At first examination, there seems to be an incompatibility between a stock car and a motorcycle engine. Motorcycle power in a bodied race car? As strange as it seems, you might be surprised how common it's become in the past 10 years. Granted, we're not talking about a full-size machine here, but the models that use this power have authentic race car looks.
The engines used are mostly Kawasaki and Yamaha with 600cc-1,300cc displacements, depending on the type of vehicle used. A common assumption with these beginning classes is that there is not enough power for wheel-to-wheel competition. Yet with capabilities up to 135 hp, and vehicle weights in the 1,000-pound category, these mini-racers are real movers.
Powertrains for these types of bike-powered mini-racers are of two distinct configurations. First there is the long-standing chaindrive setup; others use a standard automotive driveline arrangement. There are also a number of mini-open-wheel vehicles that have been around for several years, but we won't examine those here. The winged Mini-Sprints and the more recent Kenyon Midgets have both used motorcycle power with excellent results.
The concentration here, however, will be on six different motorcycle-powered full-body race machines-Dwarf cars, Legend cars, Baby Grand cars, Pro Challenge cars, Challenger Dirt Late Models, and Thunder Roadster race cars.
Each is unique in its own way, offering race experience to all ages, male and female, at amazingly economical prices. As all these models have suspension systems, racers actually get to learn how to set up a race car. Not all of these cars are available across the country, though several of them have almost nationwide distribution. All carry significant safety equipment.
Here's a look at each of these motorcycle-powered race cars. One might be exactly what you're looking for:
Dwarf CarsDwarf cars are popular across much of the country. Stepping back in time for their body designs, these 51/48-scale models are based on '28-'48 vintage American models, in coupe, sedan, and even pickup truck styles. Often confused with Legend cars, these models are more of a modified style with the front and rear fenders omitted. The cars have sheetmetal bodies, use a steel-tube frame with a sturdy rollcage, and run on short oval tracks.
With an automotive-style powertrain arrangement, the three most popular motorcycle engines used are Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Honda. They range in size from 1,000 cc-1,250 cc. The engines are both air- and water-cooled, burning both alcohol and gasoline. They also use five- or six-speed motorcycle transmissions and a modified Toyota-type rearend.
The 1,000-pound Dwarfs use 13-inch tires and compete on one-fifth- to three-eighth-mile tracks. Handling is excellent with coilover shocks on all four corners. With only slight changes, the Dwarf cars can be modified for dirt or pavement.
A new car, minus the engine, can be acquired for $6,500 and up. But a used roller can be acquired for $3,000-$5,000. New engines cost in the $2,000-$3,000 range, while used engines can be bought for one-third to one-half that of a new engine.
Legend CarsLike the Dwarf cars, the motorcycle-powered Legend cars have a '30s and '40s aura, also with 51/48-scale designs. The major difference between the two body styles is that the Legend cars have the total factory appearance with the stock-style fenders. The Legends also have more of a modern twist with full fiberglass bodies.
The cars, which began competition in 1992, sport a 73-inch wheelbase, a 46-inch height, and weigh in at 1,080 pounds-1,300 pounds post-race with driver. The engine used is a sealed 1,250cc Yamaha motorcycle powerplant capable of 132 hp. Available body styles are '37 Ford, Chevy, and Dodge sedans, along with '34 Ford, Chevy, and Dodge coupes. The Legends use 13-inch tires and a four coilover shock suspension system. Over 4,300 cars have been produced to date. Turnkey Legend cars list for $14,995, but are currently $11,500 with a rebate.
The only builder of Legend cars is 600 Racing Inc., which also sponsors national racing programs in oval, dirt, and road course competition. There are Semi-Pro, Masters, and Pro classes for various ages and levels of competition. Competition has taken place in the United States, Canada, and Europe. A number of second- and third-generation NASCAR drivers have competed in these cars.
Baby Grand CarsThe Baby Grands are motorcycle-powered 21/43-scale cars that are downsized versions of Nextel Cup cars. They are currently available in both Chevy and Ford body styles and have most of the same safety features of the full-size race cars. Included are a five-point safety harness and an aluminum racing seat. Also, the sturdy, integral rollcage is constructed of 111/42x0.095-inch tubing.
Other features of the 1,250-pound car include a one-piece fiberglass body, full aluminum interior, quick-release steering wheel, a five-speed shifter, and 13-inch tires. The working hood and decklid make it possible to have easy access to most components of the car. For more serious repairs, the entire body can be lifted off. Speeds of up to 140 mph are possible.
