7 Bikes that share their name with Aircraft
Great plane names helped this mixed bag of bikes get off the ground.
Suzuki Hayabusa (1999-present)
Billed as the fastest motorcycle ever to come from Japan, and actually, it probably was. It’s all a bit academic now that there’s a gentlemen’s agreement between the Japanese manufacturers to limit top speeds to 300kph (186mph), but with a little bit of tweaking and in the right conditions, the original unrestricted one could indeed get to 200mph.
A bike with utterly remorseless shove, and an agility that belies its appearance. You’d be surprised how easily a Busa rolls into corners. Superb aerodynamics make it comfy at speed and you can cover great distances very, very quickly. A Hayabusa is a Japanese peregrine falcon, by the way, and it eats blackbirds.
The aircraft The Nakajima Hayabusa was a radial-engined WW2 single-seat fighter. It looked very like a Zero, and was basically an improvement on that classic design. It was responsible for downing more Allied aircraft than any other Japanese fighter.
BSA Spitfire (1966)
Tuned version of BSA’s long-lived 650cc vertical twin. High-compression pistons and new carbs gave it 54bhp, which was enough for about 115mph: fast indeed in 1966. That said, it was happier cruising at 70mph. Beautifully styled, with a flip-up seat tail and large plunging side panels.
The aircraft Justifiably cited as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, aircraft of all time. The Supermarine Spitfire is the most beautiful killing machine ever created.
Moto Morini Camel (1981-87)
Only the Italians would try to make a desert adventure bike from a 500cc sports machine. Morini’s 72° pushrod V-twin engine is a legend: compact, neat, revvy and very economical. It’s just that you wouldn’t really choose a slightly temperamental Italian thoroughbred to get you across the desert to Tamanrasset. Today, they’re still fun and easy to maintain, the biggest problem area is the unique Morini transducer ignition system, which can and does fail, but aftermarket replacement kits are made.
The aircraft The Sopwith Camel was not the best British fighter of WW1, but certainly the most famous. It was insanely manoeuvrable, and it was a Camel that helped despatch Baron von Richthofen. Oh, and Snoopy also flew one, of course.
Triumph X75 Hurricane (1973)
Meriden took their Trident, which was being rapidly outclassed by Honda’s original CB750 Four, and asked Craig Vetter to create a custom version. He came up with one of the greatest factory specials ever. The timeless styling still looks good today; Vetter tilted the engine forwards a bit, built a one-piece tank/seat unit, and topped it off with all three silencers down one side, a styling trick that’s been copied by just about everyone since. They could have sold thousands, but they only made about 1200, ceasing production when the bike failed to meet new US noise regs.
The aircraft The Hawker Hurricane shot down more aircraft in the Battle of Britain than the Spitfire. A less advanced design, but very rugged. Even the Russians flew them.
Royal Enfield Meteor 700 (1953)
Unusual construction meant the Meteor had two separate barrels mounted on a bottom end that was pretty much pinched from the 500 single, albeit judiciously strengthened. It was no fireball (100mph was just attainable on a good day), but was supremely flexible.
The aircraft The Gloster Meteor was Britain’s first jet fighter, and shot down doodlebugs during WW2. It set a number of impressive speed records after the war.
Velocette Venom (1955)
Classic British 500 single, and remarkably robust. Won an award for averaging over 100mph for 24 hours at the old Montlhéry circuit. Few British bikes could do that back then, and it’s hard to think of any big singles that could do it today. Still campaigned successfully in classic racing.
The aircraft The de Havilland Venom was a development of its earlier Vampire single-seat jet fighter. Unusual for its mainly wooden construction.
Vincent Comet (1935)
More or less Vincent’s immortal Series C Black Shadow 1000cc V-twin, with one cylinder knocked off. It used the same incredibly ahead-of-its-time frame, forks, quickly detachable wheels and cantilever rear suspension. It also had the same compression ratio and carb, so it produced 28bhp and was quite quick.
The aircraft The world’s first jet airliner, built under military-style secrecy by de Havilland and unveiled to an astonished world in 1949.
Words: Neil Murray