Motorcycles

What Has 48 Cylinders, 2 Wheels, and 1 World Record? This Motorcycle

by Kyle Smith
12 March 2024 2 min read
What Has 48 Cylinders, 2 Wheels, and 1 World Record? This Motorcycle
Photos: Bonhams

World records can be wild feats of courage, exhibitions of mental fortitude, or the outcome of years of patient practise. They can also be a person concussing themselves by breaking open 49 watermelons with their head. Or marvels of engineering that carefully coordinate the movement of 48 pistons into a functional machine. Both the melon mashing and the multitudinous-piston motivation are real world records, and one of them can be yours if you play your cards right – no head slamming required.

This 48-cylinder creation – the official record for vehicle engine with the most cylinders – is the manifestation of Briton Simon Whitelock and is an exercise in solving problems to build the absurd. The project started in 1999 and seems to have been constructed in your typical British workshop, which is to say a small shed packed full of stuff. Whitelock has posted videos of the build on a YouTube channel, and they are fascinating to watch.

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48 Cylinder Whitelock motorcycle engine closeup
48 Cylinder Whitelock motorcycle engine closeup

Sixteen Kawasaki KH250 bikes, which were three-cylinder affairs, contributed their engines to this build. The original cases were cut to remove the transmissions and then welded together, forming inline-eight engines that were then stacked and lined up using large aluminium plates at either end. With three inline-eight two-stroke engines on each side, the rear mounting plate aligns the engines so they could be linked with a gear drive that feeds into a BMW K1000 transmission, and subsequently to a shaft drive to power the rear wheel.

The front end is sourced from a Honda Goldwing, and the frame is more or less built around the engine. What looks like the fuel tank on top is actually a cover for the ignition and throttle cables, while a cylindrical aluminium petrol tank is tucked down the centre of the engine. A small fuel pump pushes fuel up to six carburettors that are mounted on manifolds at the front of the engine. Alongside the carbs sit the ignition systems, which are a mix of car and motorcycle parts.

The whole thing is a bit absurd, but we couldn’t help but be amazed when the massive engine – by our math it displaces 4200cc – fires to life. There is no way a human being with human legs is going to kick start such a beast, and an electric starter might not have the oomph to keep the engine turning while the cylinders begin to fire.

That’s why Whitelock employed a donkey engine – a smaller second engine solely assigned to getting the six crankshafts spinning. A two-stroke mill pulled from a scooter, it’s linked to the output shaft by a one-way clutch and uses a slight gear reduction to get everything up to speed before it is shut off. The factory throttle tube’s choke lever has been repurposed to be a throttle for the donkey engine so the handlebars are still fairly tidy considering the complications happening behind it.

48 Cylinder Whitelock motorcycle handlebars

And yes, it does ride under its own power. In reality, though, running it for longer periods of time is likely a fool’s errand, as cooling all the cylinders appropriately would take even more engineering prowess than this build has already exhibited. Regardless, if you find this 48-cylinder wonder as intriguing as we do, you can raise a paddle and bid (its estimate is £40K–£60K) to make it yours late next month at the Bonhams Spring Stafford sale.

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