Shoehorning a V8 sized motor inside what is basically a tricked up bicycle frame, has long been a dream of many motorcycle engineers.
Perhaps Guilo Carcano came closest to making something verging on genius with his fabulous Moto Guzzi V8 racer of 1955.
But Aussie Ian Drysdale is a worthy successor to Carcano, in that he wisely side-stepped the US customisers route of slotting a Chevy V8 car engine into an overpowered Harley lookalike. Instead the Drysdale V8 is made up of two Yamaha FZR400 engines melded in metal sculpture, set in a Ducati style trellis chassis; lightweight, rakishly styled and dare we say it, almost practical. In an insane kind of way.
Unlike other V8 powered pipe dream machines, this one actually runs and Roland Brown has ridden it. If you want to play Fantasy Motorcycles of the mind, then read on…
Ian Drysdale presses his bike´s starter button, and suddenly his small workshop is filled with the raw, ripping and totally deafening sound of a V8 engine, blasting out through a labyrinthine exhaust system that ends in a pair of straight-through carbon-fibre cans. The big, bearded Aussie has heard it many times before but he can´t resist a grin, and why not? After all, it´s not everyone who´s built a stunning 750cc V8 sportster in their back-yard workshop.
Later, parked outside in the quiet street in a suburb of Melbourne, the Drysdale V8 looks even more outrageous – so much so that the neighbours´ net curtains must be twitching. The bike´s orange bodywork is conventional and sleek. But the whole bike is dominated by its extraordinary V8 engine, suspended from a tubular steel frame and with its chromed exhaust downpipes curling out in all directions.
Visitors to Drysdale´s workshop have been used to seeing some pretty remarkable creations over the years. After cutting his teeth on the likes of a lawnmower-engined mini-bike and a rear-wheel-steer bicycle (unrideable, he admits) while still at school, Drysdale started his own engineering company. Alongside work for clients as varied as Ford and the Australian Ballet (for whom he converted the Swan Lake swan to radio control), he built a string of innovative bikes, including a pair of two-wheel-drive desert racers.
But it´s with his amazing V8 that Drysdale is taking his biggest step, creating one of the most exotic superbikes to come out of Australia or anywhere else. The 40 year old engineer has long been inspired by Moto Guzzi´s 500cc works V8 grand prix racer of the 1950s. Now he is on the verge of achieving his ambition to design and build a series of roadgoing V8 machines of his own.
Drysdale´s 749cc, watercooled 32-valve V8 has been five years in development, a process started when its creator was asked to design and build an engine for a racing sidecar. The finished bike produces roughly 160bhp, revs to an astonishing 17,000rpm and weighs just 186kg in roadgoing trim. It will cost Aus $60,000 (about £23,000) when it finally reaches production, in very limited numbers, later this year.
The engine was designed by Drysdale himself, and consists of two banks of four cylinders, sitting at 90 degrees apart and fitted with Yamaha FZR400R cylinder heads. Like Yamaha´s R1, the Drysdale combines its cylinder blocks with the upper crankcase half, for added strength. The crankshaft was machined from steel billet and weighs just 5.5kg. The crank and the front pair of standard FZR400R camshafts run forwards, while the rear cams turn backwards.
Drysdale was keen to use as many standard engine parts as possible, to make it easy for owners to obtain spares. Valves and pistons are standard FZR400R, though Ian reshaped the combustion chambers to reduce their volume, so he could regain some of the compression lost when reducing the engine´s stroke from 40.5mm to 38mm. The V8 lump´s combination of short stroke and long conrods keeps its mean piston speed very low, allowing the high rev limit.
Other standard Japanese parts include FZR1000 clutch and oil pump, YZF750 gearbox internals operated by a selector mechanism built from various Yamaha and Kawasaki parts, Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 water pump and ZZ-R250 alternator.
“The bike was designed to be ridden, not stuck on display, so the parts that wear out are from existing bikes,” Drysdale says. “The engine is also easy to work on. Both the cylinder heads, plus the clutch, gearbox, alternator and water pump can be removed with the engine in the frame.”
The frame was also designed and built by Drysdale. It combines a large rear loop, made from oval-section steel tube and running up and round to connect the swing-arm pivots, with side spars built from a Ducati-style ladder of smaller-diameter tube. The modified swing-arm from a ZZ-R1100 operates an Ohlins shock that sits horizontally and sideways in front of the rear wheel, and is worked via a rising-rate mechanism.
Front suspension of this prototype V8 is from Yamaha´s YZF750, as are the wheels and brakes. These will be replaced by aftermarket items, from firms such as Ohlins, Marchesini and Brembo, depending on customer choice, for the production machines.
When I called, the bike was wearing slicks following a racetrack test session, but Drysdale wasted no time in swapping the wheels for a pair wearing Dunlop Sportmax radials.
Sadly, that didn´t mean that I was then able to go blitzing the roads around Melbourne. The bike was not yet homologated for road use, so it was loaded into the back of the Ausdale Engineering ‘ute´ (pick-up truck), and taken to the Motorcycle Motion rider training school across Melbourne, which happens to have a large, flat area of private tarmac ideal for riding motorbikes.
Ideal for riding 12bhp novice bikes, that is, rather than 160bhp superbikes.
At first glance it was clear that if I did manage to get near the V8´s top speed of 170mph plus, that was the speed at which I´d hit the boundary fence almost immediately afterwards. But there was enough space to get a feel for the V8´s straight-line and cornering performance.
