A Trio of Cylinder Hacking Heroes

There are lots of people who can hot-rod bikes engines. Big carbs, loud exhaust, big pistons…if they’re good, stroker cranks, flowed heads. Hot-rodders change up lots of stuff in an engine. But only a few would seriously consider altering the number of cylinders the motor has. And do it successfully…multiple times. Three guys in particular have earned the title of Dr. Frankenmotor, and with it our hoontastic respect.

Cylinder Hacker #3:
Simon Whitelock

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Simon Whitelock is perhaps the most maniacal of our three heroes, thanks to his single-minded pursuit of one thing: attaching more Kawasaki 2-stroke cylinders to a single rear wheel than anybody else has. He started out adding a cylinder or two to Kawasaki triples, but some other folks started doing the same thing (one of which you’ll meet in just a bit). What’s a mad scientist to do? Add more. But when he got to nine (see the top photo), his mods started to subtly affect handing just a wee bit, and not in an altogether good way. So he started getting more creative, chaining multiple cranks together, like lining three 250cc triples behind one another. Fast forward to his masterwork: a 48-cylinder two-stroke with six eight-cylinder cranks tied together. Okay, so space considerations forced some horrific compromises to the intake and exhaust plumbing, but shock and awe, not raw power, was certainly what he was going for. A separate 100cc donkey motor (or APU for you mil-spec and aviation guys) is required to start the thing. But it does start.

Cylinder Hacker #2:
Geert Cuperus

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Unlike Whitelock’s gonzo-for-the-sake-of-gonzo philosophy, Cuperus’s motivation is much more subtle. He builds roadgoing replicas of legendary European Grand Prix racers from history. But, in the case of an MV Agusta three-cylinder or six-cylinder factory GP bike, where can one find an obtainable, affordable powerplant of the right weight, shape and dimensions to act as a suitable stand-in? The answer is surprisingly simple: A Suzuki GS550 engine is perfect. Okay, so it has four cylinders…. No big deal: chop one pot off and you have a 412cc triple. Graft two extra onto the end of the crank, and you’ve got a six.
Geert gets the nod over Simon for the added complexity of working with four-stroke engines, as well as his less questionable sanity and more elegant final product.

Cylinder Hacker Numero Uno:
Allen Millyard

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Like Whitelock, Millyard is British, and started out building unnaturally cylinder-rich Kawasaki two-strokes. But then, like Cuperus, he moved on to the added challenge of four-stroke engines. But, unlike Geert, he didn’t lose the gonzo. He first built a V-8 out of two KZ1000 engines. I guess he did a pretty good job: the bike is now owned by the Barber Motorsports Museum (If you’re not familiar with it, let’s just say that there’s not much bodgery is in that place). Not finding that enough of a challenge, he then built a V-12 out of two KZ1300 liquid-cooled six-cylinder motors (each one already overkill for a bike and perhaps the most horrifically complex and elaborate designs ever). Oh, and he cuts up these motor without machine tools. He just measures carefully, goes at them with a hacksaw (yes, really), and then welds the pieces back up. Yea, as if it’s really that easy.
Allen gets to wear the glittering tiara of our ultimate moto-hacking poster boy not only because of the absurd difficulty of his V-12, but for the nearly-production fit and finish of all his work. Read more about Allen here.

0 Comments

  1. Wow. Impressive hardware hacking (best term I could think of). Millyard's creations are very cleanly done and aren't nearly as scary as that 48 cylinder thing, which reminds me of a nightmare I once had. I don't know if I have sufficient testicular fortitude to climb aboard any of these machines, but I'll salute those who do.

  2. When I saw that Kaw six-pot two-stroke in the lead pic, my first thought was to wonder how often the owner had to replace burned-up pistons in the four middle cylinders. I know that the triple that this engine is based on was famous for burning up center cylinder pistons, which necessitated the ram-air cooling shroud that was added in the mid-seventies. That alleviated the problem somewhat, but eventually liquid cooling was added out of necessity. Knowing how ungodly powerful the '75 GT550 triple my buddy had in HS was, I imagine that it goes like hell right up until it doesn't anymore.
    EDIT: After looking again, that bike seems to have seven cylinders. WTF?

