When you’ve got a Busa under the bonnet…

Published: 11 August 2000

CARS? Heavy, slow, boring shopping trollies with way too many wheels, in my experience. Ideal for supermarket runs, bad weather and luggage carrying. But for having fun? Forget it unless you’re carrying a particularly fine lady passenger who’s a fan of stopping in laybys late at night.

Bikes? Exhilarating, fast, light, radical, sensational, breathtaking, mind-blowing and the love of our lives.

The distinction is usually so easy to make. It’s much harder when someone starts playing Frankenstein, grafting the heart of one of the most powerful production bikes ever built into a shell that fails to fit the usual unwieldy four-wheel stereotype.

But that’s exactly what car builders Westfield have done with their latest project. They call it the Mega-Busa. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Busa… Busa… Yes, Westfield have taken Suzuki’s 1300cc Hayabusa motor and bolted it sideways into a lightweight trellis chassis with a wheel on each corner.

The results sound pretty impressive. Westfield say the Mega-Busa is the fastest-accelerating car they have ever built. Not only will it out-accelerate and out-corner pretty much every other car on the road or track, but it will also give bikes a good run for their money.

It makes 175bhp at the crank, like the Busa, and tips the scales at just 430kg. OK, that’s twice the weight of the Busa, but by car standards it’s positively anorexic. It’s enough to propel the Mega-Busa from 0-60mph in just 3.5s and its quarter-mile abilities are well into superbike territory.

That kind of performance is a challenge to our most deeply held convictions about the superiority of bikes over cars. So of course we had to try it out. And so we could prove that bikes are indeed better, we came up with the idea of pitting a standard Hayabusa against its four-wheeled cousin to see how they matched up.

Bike-mad Richard Smith, whose family owns Westfield, was glad to oblige. A GSX-R600 rider, he’s the man who came up with the idea to transplant bike engines into cars and was responsible for setting up and testing the vehicles. What he doesn’t know about bike engines and how far you can push them isn’t worth knowing. Just for good measure, he also agreed to let us cane the firm’s earlier bike-powered car, the Mega-Blade, against the 1999 FireBlade.

The showdown was set for Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire. It’s a perfect place for pushing machines to extremes in close to real-world road conditions, with none of the restrictions real roads demand. It has a combination of corners – four fast and two slow – plus a flat-out straight and varying surfaces.

But it wasn’t just going to be a case of lining up the bike and the car and seeing which one crossed the finish line first. To make sure no-one could quibble about the results, we devised a set of cold, hard scientific tests to measure different aspects of performance.

A slalom consisting of eight cones at 40ft intervals would assess handling. Corner speeds would be tested on a fast left-hander and a slower right-hander. Standing start quarter-mile and 0-60mph acceleration would be measured, plus flat-out top speed and braking from 100mph to zero.

As we arrive at Bruntingthorpe, I half expect to see the two vehicles waiting in the car park. But as Richard Smith explains, although they’re both road-legal, with lights, indicators, number plates and vehicle identification numbers, they’re not the kind of thing you’d want to travel very far in. They’re basically track day cars. You could drive reasonable distances in them, but they’re more toys for Sunday afternoons or summer evening head-clearing sessions and a bit of adrenalin-seeking. Sound familiar?

While the purposeful-looking blue Mega-Busa and yellow Mega-Blade are being unloaded from the truck which brought them from Westfield’s base in Dudley, West Midlands, I kit up and take the chance to familiarise myself again with the monstrous Hayabusa and Bruntingthorpe’s nerves-of-steel circuit.

No matter how many times I ride a Busa, I’m always staggered by what it can do. After it’s warmed up I gun it through the gears. The rear tyre spins up through first gear, bounces off the rev-limiter and continues to spin through second gear until it grips and the front wheel comes up. Phew!

