7 bikes that didn’t make it
ll seven of these were ditched before they went into production. Neil Murray finds out why
1. Norton Cosworth Challenge (1973)
A classic Brit bike screw-up. In 1973 Norton desperately needed a new engine and the idea was to take Cosworth’s excellent DFV V8 Formula One race car engine, chop off two cylinders, and make a water-cooled 750cc 65-70bhp parallel-twin with potential for 100bhp in race trim. Norton’s bastardisation of the original concept (they insisted it had a 360° crank and that meant it needed balancer shafts) wrecked its prospects, and the firm didn’t have the money to make it work.
Were they right to can it? Yes, once they’d cocked it up.
2. Ducati Apollo (1962)
Born in 1962 out of the US Ducati importer’s belief that Ducati could make a big bike to sell to American police forces. It had to conform to police requirements (which included 16in wheels) and be bigger than any Harley, so they decided to make a 1260cc V4. It weighed 270kg, developed 100bhp, and relied on single leading shoe drums at each end to slow it down a little. The tyres of the time were totally inadequate and disintegrated, so the engine was detuned to 85bhp and finally 65bhp. So it was now slower and more cumbersome than any Harley, never mind British twins. The Italian government refused to grant funds for tooling to produce the thing, and that was that. Only two prototypes were built, and one of those (painted gold for a presentation ceremony in the US) has vanished without trace.
Were they right to can it? Is the Pope Catholic?
3. Suzuki Stratosphere (2005)
Unveiled in late 2005, this boasted a six-cylinder 24-valve engine that hung from the front of the frame exactly like Honda’s iconic CBX. But at 180bhp it was nearly twice as powerful as the CBX. Styling was reminiscent of the fabulous Katana 1000/1100, and included built-in satnav, electrically adjustable windscreen, selectable auto and manual transmission, LED headlights and even panniers. In 2007 Suzuki confirmed that the Stratosphere would be put into production, but it never made it and nobody knows why.
Were they right to can it? No. That engine could have powered a whole new generation of Suzukis. Instead, Suzuki are lumbering on with various derivatives of the ageing GSX-R motor.
4. Yamaha GL750 (1971)
Shown at the Tokyo show in 1971, a two-stroke transverse four with fuel injection that was being developed for snowmobiles. Clocks, suspension, and brakes were robbed from the TX750 four-stroke twin. Trouble was, in 1973 the Yom Kippur War generated a fuel crisis, and the US started legislating against two-strokes.
Were they right to can it? Sadly, yes. Five years later there were no strokers larger than 400cc in production.
5. Triumph Bandit/BSA Fury 350 (1971)
A final attempt in 1971 by the old British industry to beat the Japanese at their own game: a 350cc DOHC twin, with (optional) electric start and a five-speed gearbox. Unfortunately, the first versions were hideously fragile, with four major blow-ups in just 5400 miles of testing. BSA-Triumph, as it was then, totally missed the 1972 US selling season.
Were they right to can it? They had no choice, the bikes simply were not ready.
6. Moto Morini 500 Turbo (1981)
The idea of a minnow like Morini producing a turbo bike seemed ridiculous, but they revealed a pre-production model at the Milan show in late 1981. The plumbing looked insanely complicated, and having to buy an off-the-shelf turbo from IHI and then cope with the uneven firing intervals of a vee without huge investment in electronics probably means it ran like a dog.
Were they right to can it? Oh yes. A dead end for a failing company.
7. Triumph Hurricane (2004)
This was intended to be Triumph’s Hayabusa-beater and the world’s fastest motorcycle. MCN spotted the 1275cc bike outside the Hinckley factory in September 2003 and it looked ready for launch. However, by October Triumph had canned the project after allegedly spending £4 million on it. They wouldn’t sell enough to make it profitable.
Were they right to can it? Probably. It could have sparked another power race, and Triumph would have lost in the end.
Words: Neil Murray