The potent orange V8 missile certainly didn´t disappoint, even if I couldn´t hold it flat-out for long.
In the flesh (the one-piece fairing/tank/seat unit will be made from carbon-fibre on production bikes) the bike is smaller than I´d expected. There´s a fair stretch to the clip-on bars, and the tank cover is wide, to clear the rear cylinder head. But the seat is quite low at 800mm, and the wheelbase is a short 1415mm (identical to Aprilia´s RSV Mille).
That and the V8´s light weight meant that at a standstill the bike felt pretty much like a typical modern sports machine, apart from the view of the high-tech digital instrument console. But you sure know this bike is something special when that mighty engine comes to life, burbling out its distinctive V8 sound through those barely-silenced high-level pipes.
The prototype´s twin banks of 32mm Keihin flat-slides weren´t perfectly set-up, partly because Ian is planning to fit a fuel-injection system from Melbourne specialist MoTec. But although the motor crackled and popped a bit at times, and wasn´t totally happy about ticking over, the motor´s midrange response was beautifully crisp.
A blip of throttle sent the tacho needle sweeping across the dial while the exhaust note rose in pitch and volume to a spine-tingling howl.
Although the quad-cam motor was in a fairly high state of tune, its power delivery was stunningly broad, bearing no relation to the peaky standard FZR400R. I could let out the clutch almost straight away and just wind the throttle open, holding the bars tight as the V8 accelerated with a stepless surge of power until, on owner´s instructions, I backed-off a little short of the 17,000rpm limit.
Given more space that 170mph figure might well have been possible, although some hesitation at higher revs confirmed the carburetion´s need for more fine-tuning. Just as impressive as the eight-cylinder engine´s power was its almost eerie smoothness, which encouraged me to rev it hard through the lower ratios of the light, positive six-speed gearbox, and which made the Drysdale feel distinctly different to any other bike I´ve ridden.
It´s a tribute to Drysdale´s engineering and riding skills – he´s a former road-racer as well as motocrosser and flat-tracker – that, having developed this impressive powerplant, he also built a very good chassis to hold it. The exotic V8 doesn´t just have a similar weight and wheelbase to many modern mass-produced sports bikes, it also has very similar steering geometry (24 degrees of rake and 108mm of trail) and a near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
Combined with the YZF750´s proven front suspension and braking set-up, plus the well sorted rear Ohlins with its unusual but effective rising-rate system, the result was excellent handling. Inevitably the V8 didn´t have quite the ultra-sharp feel of the latest super-sports bikes. But its steering was very neutral and precise, and the bike stayed well balanced even in the tight, slow-speed bends of the test area.
Drysdale´s development work at Melbourne´s Calder Park racetrack has confirmed that high-speed stability is also good, and ground clearance hasn´t been a problem even when wearing slicks. My only cornering concern was the possibility of being caught out by the occasionally gritty surface, but the Dunlops coped fine. And when I got too enthusiastic with the throttle and found myself heading for that fence, a squeeze on the six-piston YZF calipers slowed the bike very hard.
My short ride on the amazing Drysdale V8 left me itching to take it for a serious blast on the road, and envious of the handful of customers with the cash needed to buy one. Delivery of the first small batch is now due in July, although Drysdale admits he´s already behind schedule and that the first customer bikes were originally due to have been completed early last year.
Developing a V8 superbike for production, even in very small numbers, is a huge task – as others are also finding out.
At least, while Morbidelli´s exotic 850 V8 project remains on hold and Norton´s much-hyped Nemesis V8 has yet to run even in prototype form, this determined Aussie is close to achieving his ambition.
Drysdale´s first 750 V8 has a few rough edges, but it´s a remarkable bike built by a very talented engineer. And right now, if you want to buy a superbike with a purpose-built V8 engine, the place it´s most likely to originate is neither Italy nor Britain, but a small back-yard workshop in Melbourne.
As well as completing development of his 750cc V8 sports bike, Ian Drysdale will be busy in the next few months developing an even more powerful version with a 1000cc engine.
“That should produce well over 160bhp, using cylinder heads from Yamaha´s 600 Fazer,” Drysdale says. “I´ve already started work on the new motor, which will be fitted to one of the bikes that will be finished in July.”
Drysdale´s V8 range will also be expanded further with a completely new naked model, the Bruiser, powered by a detuned, 120bhp version of the 1000cc engine.
“I have had almost the same request from several people, who say they´re too old to ride a sports bike and can´t justify spending $60,000 on a motorcycle unless they can take their wife on the back,” Drysdale says.
The Bruiser will be a sports cruiser with basically the same mechanical bits as the sports bike, but a comfortable unfaired riding position, dual-seat and slightly lower price.
“The idea with the Bruiser is to out-Max the V-Max,” Drysdale says. “And I´m also planning a more relaxed Cruiser model, which will be very similar but with pull-back handlebars and a new exhaust system with eight mufflers.”
Get a Carole Nash bike insurance policy for your Drysdale V8.
Engine Engine type Liquid-cooled 90-degree V8
Claimed power (bhp)
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Front suspension Inverted telescopic, adjustment for preload
Rear suspension Ohlins damper, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, six-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Double-action caliper, 245mm disc
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax radial
Rear tyre 180/55 x 17in Dunlop Sportmax radial
Rake/trail 24 degrees/108mm (4.25in)
Wheelbase 1415mm (55.7in)
Seat height 800mm (31.5in)
Dry weight 186kg (409lb)
Fuel capacity 18 litres (4.7 US gals)
Current price $60,000 (aus)