Bruntingthorpe’s wide-open circuit, without any nearby points of reference, tends to reduce the sensation of speed. But the Hayabusa still feels incredibly fast. Charging hard up to its maximum power of 10,800rpm, it pins your bum to the back of the seat cowl and gets to an indicated 212mph scarily easily. With my head buried behind the screen I spot the piles of tyres marking the apex to the right-hander at the end of the straight some quarter of a mile ahead. I sit up out of the safety of the screen and brace myself under braking as the wind tries to tear my shoulders back.

The bike bucks and weaves as I pull it hard right into the first turn, trailing the brakes. A quick squirt on the throttle sets it up for the second apex. I stamp down a gear and get on the brakes before peeling in hard right. As the road straightens out, I feed the power in steadily on the overbanding and build the revs in second gear, but the bike gets frisky again as the rear tyre breaks loose.

With a bit more action than I intended on my first lap out, I cruise back to the top end of the straight and park up next to the two cars and the Blade. As the Busa ticks and cools from its short but necessary thrash, Richard talks me through the genesis of the Mega-Busa.

It all started a year ago after Westfield built the Mega-Blade and realised there was a big demand for hard-core track day cars that people could still drive on the road. The buyers wanted more power and more speed, so the Hayabusa engine was the clear choice. Apart from its obvious power, it had proven reliability and was widely available.

Once Westfield had decided on the concept and bought and stripped the first of many brand new Hayabusas, they fitted the engine into a Westfield rolling chassis. The motor bolts directly to the chassis with a lattice frame over the top that’s easily removed if the engine needs to come out. The airbox was junked in place of a foam air filter. Initially, an exhaust system with an Akrapovic bike silencer set up by bike tuners and Hayabusa specialists TTS was fitted to the side of the car. Eventually, the firm made its own exhaust system from scratch. It also offers a louder carbon-fibre can for track days.

To get the engine’s power to the wheels, a spool was machined which bolts on to the gearbox sprocket shaft and connects to a driveshaft. The gearbox linkage was extended to incorporate a gear lever in the conventional car position, but still using the bike’s sequential gearbox.

The starter motor was taken directly from the bike. A limited slip differential from a Sierra Cosworth was put at the back. Fully-adjustable shocks on each corner keep the fat, sticky Yokohama road tyres planted firmly on the Tarmac. As most parts were taken from Westfield’s existing range, the car was put together in just a week, but setting up and fine-tuning it took the best part of a year.

Buying a finished car in just about any colour you choose will set you back £21,000. For extra cash, Westfield will replace the standard bodywork with carbon-fibre parts. It’s also possible to create your own car from a kit. Kits start at £2000, depending on what parts are supplied by Westfield – you can build your own rolling chassis or source your own engine, wheels, seats and the like.

Oh, and insurance only costs around £300 for a 32-year-old – not bad for a machine of this potency. That compares with about £900 that a Hayabusa rider of the same age would have to fork out. But that’s enough background information. Let’s do what we came to do and drive the thing.

Just getting in requires the flexibility of a contortionist. The bucket seats are narrow and your legs slot down into a deep tunnel where the pedals live. You have to put your feet in first, position your arse near the headrest and then slide in. Despite my lanky frame, it gets easier with practice. Once in, the bucket seat grips hard and the four-point harness straps me in securely.

In front of me is a rev counter, a steering wheel and a small digital speedo. There are also various warning lights in the black dash, a few switches for the lights and indicators, and a couple of small mirrors on the side of the bodywork. Apart from that, the cockpit has no creature comforts. You don’t even get the benefit of a windscreen or roof – just a small flyscreen. This is a stripped-out car with one thing on its mind – blowing away anything on the road. It may have four wheels but its soul is pure motorcycle. I think I’ll wear my lid.

I slot the immobiliser key in, flick the power switch and poke the starter button. The starter motor whirrs, just like on the bike, then the engine barks into life. I find the accelerator and pump in some fuel. The motor responds instantly to every stab of the pedal, the sound billowing out of the huge silencer mounted on the left-hand side. It’s a very strange experience. It shouldn’t be surprising that it sounds just like a bike, but it’s hard to get your head round while you’re sitting in a car.

