1/10/2007 | 4 MINUTE READ

Breathing Life Into An Engine Icon

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To claim that GM’s small-block engine has earned a place in history would be an understatement.


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To claim that GM’s small-block engine has earned a place in history would be an understatement. Since its debut in 1955, the small block—dubbed the “mouse motor” because of its compact size—has been a significant piece of GM’s powertrain foundation, with the generation IV LS7 providing the Corvette ZO6 with 505 hp. Just as GM has made advancements to the small block to keep it up-to-date on the technology front—with the addition of displacement-on-demand and variable valve timing, for example—the automaker has toyed with a number of big-think ideas for how the small block can soldier on into the future. One of those “big” ideas was the development of the V16 engine that powered the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept car, which is a variant of the small block, albeit one with double the cylinders of the Corvette’s. GM worked with engineers at Katech Engine Building and Development (Clinton Twsp., MI; www.katechengines.com) to develop the XV16 engine. The engineers looked at the engine as a series of eight V-sections from the LS6 in sequence when designing it. This has unexpectedly turned out to have implications for a new American motorcycle.


Just Like In the Movies

In November 2004, a GM engineer and public relations staffer for Confederate Motorcycles (Birmingham, AL; www.confederate.com) were sitting on the set of the movie The Island when the idea of using the small block to power a motorcycle was planted. The movie features the Cadillac Cien concept car and Confederate’s Wraith B120. This lead to a discussion about the development of XV16 engine, and what it could mean for bike. Caleb Newman, director of after market operations at Katech, followed up with Confederate and admits the initial ideas were met with some skepticism. As Brian Case, chief designer for Confederate explains, “Katech’s only experience was in cars and they knew nothing about motorcycle engines, but after several meetings and talking about what we could do, we knew we had to go forward with the idea.” While neither Confederate nor Katech have received support from GM, both have moved forward on plans to use the small block architecture to power the Renovatio, the company’s fourth bike. It’s slated to hit the market in January 2008. This approach is about more than power and performance: “We knew we wanted to make an American motorcycle with an American powertrain right out of Detroit. After all, the small block design is so simple and it runs forever,” says Case. 

Instead of having 16 cylinders, the engine for the Renovatio has two, a V-twin configuration. In effect, they are deploying the LS7 architecture. There is a dry sump, like the LS7’s, and the same bore size and bank offset. However, given the application, it was determined the rest would have to be unique to the Renovatio. “The valve train and ports are inspired by the LS7, but for packaging purposes we had to redesign those. We also had to minimize the scrub on the rocker tip, but we did utilize the common intake and exhaust rocker from the LS7,” Katech’s Newman says. The team is hopeful it can convince GM to let them utilize as many off-the-shelf pieces from the LS7 as possible, including the titanium connecting rods, intake and exhaust valves and rockers. The team also wants to develop the engine to show onlookers its water-cooled foundation, complete with cast-in tubing displaying the water passages. Material usage will also play a key role with the block and cylinder heads constructed from 356-T6 cast aluminum, while the camshaft will utilize billet 8620 steel, helping toe reduce the overall weight of the Renovatio to just 340 lb. Newman and his team plan to have their first small block V-twin on the dyno by mid-2007, with the first engines hitting production sometime late in the year.




A Case for Rescuing Confederate

When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, Confederate Motorcycles took a direct hit. The headquarters was demolished. But Matt Chambers, who founded the company in 1991, was undaunted. He decided his vision of building an American motorcycle icon needed to live on. As the resignations for his displaced employees piled up, Chambers was uncertain whether Confederate could live on. It was then that he called on an old friend, Brian Case, who agreed to sell off a majority stake in his design firm, Foraxis Design Solutions, LLC, to become the full time chief designer and Chief Operating Officer of Confederate. Case recalls, “The company was basically done and half of the employees found something else, but Matt never gave up. When he offered me the job and I knew I couldn’t refuse.” His design background notwithstanding, Case says he finds himself being pulled more to assist on the technical side of bike development than styling.

As he looks toward the future, he envisions motorcycles—and more: “I see our company having tremendous potential in creating a new kind of iconic transportation design. I would like to devise designs for hybrid motorcycles. I think we could see ourselves consulting as a company to car manufacturers looking to reach out and tap into something deeper and more desirable,” Case says. Whether he succeeds in that quest, Case knows that Confederate must establish itself as a “leader” in American design, with a focus on individualism. “If you buy one of our bikes, it’s not going to make you feel like you are standing apart from the crowd, rather you are going in your own direction, which I think is the true definition of rebellion.”


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