    1. Yea, three…plus two added on each side. That way the position of the transmission and drive chain offset would be unchanged.
      Oh, and by the way, Suzuki's "Ram Air" shrouds were 99 & 44/100th percent marketing ploy. They had made a huge deal when they'd introduced the GT750 about how liquid cooling was the only way to ensure proper cooling of the middle cylinder (alluding to the Kawasaki triples). But they then had to justify why their own smaller, air-cooled triples would not to melt the center piston. They even added a "Ram Air" cooling shroud to the GT250 twin, which was kind of silly since the same basic bike had been around for years as the X-6 Hustler…without a shroud.
      None of which is intended to slam the Suzuki triples. I've owned a '72 GT750, and still kick myself for not buying a mint '77 I'd found for $1800 when I had the chance.

    2. I rode a '74 GT550 for about six years, and I hate to disappoint you, but the bike wasn't really all that fast. Once it got off the line, it went OK, but it wasn't the screamer that the Kawasaki triples had the reputation of being. Instead, my Suzuki was a very rideable, well-handling, fairly reliable bike that I rode daily and took on some long roadtrips, with soft luggage strapped on it, through the Great Basin. Dialing in the three sets of points every spring sucked, but once I had replaced them with brand new sets, gapped them, and set the timing, the bike usually started on the first or second kick. As long as I kept the three carbs clean and synchronized.
      Of course I synched the oil pump cable with the throttle cable at the same time. I had to pull the baffles out of the pipes (four of them, two big ones for the outside cylinders and two little ones for the center cylinder) once or twice and cleaned the carbon and oily funk out of them with Coleman fuel (scary. I had a beer going, but didn't smoke.), but aside from all that, the bike was pretty much maintenance-free. It didn't emit all that much blue smoke unless I'd been riding it in town all week and then punched it going onto the freeway (oily funk burning in the pipes, major smokescreen that was fun to see), or really getting on it and the oil pump was misadjusted. I never should have sold that little four hundred dollar chainsaw, I miss it to this day. The thing was way too much fun. Even Harley bikers liked it.

  3. I guess my old man brain got the 'zukis and 'sakis mixed up there. I didn't realize that they both had two-stroke triples, but now that you mention it, it makes my memories make more sense.

  4. OK, so I'm a bit of a noob when it come to engine hacking!?!?!?! How, exactly, does one go about cutting & welding the block, then getting the crank and all that plumbing to work together?
    The mind boggles…

    1. Okay, a more real answer:
      You can get a couple cranks, press them apart, and reassemble the components together with as many rods as you want just by putting the pieces in a hydraulic press. The tricky part is getting everything true and properly aligned. Two strokes are pretty easy because the cranks are pressed together with roller bearings and seals between each cylinder. I've rebuilt an S1 crankshaft with new seals, crank bearings and big end bearings because Kawasaki had discontinued the crank assembly. It really wasn't technically hard getting the pieces back together, it's just a bear to get it all within tolerances. Another good thing about multi-cylinder two-strokes is that they have separate heads and cylinders for each cylinder, so the top ends dont' need any parts fabrication; you just have to weld up a wider crankcase. And even that's not so bad. Since gas flow into the cylinder requires properly coordinated crankcase pressure, each lower end has to be a separate chamber, with a crank seal and crankcase wall in between each cylinder. That makes it much easier to cut the cases apart. Again, the only tough part is getting it welded up straight. (And being able to weld aluminum, which is not rocket science but is at least as difficult a skill as the measuring and aligning.) Four strokes are a lot more difficult because they usually one-piece heads and cylinder blocks, and you have the whole valvetrain thing to deal with (welding camshaft halves together, etc), but the idea is the same: cut off one side of one motor, cut off the opposing side of the other motor, cut and file until they match up right, then weld 'er up.
      In the case of Millyard's V8, he shaved the big-end bearings and rod ends down to half their width and put two rods on each crank pin where there was originally one. Then he sleeved the cylinders with liners that had the cylinder bores offset slightly to align with the new rods' centerlines. That wasn't practical with the V12, so he had a machinist make up new rods with a master rod for one bank of cylinders that rotated on the crank pins and had a separate bearing hole away from the crank on one side of the rod. The other bank of six cylinders had sub-rods that used smaller roller bearings that did not attach directly to the crank, but pivoted in this extra bearing location on the corresponding master rod. (This is similar to how a radial aircraft engine's rods are configured).

    1. That didn't involve frankenstein-ing the motor. He didn't chop it apart and add cylinders, he just stuck the whole lump in a frame.

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