The gear lever may be mounted where it usually is in a car, but the gears are sequential like a bike’s – you move the stick forward for first gear then back all the way through the box. There’s also another small lever for reverse but I shouldn’t need that unless I spin.

I turn the small steering wheel to the right and watch the fat tyres and front carbon-fibre fenders move in the same direction. I lift the handbrake off, ease in the light clutch, bang the lever into first gear and increase the revs. Bleurgh! I’ve stalled it. After a couple of ham-footed attempts it’s off and I ease the gas pedal down, concentrating hard to remember where second and third are.

Even in the mid-range the motor has enough torque to propel it forward at a phenomenal rate. But you ain’t seen nothing yet. Once out of earshot I pull over to the side of the straight, eventually find first gear (it’s much easier on a bike) and give it some more berries.

Wow. I’m thrust back into the seat as the car hurtles forward in a cloud of tyre smoke, climbing the revs faster than the Busa I was riding earlier and barking like only a big-bore bike motor with a loud pipe can. It’s geared for an indicated top speed of 134mph so it accelerates hard. Harder than you thought any car ever could – and that includes Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the like. In fact, dare I say it, the acceleration up to 100mph is faster than plenty of bikes, R1s included. And if you don’t believe that, check the figures in our performance panel – when was the last time you saw an R1 running high nine-second quarter-mile times? Never. The car’s fat tyres see to that, and while the bike might be faster when the two are running, it loses so much on the initla launch in comparison to the car which just digs in and fires away from a standstioll

As I bang through the slick Suzuki gearbox and the revs build to 10,800rpm, the exhaust and induction noise resonates round the cockpit. Thank God I wore my lid. Even with it on, it’s like standing next to the speaker at a Metallica concert. This is one car where you definitely need earplugs. Apart from the deafening racket, it shakes and rattles like a washing machine on spin and the wheels throw up stones and dust directly at your arms and visor.

The exhaust is so loud I’m amazed it’s road-legal. But apparently MoT stations only test car exhausts at 3200rpm – and they don’t realise this one revs to 10,800rpm!

In just over ten seconds the bike – sorry, car – is bouncing off its rev-limiter in top gear and the speedo is flashing up 134mph. I back off down the straight, dropping down to 70mph, then revel in flooring it over and over again in top gear. At 70mph it’s pulling around 6000rpm – enough for the kind of outrageous overtaking manoeuvres you do every day on a bike but are usually impossible on a car. Just stamp the gas pedal and it pulls cleanly back up to flat-out again. All I can think is how much trouble you’d have with one of these on the road if you met it while you were on a bike.

As the end of the straight approaches I blip down the gearbox into third gear and feel the engine braking. It almost doesn’t need brakes so I don’t use them. I just pull it into the apex, run out wide, then turn into the second apex of the right-hander and bang it into second gear. As it turns hard into the corner I can see where the inside front wheels are – in this case just near the edge of the Tarmac. I plant my right foot and the back end fishtails out to the left. I correct it with a bit of opposite lock. It spins back to the right then lets me know who’s boss by firing me into the field. I spin a full 540 degrees on to the smooth grass, hit the brakes then sit there laughing my head off.

This is one four-wheeled vehicle you have to respect. It’s raw in a way only race bikes are. But it feels more like a toy than a bike as you’re unlikely to get hurt. If you treated a bike the same way you’d be looking at an insurance claim and some plaster of Paris.

Back on the Tarmac, I gun it through the box and keep it pinned in fifth gear for the fast left-hander, keeping the throttle on hard as I’m pushed to the outside of the seat and my chest strains against the seatbelt straps.

You can actually feel what the corners of the car are doing and turn it ridiculously hard. Through the next corner – a slower and well-surfaced right-hander – I pitch it in and relish the scream from the tyres as the car slides its way round.

The next corner is just a kink which it can tackle flat-out, then it’s back down a short straight before I’m fighting the harness again as I pull in… then decide to carry on. It’s at least another hour before I finally come to a stop, take off my lid and get out. And I simply cannot stop laughing.

