Becker V8 Custom Motorcycle Inside Story [1937 Ford Flathead]

Builder Bill Becker pauses while on a ride along the Wisconsin River.

Talk to any hard-core motorcycle collectors, and they’ll tell you that a bike’s value and interest go way up when it’s all original. Interest increases even more when the builder is a true 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 sort of guy who works with his hands in his profession, as well as his hobby—fixing and building nearly anything you care to name. Motorcycles are a key area of interest—Indian motorcycles, in particular.

Despite its sheer size, Becker’s custom has a surprisingly sleek and well-proportioned look.

When I first met him, Becker told me that he always admired the original Indian Four motorcycles. He wanted one in the worst way, but the cost always put them out of reach. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way, “I decided I’d build myself something that would be about as good,” Becker explains.

What he came up with may be better—four cylinders better, in fact. 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 3500 rpm and 122 ft-lbs of torque at 2000 rpm, giving it stump-pulling low-end power—all while getting about 25 mpg.

Becker V8 Custom Motorcycle: Ford Flathead V8
The 1937 Ford flathead V8 is rated at about 87 horsepower at 3500 rpm and for about 122 ft-lbs of torque at 2000 rpm.

The exhaust system uses the standard manifolds feeding out a single straight pipe on each side, ending with a chromed shark tail. Despite the absence of mufflers, the sound is surprisingly mellow, subdued, and inobtrusive.

Amazingly, Becker did the design/build without any drawings—not even a schematic! He says he basically started with the engine and driveline dimensions and built out from there. That includes an entirely original hand-bent double-cradle hardtail frame from one-inch OD, ¾-inch ID DOM mild steel tubing. Yes, it was hand-bent using a manual tubing bender and all the strength he and another guy could muster!

To accommodate the intake system, the frame’s top tube splits into two tubes over the engine, which he welded to massive flat plate gussets at each end. That assembly is anchored to the engine block, so the engine is a stressed member. Behind the transmission, the frame leads to a rigid rear end. The front fork, alloy wheels, and triple-disc brakes are Honda Gold Wing transplants.

A modern dual-core radiator cools the V8, and a WWII-vintage fire extinguisher body serves as the coolant overflow tank.

The chassis layout results in a 78-inch wheelbase, nine-foot overall length, excellent mass centralization, low center of gravity, and exceptionally low 23-inch saddle height.

For the transmission, Becker adapted a hydraulically operated 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, the calculated top speed is about 115 mph. Becker says the motor turns only 1800 rpm at highway cruising speed.

Becker V8 Custom Motorcycle: Interview with the Builder
Weighing in at about 990 pounds and sporting a 78-inch wheelbase, Bill Becker’s V8-powered custom is most at home on the open road with long, sweeping turns.

Even the fuel tank required original thinking. A Yamaha XS1100 fuel tank was stretched six inches, and Becker created a large tunnel in the underside of the tank for the stock Ford intake manifold.

A custom 90-degree adapter allowed the 2-1/16-ich S&S Super G carburetor to be mounted under the tank, facing forward. Also under the tank are the air filter and alternator, which mounts directly over the front of the engine.

Becker V8 Custom Motorcycle: 1937 Ford Flathead Motor
This view shows the custom 90° intake elbow and the S&S carburetor that feeds the V8 under the tank, which was stretched six inches.

Despite its length and breadth, the tank holds only 3.5 gallons, giving the V8 a range of only about 87.5 miles before hitchhiking begins.

The ignition system is something of an original, too. A mechanical distributor is on the front of the engine behind the radiator and fan, while the ignition is timed from a small belt-driven Chevy HEI unit under the left headpipe. The front distributor has points that can be used if there is a problem with the belt-driven HEI.

To a motorcyclist, the first thought about a V8-powered motorcycle is generally extreme performance; in the case of Bill Becker’s V8 custom, it is extreme originality!