor for United Airlines and sold a two-flat he’d bought to help him through his retirement. He took that money and started Bill Wildt’s Motorsports Advancement Crusade.
The crusade was created to alert the American public to a serious downward trend in the fortunes of auto racing. There were more than 2,500 racetracks in the country in 1953, Wildt says. Today, there are fewer than 800. “When I first started as a youngster, I raced at Oswego Dragway–that’s gone. U.S. 30 Dragstrip–that’s gone. Soldier Field–now it’s a football field. (A board speedway was built in Soldier Field in the 1940s; one race there drew 80,000 people.)
Wildt saw a problem in America. He felt that because racetracks were closing, the technically-inclined in America would no longer have places to hone their skills. Wildt further thought that schools were also partially to blame as students learned about baseball, basketball, and football as sports, but not cars or car racing.
This was something that Wildt wanted to fix, even if his show was seen only in Chicagoland and some Wisconsin communities. At first, Wildt’s crusade wasn’t a show. Instead, he tried to spread motorsports awareness through a newsletter as well as articles published in various magazines and newspapers. However, Wildt felt that this wasn’t really working, what would work was television. As the Chicago Reader wrote, part of his inspiration came from watching civil rights protests on television, opening his eyes to the issues faced by Black people.
Through some digging, Wildt learned about public access television and how cable television companies were often required to provide equipment, studios, training, and channels for residents in their communities. Thus, television became his vehicle for promotion, and as the Chicago Tribune reported, he’d get people to watch by filling up the show with models.
Wildt’s Wild Rocket Motorcycle
The vehicles were also a centerpiece. Wildt had a history of racing. He raced around oval tracks, drag-raced, and raced in flat track motorcycles. His vehicles ranged from Volkswagen Beetles to Harley-Davidson XR750 dirt trackers. A lover of just about everything with wheels, he also raced Bultacos and Triumphs before a crash on an XR750 ended his flat track career. As the seller of his WARbike explains, while he was in the hospital following the crash, Wildt thought that he wanted to continue motorcycle racing and he wanted to beat NHRA Top Fuel driver Don Garlits.
To do this, Wildt decided to build a rocket-powered motorcycle. According to the seller, in years past, Wildt had picked up a rocket turbine from Turbonique. This company, founded in Florida in 1962 by Gene Middlebrooks Jr, specialized in high-power gas turbines fed by an isopropyl nitrate monopropellant that the company marketed as Thermolene.
Turbonique produced a number of powerplants. As Hagerty writes, one of them was a wild auxiliary power unit that used Thermolene to boost your engine. Yes, Middlebrooks basically invented a Thermolene-fed jet turbine supercharger and he advertised it as being able to double the output of a V8. Apparently, he even had the dyno sheets to back up his claims.
Turbonique’s claim to fame, according to Hagerty, was its “drag axle.” This essentially mounted a jet turbine onto the back of your car and when it fired up, it sent 1,300 horsepower through a one-way clutch, through the differential, and onto the ground, preferably without blowing things up.
As I said before, Turbonique’s system doesn’t feature throttles. Instead, you get an on-and-off switch. When you hit the switch, a spark plug in the ignition chamber lights the Thermolene, nearly instantly sending you off in the direction you’ve pointed your vehicle. Check out this graphic:
If you were daring enough, Turbonique would sell you its designs in the form of thrust rockets. The best part was that Turbonique sent its turbines and rockets through the mail. Though, perhaps that was also its downfall. As Motor Trend writes, Turbonique’s mail-order rockets had some problems. One was that, well, the things could explode on you. Apparently, some of those who installed Turbonique T-16-A Formula J Thrust Engines figured out that if you slow down too fast or turn off the reaction then turn it on again too fast, it might literally blow up on you.
Over time, Turbonique saw itself fighting liability lawsuits, but it was ultimately a 21-count federal indictment for mail-order fraud in 1970 that brought the company to a halt. Making matters only worse was the fact that he represented himself in court, and I don’t need to grab my Lawtopian wife to tell you how bad of an idea that is. From Motor Trend:
From a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion by one of the presiding judges, “Middlebrooks argued with witnesses, interjected scandalous and inflammatory remarks, and violated miscellaneous procedural rules during his conduct of the trial.” One can only imagine. He continued, “The district court judge showed commendable moderation in keeping the trial on the tracks, and not prejudicing the jury against the defendant (Middlebrooks), in spite of provocatory conduct on the part of the defendant.”