After the performance tests Smith takes the Mega-Busa out for a few laps and I decide to go with him on the Hayabusa. Just for fun.

I ride alongside him. Smith looks across, pulls on to the main straight and winds it up, the car’s side-mounted pipe screaming. He gets it off the line well but then I blitz him, showering him with dust as I cut in front and watch him become a speck in my mirrors. I back off to about 120mph and wait for the car to catch up, then cruise down the straight alongside him.

At the approach to the first bend I pull in front then brake into the first corner. He’s backed off but as I get into the bend he’s right on my case. I blip the throttle and square it up for the second part of the bend. He’s still there. I pick the bike up to get the power down, conscious of the dodgy surface. He’s with me until 100mph but then I’m off up to 150mph. Bye-bye Westfield.

Into the next bend he’s a dot in the distance but catching me fast as I go into the next right-hander and right behind me again as the Hayabusa lays its footrest in to the Tarmac. Again he’s got the advantage getting the power down but this time I’m not letting him catch up. I keep it pinned, flick it through the fast left kink and blast it to an indicated 200mph. I pull in and whip my lid off, making out I’ve been there ages. It’s important to show the superiority of bikes on this occasion.

Although the car runs the bike close, it can’t beat it, except on corner speed. But meeting one of these things on the road would be trouble. It’s a car but not as we know it. And it’s probably the most fun you can have on four wheels.

HERE’S ONE THEY MADE EARLIER

WESTFIELD’S first motorcycle-engined car, the Mega-Blade, is another amazing experience. But it hasn’t got quite enough kick to satisfy bike fans.

It’s mad but not full-on gibbering loony in the same way as the Busa car is. When we tested it against a FireBlade at Bruntingthorpe it ran the bike close but never had the advantage. It would only really come into its own on a very tight road or circuit.

Like the Mega-Busa, the Mega-Blade can be bought in kit form, with a basic kit costing £2299 and a higher spec one costing £2950. Westfield claims you can build one at home in 120 hours. Or you can avoid getting your hands dirty and buy a complete car for £13,999.

IT’S A LOT CLOSER THAN YOU’D THINK

YOU’VE read how good these two very different interpretations of Suzuki’s 1300cc supersports monster are to ride and drive, but which is the winner when it comes to hard performance data?

We decided to find out by devising six tests to assess the two machines’ speed, acceleration, cornering and braking capabilities. Test conditions were dry with a slight sidewind. Rider and driver were both experts. Riding the bike was MCN features editor and former chief road tester Marc Potter. Driving the car was Westfield test driver Richard Smith – a man who spends more time caning Westfields around circuits than anyone else in the land. This is how they fared…

TEST 1: 0-60mph ACCELERATION

WINNER: HAYABUSA

Doing zero to 60mph on the road might not seem like much of an effort, but trying to do it against the clock is fraught with difficulties. Although the bike only needs first gear and the car has to shift to second, it’s much easier to get the car off the line with a minimum of drama. Try too hard on the Busa and it tries to put you in the field as the rear tyre spins through first gear.

TEST 2: STANDING QUARTER-MILE ACCELERATION

WINNER: HAYABUSA

The quarter-mile is similar to the 0-60 – wheelspin on the Hayabusa is a big problem. Although we achieved the fastest ever quarter-mile with a Hayabusa, it didn’t stop spinning until the end of second gear – about 100mph. By then the car’s off through the gearbox, but the Hayabusa catches up with its better acceleration once it grips.

TEST 3: TOP SPEED

WINNER: HAYABUSA

The car was only geared for an indicated 134mph and although it gets there quickly you could hear it hitting the rev-limiter all the way down the strip. The bike was down on its usual top speed due to a strong sidewind, which meant it was leant over down the straight and started weaving around. Still, it’s pretty respectable.