The Yamaha 1,250cc powerplant is capable of producing 120-125 hp. Technology is everywhere in these little movers, including a Winters quick-change rearend.
The Baby Grand cars are designed with first-time racers, as well as veteran drivers, in mind. The small size of the cars makes them easy for one-person loading. A small flatbed trailer works just fine for this application and can be easily stored in a small area.
The cars are raced in many parts of the country, on both road courses and ovals-but only on pavement, at least to date. Almost 300 Baby Grand cars had been built by the end of 2003.
As of 2004, the Baby Grands are now a new Pro Division of the MMRA racing association, the top class of a program that starts with quarter midgets. MMRA's Pete Neimeier explained that the MMRA program is designed to have drivers ready to move up to the next step, a full-bodied stock car with a series such as ASA or Hooters ProCup.
Pro Challenge Race CarsAnother motorcycle-powered series is the Pro Challenge Race Car Series, which uses a sealed spec 1,199cc Kawasaki engine capable of about 150 hp at 11,600 rpm.
The cars, which resemble NASCAR Nextel Cup cars, come in Monte Carlo, Taurus, Grand Prix, and Intrepid body styles, along with Chevy and Ford truck models. A complete turnkey car lists at $19,995 base price and weighs 1,525 pounds with the driver.
With a wheelbase of 90 inches, 13-inch tires, and a high-tech coilover suspension system, including a three-link rear system, these front-engine cars are first class racing machines. Even the brake system is high-tech, including an adjustable brake bias system with steel braided lines to the wheels and a gas sampling hose. These cars carry an automotive-type powertrain with a Toyota Celica or Winters quick-change rearend.
This series has run since 2000, with about 150 cars built and raced on both road courses and ovals. With distributors in several states, the fiberglass-bodied Pro Challenge cars have run in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and Ontario, Canada.
Challenger Dirt Late ModelsConsidering the huge interest in national Dirt Late Model racing, it's not surprising that a miniature version of the model would make its appearance. And that has happened with the DRT Race Cars' Challenger car. This 31/44 version of a real Dirt Late Model looks and drives just like the real item.
With a wheelbase of 83 inches and a 1,050-pound, ready-to-race weight, the car is highly responsive and fast. If this seems like the real thing, that's because the chassis and body are manufactured through GRT, a respected full-size Dirt Late Model producer. GRT produces the suspension parts and accomplishes the actual car assembly.
It's possible to buy a chassis with bumpers and mounts for $2,450, and a complete turnkey car can be bought for a reasonable $14,750.
There is no spec engine specified for this series-any stock four-cycle motorcycle engine from 600 cc-1,200 cc is legal-but a 750cc engine is included in the turnkey version. The powertrain is chain-driven.
You're not going to believe the suspension system on the Challenger design. There is a fully adjustable four-bar system with an adjustable panhard bar, along with upper and lower control arms. Additionally, it has caster and camber wheel adjustment capabilities and rack-and-pinion steering.
Presently, the body, which is fabricated completely of 0.040-inch aluminum, is available only in the Monte Carlo style.
The Challenger cars are currently in the formative stage with only exhibitions in 2003. Challenger officials, however, indicate that there will be enough cars to carry out some racing this season in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee
Thunder Roadster CarsReverting back to the past like the Legend and Dwarf cars, the Thunder Roadsters are exclusively from 600 Racing Inc., and step back to an earlier design of open-wheel racer.
The tires are not covered with fenders, but are not completely exposed either, for they are mostly constrained within the outer confines of the molded fiberglass body. There is also a GP Thunder Roadster version for SCCA road racing, which carries full fenders.
The sealed Yamaha 1,250cc Blitz engine, equipped with a fan and a remote oil filter, is the required powerplant for this class.
With a wheelbase of 96 inches and a much higher weight than the other motorcycle engine powered designs, these cars weigh in at 1,500 pounds, including the driver. Also, the 15-inch tires are 2 inches larger in diameter than the other car designs. They are stopped by four-wheel disc brakes.
Suspension is coilover independent on the frontend and straight coilover on the rearend. On the front, there are double A-arms with adjustable Bilstein shocks. There are also rear trailing arms and a roll-adjusting panhard bar. These sophisticated machines are priced at $14,995, with the GP versions costing $1,000 more.