Oof. The 1970 case was also Middlebrooks’ third time in court over mail fraud in less than ten years. He was able to get acquitted in the previous claims, but this one stuck. The jury concluded that Turbonique kits were simple for a rocket scientist to build, but not for the teenagers and enthusiasts who actually bought them. The jury also found that Middlebrooks was effectively running a Ponzi scheme in how he pitched his kits to distributors. Ultimately, Middlebrooks was convicted on 16 charges and he would serve two years in prison and pay a $4,000 fine. Turbonique itself was dead.
An Unfinished Mission
That didn’t stop Wildt, who acquired two Turbonique thrust engines that were advertised to make at least 3,000 HP each. He then stuffed them into the Wildt’s Astro Racer bike, or WARbike. Wildt spent $100,000 on the machine, reportedly fabricating the entire motorcycle himself and only employing outside help with the Turbonique engines and from an artist to paint the thing. The mission of the 375-pound motorcycle was simple. Wildt designed it to complete a quarter mile in 5 seconds at 275 mph. And after showing its domination on the track, he would also use it to further his goal of advancing motorsport.
If you have three hours of time, three episodes of Wildt’s show explain the WARbike inside and out. Here’s one of them (plus two and three):
Apparently, this motorcycle has never seen a track and it’s unclear if it’s ever gotten anywhere close to the advertised speeds. Instead, Wildt used it for his Motorsport Advancement Crusade. The motorcycle sat on a turntable that converted into a carrying crate. It would get carted around and displayed, but never fully complete its mission. The current owner of the machine says that eventually, the WARbike would end up just sitting inside its trailer until Wildt passed.
So, what you’re looking at here is a motorcycle with explosive potential. Last year, Larry “Spiderman” McBride made the fastest run in NHRA Top Fuel Motorcycle history. He ran the quarter in 5.61 seconds at 268.38 miles per hour. In theory, this motorcycle should be even faster. If you’re feeling a bit dangerous and hopefully really lucky, you can get this roughly 40-year-old machine back to life and chase that record. Just don’t look at the engines the wrong way.
If you have equipment of solid steel or vibranium, you can buy the WARbike from the seller in West Chicago, Illinois for $40,000. Please film your quarter-mile run.
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Having worked with Bill in the studio of Motorsports Unlimited and in front and behind the camera at his taping of Motorsports events I can personally tell you of his brilliant dialogue and manner of writing. He did, in fact, tell me the story of the one time the WARbike was ridden. Just a small amount of fuel sent the bike and brave rider several blocks through the alleys. It took 3 men to walk the bike back to the garage where he was building it. I hope your readers will avail themselves to watch episodes on his YouTube channel. Thank you for your wonderful article.
That motorcycle is pretty neat but my favorite Turbonique application is still this kart that uses one of their smaller rocket engines to turn an exposed prop, with the whole works mounted directly behind the driver’s head. What could possibly go wrong?
Holy shit, it’s an ultralight aircraft…for the road? God I wish we had Youtube back in the day of mail-order turbine engines.
What an amazing way to go backwards through the Pearly Gates on fire while screaming “YEEEEAHHH BABY!”
Wildt had a mission. He was going to catch and eat a Road Runner. Indeed, Wildt E. Coyote knew that speed was essential. He pulled together the finest suite of parts available in the Acme catalogue and created the masterpiece you see before you today.
Sadly, he succumbed to a falling anvil before he could see his project to fruition. His last words to his family consisted of an “Oh no” scrawled onto a small hand-held sign, which he displayed for the longest half-second ever, before the sheer weight of the anvil compressed his spin and sent him plummeting to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, landing with a slight, but audible, “Piff.”
Would this bike have been the difference maker between Wildt and his dinner? Or would he have ended up with yet another one of those “Please peel me off this rock face” incidents. Sadly, we will never know.
