More than 60-years-ago, the skies over European and Pacific battlefields thundered to the bellow of thousands of engines in bombers, fighters and transport aircraft. During the Second World War, the development of piston aero engines reached its zenith with air-cooled 18-cylinder radials, liquid-cooled V-12s, even X- and H-block configured 24-cylinder monsters. Various configurations include overhead cams, 4-valves per cylinder, Super or Turbo charging, Methanol or Nitrous Oxide injection, and all with lots of displacement; in some cases, up to 55 litres (3,350 cubic inches). Some of the more athletic versions belting out something north of 3,000 horsepower. Stuff to make any Gearhead’s pulse quicken.
Enter Ian Douglas of Richmond, BC, one of those self confessed Gearheads. Ian has been into things mechanical for most of his life, starting with a mini bike at the tender age of six, tearing apart his first engine at eight, and then the gift of an oxy-acetylene torch at twelve-years-old cemented his path as a chronic tinkerer and builder. Soon after that, cars got into his blood and a succession of hotrodded Hemis, Trans-Ams, ‘Cudas and even a Lotus powered Anglia followed.
Motorcycling stayed close to Ian’s heart though with several custom builds (one a show winner), but eventually his other burning interest in old aircraft, in particular the radial aero engine just had to occupy the same space as his road going love.
Looking at the pictures, you notice something isn’t quite right with this bike. Oh, it is gracefully styled, but one can hardly stop looking at that heavily finned, great lump of an engine cradled in the scratch-built hardtail frame. So what’s up? Ian finally ended up combining those previously mentioned loves and the Warbird you see on these pages was born.
We have seen something sort of like this in concept recently with custom builders installing whole small displacement 7-cylinder radial engines in bike frames, but while impressive to look at, hardly practical. Ian’s approach was to build a bike using styling cues from boardtrack racers of the early 1900s, and then fill it with 3.1 litres (191cu in) of displacement in a 45-degree V-Twin configuration. The cylinders, heads and pistons are from a 30s vintage Continental R670 radial aero engine, sourced from the folks at Radial Engines Limited of Guthrie, Oklahoma. But where would one find a block to mount these monstrous cylinders to, which were never intended for use in a lithe motorcycle? Ian is quick to credit his high school shop teacher’s early guidance, but relying on his considerable self-taught metalworking and mechanical skill, Ian designed patterns for the engine cases. He then turned to a sympathetic local foundry, Obco Foundries in Richmond, BC, to do the actual casting. While Ian has cast smaller pieces in the comfort of his garden shed in the past, Obco’s experience in alloy technology and heat-treating were necessary to create an accurate and reliable engine block.
You read that right, other than Obco’s contribution, the bike you see in these pages was mostly conceived and built in Ian’s garden shed. Not some bucks up shop with every high tech computerized tool available, but a guy with an idea, a lot of skill and tools that would have been at home in a fabrication shop of the ‘30s.
Ian is rightly proud of his work totaling roughly 2000 hours, including time spent building the frame, gas and oil tanks as well as many other pieces and components, but he points out that the engine is the star of this show. New challenges were plentiful in designing the engine. Getting the four camshafts to mesh and work in order took all the skill and patience Ian could muster. Thinking 3 or 4 steps ahead for the placement of components was mandatory to avoid time and dollar wasting errors.
The roll out for the Warbird was at the Gastown Motorcycle Show in Vancouver this past August where it won ‘Best Engineering in Show’. While Ian felt going in that his creation would mainly twig the interest of fellow Gearheads, he was pleasantly surprised that young, old, male and female were drawn to it with mouths agape and cameras snapping.
While the Warbird was built strictly for Ian’s own amusement, interested parties informed him that they had a number of well-heeled customers (who in many cases own actual flying WWII warbirds) ready to part with the money to get a Warbird of their own.
Despite the fact that Ian owns a successful high tech clothing business in Vancouver called Specialties West, he is entertaining this potential business opportunity. Keeping many irons in the fire, he is also delving into technology from the past (torpedo technology in particular) and is planning to build an ultra efficient, compact power plant that is a compressed air/fuel injected hybrid that utilizes exhaust heat recovery. Initial estimates show that this project is capable of 1000 horsepower from a displacement of just 2-litres when the efficiency part of the equation is less of a concern.
Expect to hear more from Ian Douglas – just one question though, when do you sleep Ian? MMM
Owner: Ian Douglas
Make: Special Construction
Model: Aero / Boardtrack
Builder: Ian Douglas
Time to build: Two Years
Name of bike: Warbird
Displacement: 191 Cubic Inch (3130cc)
Bore and Stroke: 5.125″ x 4.625″
Heads: Continental Radial
Lower End: Highly modified S&S Stroker racing flywheels
Pinion and Sprocket Shaft: Douglas
Connecting Rods: Douglas
Pistons: Continental Aero
Pushrods: Smith Brothers
Carburetor: Twin S&S ‘E’
Air Cleaner: 4-inch Velocity Stacks
Ignition: Twin Coil, Battery, Points
Exhaust: Douglas / Stainless
Year: 2007 Builder: Roadmax
Type: 5-Speed Clutch: H-D
Primary Drive: Douglas
Year: 2008 Builder: Douglas
Type: Twin Downtube Hardtail
Rake: 32 Degree
Year: 2007 Builder: DNA
Painter: George Kanavaros
Chroming: Dependable Chrome
Nose Art: Jennie Persak
Front Size: 21 x 2.15, 80 Spoke
Tire Make/Size: Avon Venom x 80/90
Rear Size: 21 x 3.25, 80 Spoke
Tire Make/Size: Avon Venom x 120/70
Calipers: Differential Bore Brembo
Mounting Hardware: Douglas
Rotors: Blanks modified and drilled by Douglas
Gas Tank: Douglas/Custom Chrome
Oil Tank: Douglas
Fenders: Douglas/Cycle Jammer
Headlight: Alloy Art
Taillight: Model ‘A’ Ford – Brass
A very special thanks to:
Radial Engines Limited from Guthrie, Oklahoma who prepared the cylinders and provided all the aero parts.
OBCO Foundries in Richmond, BC went out of their way to cast Douglas’ patterns.