The division between motorcycles and automobiles is so profound that their engines effectively cannot be swapped using off-the-shelf parts. Instead, many hours of complicated fabrication are required to fit a motorcycle engine in a car.
Not too many were interested in the reverse side of this conversion, but it usually involves installing a big V8 or another type of car engine with a chassis and making everything work around it. Motorcycle engines are entirely different in character than those used by automobiles.
Most of the engines found on bikes can rev to astronomic figures, and their output per liter is just stunning. However, the torque provided by most motorcycle engines is not impressive when compared to a regular car.
This story focuses on the coolest cars ever made with a motorcycle engine, but with a twist — we selected the five most important from the list of "cool" ones.
We are referring to the vehicles that made an impact on the industry, established automakers, and simply made their mark on the world.1) Iso Isetta and BMW 600
The Italians at Iso used to make motorized scooters, refrigerators, and three-wheeled trucks. Back in the early 1950s, the owner of the company decided to introduce a line of small cars.
The Isetta was born, and it had a 200-cubic centimeter engines from the Iso Moto 200. The title signifies “little Iso” in Italian, and the thing caught on faster that one might expect.
As you can see, the passengers entered the vehicle through the front, which had a door that was opened with a refrigerator-like handle to save costs. The first version was able to reach 47 mph, which is astronomical for something this small with just 9.5 HP from a two-stroke single cylinder.
Eventually, Iso sold the license of the Isetta to other automakers, including BMW. The Germans bought the complete body tooling for the Isetta, and they redesigned the vehicle with their version of a motorcycle engine. It kept getting upgraded until it became the BMW 600, a four-wheel, four-door, four-seat “bubble car.”
BMW’s version of the first Isetta was reengineered to such a degree that none of the panels of the original models can be switched with those of a BMW, and the same goes for the parts.
This model is important because it brought cash for BMW at a time of need. The company respects its legacy because the Isetta and the subsequent BMW 700 are credited for saving it from bankruptcy.2) Honda N600
We all know Honda today as the maker of the Civic, Accord, CRX, and a successful line of motorcycles and scooters. Back in the day, Honda was more known for its motorcycles than its cars, but this changed with the Honda N600. It was an evolution of a kei car that was sold in other markets, including the USA and Europe.
At first, this does not appear like a big deal, but the N600 was a car that came with an inline two cylinder 600 cubic centimeter engine derived from the Honda CB450 motorcycle, which happens to be the first Honda automobile ever sold officially in the United States of America. The motorcycle-derived engine that was adapted for water cooling could reach 9,000 rpm and drive at a speed of up to 81 mph (130 km/h).
In 1972, three years after its introduction on the American market, Honda replaced the N600 with the first-ever Civic. Last month, Honda revealed the tenth generation of the Civic model, so we hope that you now understand why this motorcycle-engined car is so relevant.3) Cooper 500
You have all heard about the Mini Cooper, and you all can list a few British race car drivers without struggling too much. At this point, you must be wondering what could link the two elements together, and the answer is the Cooper 500. While not a production road car, it was a Formula 3 racing car that was powered by a motorcycle engine.
It was developed and built by the Cooper Car Company from Surrey. The engine of choice was a 500-cubic centimeter single-cylinder JAP motorcycle engine. JAP stands for J.A. Prestwich, and the unit was also used by the Morgan Motor Company, Reliant, and a few other automakers.
However, the Cooper 500 changed the face of motorsport as we know it because it had a mid-mounted engine, fitted right behind the driver. The technical solution was chosen to suit the chain drive of the motorcycle engine and its associated transmission.
Cooper cars dominated the F3 category in their prime, and Jack Brabham’s 1959 win of the Formula One World Championship in 1959, which was repeated in the 1960 season, has led to cementing this engine configuration for the sport.
Among the famous drivers that were launched in Cooper cars are Stirling Moss, Ken Tyrrell, Bernie Ecclestone (that Bernie, yes), and evidently Jack Brabham. 4) BMW i3 REx
BMW offers the i3 in two flavors – EV and range-extender electric vehicle. While the former is a pure electric car, the latter is a vehicle that employs a motorcycle engine as a generator.
BMW remembered its roots with small cars with motorbike engines with the i3 REx, but the secret is that the German brand did not have an internal combustion unit as small as the one it fitted as a generator on the i3 REx.
Therefore, the i3 REx comes with a 650cc engine that BMW also sells in the C650 GT. The unit has not been taken directly from the maxi-scooter, as it has been modified and optimized for its new purpose. Its output has dropped from 65 to 34 HP, but that is not an issue because it does not drive the wheels.
Its fuel tank has a capacity of just 2.4 gallons, and the power plant runs on gas. The idea behind using an internal combustion engine as a generator for an electric vehicle is not the most eco-friendly thing in the world, but it does bring confidence to users that might have experienced range anxiety. The i3 REx is important because it is a new design that integrates a motorcycle engine in an automobile.5) Morgan 3-Wheeler
This model has not changed that much, but it is the first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about a car with a motorcycle engine. Other names come after, as do memories of watching videos of Smart ForTwo models with Hayabusa engines.
However, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is not about outright performance. It is something for those that enjoy driving something with an open cockpit. It comes with a V-twin engine so that the sound will be superb. Bonus touches include wire wheels, which add an extra bit of flair to the mix.
Morgan assembles all of its cars by hand, and you have to wait about six months to get one after you order it. The line used to be even longer, but modern technology has sped up a few processes in the line.
This model is important to the industry because it continues the legacy started by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan’s first vehicle, built in 1909 and fitted with a motorcycle engine. Also, it looks and sounds incredibly cool.