There’s a British motorcycle racer trying to hit 300mph on an insane turbocharged Hayabusa. It’s not rocket powered, just forced induction. He’s managed 270mph on it already.
His name is Guy Martin, and I hope he succeeds, because it would be as ridiculous as it is awesome. I recommend checking out his books.
Guy Martin is nuckin futz-in a great way. Just a down-to-earth guy with ungodly skills—and a great attitude. Highly recommend his How Britain Worked series available on YouTube. Watching him geek out on technology is quite entertaining, and he really gets into it.
I love a bonkers design!
However, maybe this was never ridden because there appears to be no way to get your feet on the pegs. :-O
If you look at the rear-end picture really closely you can see the right footpeg. It is right next to the exhaust of the thrust engine.
I suppose the idea is that you’re going to be burning the engines for like 5 seconds at a time, so maybe you aren’t going to cook your poor feet?
I do see it, but it appears not to be accessible in any meaningful way.
The nozzle appears to pass just over the peg and then extend behind it, and that beehive-looking thing is immediately in front of the peg. Even if we remove the possibility of unpleasant amounts of heat, I don’t know how that could possibly work.
WAIT!! Look at the last picture – see the ramp-shaped outcropping on the right side of the bike at the back, above the beehive and below the fancy orange and red stripes? I think that since the pilot would basically be lying down – look how far forward the clip-ons are – the ramp thing would support the knee and shin and the pilot’s foot would rest against the vertical piece at the top of the ramp.
And maybe the footpeg-looking things are jack/stand/lift points. 🙂
No: that’s not near strong enough. Aw, HELL no!
I once made one pass on an air-shifted Kawasaki drag bike back in 1987. That pass was on the service road of our local mall. Probably didn’t get much over 100mph, but I haven’t been on a bike since. I know I’m an idiot in a meatsack, and I want a damn cage around me. You couldn’t pay me enough to ride that thing. I mean, it’s not like you can just part-throttle it!
The first half of the first video above was enough to convince me I need to watch some more. Haven’t seen the stage-candy yet, but I’m sure I’ll be cringing. Still, thanks for posting them!
“Haven’t seen the stage-candy yet, but I’m sure I’ll be cringing.”
Skip to the end, it’s bizarre – and hilarious. They have these women dressed up like 60’s fan dancers complete with fascinators.
This is from 2019!!!!
One thing that can’t be overemphasized is how sneakily dangerous the propyl nitrate fuel was/is. Under most conditions it’s surprisingly tame for literal rocket fuel–you can pour it on the ground, light it on fire, and it’s not much worse than gasoline, for example. But it’s *incredibly* sensitive adiabetic compression. If there are any vapor bubbles in the fuel line, and you abruptly close any valves (creating a sort of water hammer effect), it does an excellent impression of nitroglycerin and literally detonates. That’s why you couldn’t use a throttle with these things.
I wonder how expensive it would be to get some sort of gyroscopically-stabilized bipedal robo-pilot on board to take this thing on its maiden/farewell flight?
‘Cause I’d never want a human aboard that thing.
Wow, just wow. Love the concept, scared for anyone who would ride it. Just way too much that could go wrong. Would I watch someone attempt it, oh yeah, but would hope they paid their life insurance policy before getting on it.
Drag bike riders are a special breed.
I have s special place in my heart for the Michigan Madman EJ Potter…
I’m with you. It takes a big set to race drag bikes. I raced a few of my cars at Onondaga Dragway in the early 70s. EJ Potter was a friend of the dad of one of my friends. Great memories.
Not surprised that the bike ended up in West Chicago…. that used to be one of my former haunts, and it’s a weird city for sure. For those unfamiliar, West Chicago is NOT Chicago… it’s a suburban enclave about 30-some odd miles west of NYC (kidding, it’s 30 miles west of Chicago). That city is also home to one of the greatest stores known to mankind – American Science and Surplus: https://www.facebook.com/GenSciPlus/
I think The Autopian has to purchase this in order to set records, gofundme anyone ?
Turbonique and motorcycle is a frightening combination, I’d sooner throw a leg over Elmer Trett’s nitro burning “Kawasaki” drag bike. (quotes because while the engine is nominally a KZ1000 it contains no actual Kawasaki parts)