Inside Story of the Becker V8 Custom Motorcycle [1937 Ford Flathead]
Talk to any die-hard motorcycle collector, and they’ll tell you that a motorcycle’s value and interest increases dramatically when it’s completely stock. Interest increases even more when the builder is a genuine original. Such is the case with the hand-built 990-pound custom cruiser created by Bill Becker of Boscobel, Wisconsin. Becker is an affable, soft-spoken guy who works with his hands in his profession, as well as his hobby – fixing and building almost anything you want to name. Motorcycles are a key focus area, Indian motorcycles in particular.
When I first met him, Becker told me he had always admired the original Indian Four motorcycles. He wanted one in the worst possible way, but the cost still put them out of reach. But where there’s a will, there’s a way: “I decided to build myself something that would be about as good,” says Becker. What he built was a custom powered by a 1937 Ford 221ci flathead V8. Becker says the old engine was rated at 87 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and 122 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. , which gave it stunning low-end power, while still getting around 25 mpg.
The exhaust system uses the standard headers feeding a single straight pipe on each side, ending in a chrome shark tail. Despite the lack of a silencer, the sound is surprisingly smooth, subdued and discreet. Amazingly, Becker did the design/build without any drawings, not even a schematic! He says he basically started with the engine and transmission dimensions and built from there. This includes a 1 inch OD, ¾ inch ID fully hand bent double cradle hardtail frame DOM mild steel tubing. Yes, it was bent by hand using a hand bender and all the strength he and another guy could muster! each end. This assembly is anchored to the engine block, so that the engine is a stressed element. Behind the transmission, the chassis leads to a rigid rear part. The front fork, alloy wheels and triple disc brakes are Honda Gold Wing transplants.
The chassis layout results in a 78-inch wheelbase, an overall length of nine feet, excellent mass centralization, a low center of gravity and an exceptionally low seat height of 23 inches. For the transmission, Becker adapted a hydraulically actuated clutch pack and torque converter from a Chrysler A470 transmission – used on K cars and minivans – to a Honda Gold Wing 1500 shaft final drive. With a 2.83:1 final drive ratio in high gear, calculated top speed is around 115 mph. Becker says the engine only revs at 1800 rpm at highway cruising speeds.
Even the fuel tank required original thinking. A Yamaha XS1100 fuel tank was stretched six inches, and Becker created a large tunnel under the tank for the stock Ford intake manifold. A custom 90-degree adapter allowed the 2-1/16-inch S&S Super G carburetor to be mounted under the tank, facing forward. Under the tank are also the air filter and alternator, which mount directly to the front of the engine.
Despite its length and width, the tank only holds 3.5 gallons, giving the V8 a range of just about 87.5 miles before hitchhiking begins. The ignition system is also something original. A mechanical distributor sits at the front of the engine behind the radiator and fan, while ignition is timed from a small belt drive Chevy HEI unit under the left head pipe. The front distributor has points that can be used if there is a problem with the belt driven HEI. For a motorcyclist, the first thought about a V8-powered motorcycle is usually extreme performance; in the case of Bill Becker’s custom V8, it’s extreme originality!