THE TOMAHAWK AND THE VIPER BIKES

Updated: Aug 21, 2021


Totally inappropriate riding gear for wielding the Dodge Tomahawk! So we are assuming that this Dodge publicity shot is both posed and static. But it does show how the bike behaves (or should behave) when cornering. Personally, we'd still want to wear boots and leathers...

On the other hand, there was nothing posed or static when hero journalist Bruce Dunn speed tested Allen Millyard's Viper-powered beauty for UK Motor Cycle News! Satellite tracking equipment and GPS confirmed his 207mph terminal speed on an airfield runway track.

Incidentally, the notoriously maverick British engineer didn't have the resources of a factory behind him when creating this masterpiece. He built it in the small garage next to his house!

Detroit it's not, but Allen Millyard creates amazing and unique bikes in this small garage!

For some two decades the big Boss Hoss cruisers ruled the big-block motorcycle world with the 5,7 litre Chevrolet V8 being the motive power of choice. Prompted by the revealing of the Tomahawk to the public in 2003, an 8.3 litre Viper V10 version was their obvious next step.


Concept cars have long been a feature of American motor shows, but the Dodge Tomahawk was a concept vehicle like no other! It was first seen at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and had apparently been conceived during a brainstorming meeting of company engineers and designers looking to make something outrageous and eye-catching for the most important motor show on the American continent. And with the Tomahawk they certainly succeeded!

It came about because one of the designers involved in that ‘blue sky’ brainstorming session was a motorcyclist, so he knew all about the ‘Boss Hoss’ a limited production heavyweight that had been on the market for some ten years or more and used a 5.7 litre V8 engine from the rival Chevrolet company for its motive power. As well as selling strongly in its admittedly small market section, it was a machine that generated continuing positive media coverage. So, the Dodge visionary’s idea was to go one better than the Boss Hoss – well, two better in fact, - by building a bike with two more cylinders that used the 8.3 litre V10 engine from the Dodge Viper supercar!

The first reaction from the more corporate-minded ‘suits’ at the meeting was to point out that the Chrysler brands catalogue didn’t include any motorcycle companies.

But then the words “outrageous” and “eye catching” were dropped back into the discussions. On reflection, it was too far out an idea to pass up so it got the corporate greenlight and a monster was born!

Outrageous and eye-catching the Tomahawk certainly was. And it generated massive press coverage that continued long after the 2003 show at the Detroit Convention Centre had closed its doors. It also generated controversy in the court of public opinion by virtue of the fact it had four wheels! However, it certainly looked nothing like a car as it was obviously designed to be sat on rather than in!

Even the experts from the motorcycle media disagreed on whether it was a true motorcycle or not. Certainly, its four close-coupled wheels gave it a motorcycle-like appearance and each of the two front and two rear wheels were sprung independently, which allowed it to lean into corners and counter-steer as a motorcycle would.

All in all, though, it didn’t matter what it was called. It had been designed and built purely to look spectacular and get the press and public talking in awestruck tones about what Dodge could come up with.

In that respect the monster was a monstrous success! So successful in fact that a limited edition of hand-built replicas were offered for sale through the ritzy Neiman Marcus store catalogue at a price of US$555,000 each and it is rumoured that as many as ten might have sold. As they were in no way street legal, Dodge insisted that Neimann Marcus referred to the Tomahawk a "rolling sculpture" and stressed in the store’s sales literature that it was not intended to be ridden, least of all on the public highways.

Motorcycle or rolling sculpture, whatever one called it there is no doubt that the beast was a resounding success in terms of what it was truly meant to be. Press, public and automotive industry experts alike hailed the Tomahawk as the ultimate vehicle of its day for one-upping rivals and taking the trade show spotlight.

It was a branding and marketing coup that generated a massive media buzz and sent out the message that Chrysler (under which corporate umbrella was the Dodge brand) was a bold and ambitious company that was not afraid to take risk in terms of making its mark.

And Dodge press releases and spokespeople continued the hype long after that 2003 North American International Auto Show. The Tomahawk continued to generate column inches in the media and controversy in equal measures.

The hype was fuelled by a press release as outrageous as the vehicle itself (presumably concocted by a writer with his tongue firmly in his cheek!) which posited hypothetical top speeds ranging from 300 mph (480 km/h) to as high as 420 mph (680 km/h)! But do remember that the relatively modern term ‘hype’ does derive from the word ‘hypothetical’….!

Those figures were probably calculated via simple mathematical calculations linking the Viper engine’s 600+horsepower and the Tomahawk’s final drive ratio without accounting for wind and, rolling resistance, let alone overall stability. These estimates, and even the more conservative 250 mph (400 km/h) that a designer suggested could be possible, were debunked by the motorcycling and automotive media as being at best implausible or, at worst, physically impossible. No independent road or track tests of the Tomahawk have ever been published and even its makers have admitted that in internal testing it was never ridden above 100 mph (160 km/h).

But there is some evidence for the defence that 250mph is within reach…

There is a real two-wheeled motorcycle that uses the same Dodge Viper V10 car engine as the Tomahawk, and that is the one-off creation by maverick British engineer, Allen Millyard. He was totally underwhelmed when he saw the Tomahawk make a ‘speed run’ at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK on which it barely topped 70mph! So, within a few months, and working in the tiny garage alongside his semi-detached house, he had built a Viper V10-powered motorcycle that was so visually stylish and so well-proportioned that it could have rolled straight off the Dodge production line. Not only that, but it was also later tested and officially timed at 207mph by a satellite and GPS link. Hero rider, Bruce Dunn, who made the speed run for the UK newspaper ‘Motor Cycle News’ later said that he could have gone quicker had he felt able to retain his grip on the handlebars. Allen Millyard feels sure that with just a steering head fairing to direct the wind around the rider’s upper body then 250mph would be within reach. However, he has not yet designed the fairing and, so far, has no volunteers offering to test his theory!


THE MILLYARD VIPER V10



THE BOSS HOSS VIPER V10




THE DODGE TOMAHAWK