TEST 4: 100-0mph BRAKING

WINNER: MEGA-BUSA

Four wheels + four sticky tyres + four brake calipers = better braking performance. But only just. Where the Hayabusa would chatter its rear tyre as the clutch was let out, try to lock the front tyre once the forks had compressed and leave a bit of smoke from the rear wheel, the Mega-Busa was fairly drama-free except for the front wheels locking slightly.

TEST 5: SLALOM

WINNER: MEGA-BUSA

The slalom – a section of eight road cones spaced 40ft apart – was tight and the car just pipped it. But it was a struggle just to muscle the slow-steering Hayabusa through the course without hitting any cones. The car’s steering is much quicker than the Busa’s – that was proved by the fact that, although it’s more than twice as wide as the bike and therefore had to take a wider line around the cones, it still clocked the fastest time.

TEST 6: CORNER SPEED

Entry speed and mid-corner speed were measured by radar gun at fixed points on a section of track including two corners – a fast approach left-hand turn with a short straight and then a slightly uphill right-hand turn with a fast approach.

WINNER: MEGA-BUSA

Although the Hayabusa just about matched the car through the fast left-hander, it struggled in the tighter right-hand corner. The Hayabusa is great for high-speed cornering stability, with its soft suspension soaking up the bumps and the throttle pinned hard. But in the slower corner, where the Mega-Busa could hang its rear tyres out confidently and use its superior grip, the Hayabusa was scraping its undercarriage and feeling a bit remote mid-corner.

CONCLUSION

IT looks like a draw on paper, with three wins apiece for the bike and car, but, call us biased, we award the overall win to the bike. And this is why...

We expected the car to thrash the bike on cornering and braking simply because with four wheels rather than two and fat tyres it puts so much more rubber on the ground (although bike tyre compounds do tend to be stickier in general than those found on cars). Also, the Westfield’s suspension was set up for hard track day use whereas the bike’s settings were geared more towards all-round road use.

However, the reality was somewhat different. Although the car did win these three tests, it only just edged the bike out by tiny margins in each of them. Essentially, there’s virtually nothing between the two machines in terms of their cornering and braking abilities and with different riders/drivers the results could even have been reversed.

But the same cannot be said of the three tests won by the bike – quarter-mile and 0-60mph acceleration, and top speed. The bike’s weight advantage makes it a clear winner in all three tests. The only time the car got close was on the quarter-mile where, although it had the handicap of more weight to accelerate with the same power, it was able to get a lot more of that power to the ground early in the run thanks to its vastly superior tyre contact patch (and unlike the Hayabusa it doesn’t suffer from wheelies). True, the Mega-Busa was geared for a relatively low top speed, but that’s just one compromise that’s been made in its design to improve its performance in other areas.

So bikes ARE best – although you’d struggle to find a car that comes closer than this to beating the two-wheel experience. And perhaps it’s only right that such a car should rely on a motorcycle to supply its heart.

THE CAR

WESTFIELD MEGA-BUSA

Cost: £21,000

Availability: Westfield: 01384-400077

Deals, offers and bonuses

None, None

Colours: Blue, red, black, yellow, green, orange, whatever…you choose

SPECIFICATION

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 1298cc (81mm x 63mm) 16v dohc four-stroke in-line four. Fuel injection. 6 gears

Chassis: Steel trellis

Front suspension: Independent double wishbone with fully adjustable Spax shocks

Rear suspension: Independent double wishbone with fully adjustable Spax shocks

Tyres: Yokohama AO32R: 205/60 x 13 front and rear

Brakes: Bremsport: 300mm front and rear discs with 4-piston calipers

PERFORMANCE

POWER: 163bhp@9600rpm

TORQUE: 101ftIb@7000rpm

Weight/power-to-weight ratio: 430kg (948lb), 0.38bhp/kg

Standing 1/4-mile time, terminal speed: 9.81s, 108mph

Top speed: 134mph

Wheelbase: 233cm

Average mpg/tank capacity/range: 34mpg, 26 litres, 200 miles