Land speed racing has a way of inspiring outrageous engineering. The most common motivation is a relentless pursuit of outright speed. Other times, it’s driven by a desire to build something that’s truly out of this world. Shoving three bored-out Honda CB750 motors into one land speed racer is probably a little bit of both.
This, in all of its 12-cylinder, 2,508cc glory, is The Galaxy. It’s the creation of California-based custom motorcycle builder and mad genius, Mitsuhiro “Kiyo” Kiyonaga, and his childhood dream brought to life.
Originally from the coastal city of Kumamoto on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Kiyonaga-san opened the Kiyo’s Garage workshop in Gardena, Los Angeles County, back in 2013. It was around that time that he built Cherry Blossom — a stretched land speed racer with a turbocharged Honda CB750 motor shoved into a scratch-built frame.
Kiyo followed that up a few years later with another 1970s top fuel-style bike, Gekko (it means “moonlight” in Japanese). Except this time, he linked together two CB750 motors, boring them out for a total capacity of 1,620 cc. Gekko went on to bag two awards at Born Free 8 before Kiyo ran it at El Mirage in 2016 and Bonneville in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
The Galaxy is a continuation of Kiyo’s obsession with this theme; the third entry in a trilogy that testifies to his creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance. “The concept common to all three is a land speed racer that has the beauty of a show bike and can actually run,” he explains. These three machines might be mechanical marvels, but Kiyo is as obsessed with the philosophy behind his creations as he is with their inner workings.
"I want to express Kacho Fugetsu on our machines. The possibilities are endless, such as the depth, mystery, and power of nature.”
“There is a culture called Kacho Fugetsu in Japan, which translates literally as ‘flower, bird, wind, moon,’ but its meaning is the traditional beauty of nature in Japanese aesthetics and the rhyme of nature. Some write poetry, some sing songs, and some express it in pictures. I want to express Kacho Fugetsu on our machines. The possibilities are endless, such as the depth, mystery, and power of nature.”
“Each machine has a natural name. The first, Cherry Blossom; the Sakura is the national tree of Japan and means ‘a new beginning,’ and I named it because I thought it would be the best for this machine that I made at the same time as I started our own shop. The second, Gekko, is the moonlight that illuminates the Cherry Blossom. And The Galaxy is a magnificent outer space that surrounds Cherry Blossom and Gekko.”
The idea of actually building The Galaxy started to materialize when Kiyo and his wife, Kat, visited the Haas Moto Museum in Dallas, Texas, in May, 2019. They were there to discuss the museum’s acquisition of Cherry Blossom and Gekko — but Kiyo also presented the museum’s owner, Bobby Haas, and director, Stacey Mayfield, with sketches of his three-engined concept.
“I told Stacey that perhaps we might acquire Cherry Blossom or Gekko,” says Haas, “but that the dream of building a three-engine racer of that magnitude was so audacious, that I could not see us commissioning that project. A few hours later, audacity had carried the day! I reached across the table and offered my hand to Kiyo and Kat, and said that I would be honored to help with the project.”
Building a twin-engined racer is audacious enough, but the step up to three was almost inconceivable for Kiyo. “I was skeptical about whether it was possible or not,” he confesses. “However, when I started making it, that anxiety disappeared, and I was able to complete it as a mechanism that was surprisingly efficient, simple, and fully functional.”
All three of The Galaxy’s four-cylinder power plants are 1978 Honda CB750 units with F2 large port heads. Each motor has been bored out to 836cc, and fully rebuilt with lightened and balanced crankshafts, heavy-duty connecting rods, performance cams and oversized stainless steel valves. Extra care was taken to make sure each motor’s internals conformed to the exact same spec.
Each motor is fed by four Keihin FCR 35mm carbs, with significant work to the intake manifolds to help them run optimally. All three carb sets are linked via a rod and heim joint setup to make it easier to synchronize the throttle slider. But re-jetting is still a chore, given that there are 12 carbs to fettle. The entire setup breathes out through twelve custom-made exhausts.
One big challenge was splitting the number-one and -two engines’ transmissions — a process Kiyo nonchalantly refers to as “simply cutting off unnecessary transmission parts.” The rebuild included fabricating new covers and working out a custom-built system to circulate oil through all three motors sufficiently. The first two motors’ oil pumps had to be mounted externally, which meant they effectively had to be deconstructed.
Even harder was constructing a primary system that would connect all three mills. What’s more, Kiyo was adamant that the system be easy to maintain under race conditions, so he limited himself to using easily obtainable and serviceable parts.
The resulting setup looks dead simple from the outside since Kiyo removed the starter motor and built a flat primary cover. But inside, there’s a complex system of pulleys, mounts, and adjusters that will melt your brain, with every part’s role — and how it relates to the next part — considered in painstaking detail.
The trio of motors is held together by a three-piece chassis: a tubular upper frame and two large engine mounting plates that double up as a rigid swingarm. Together with the extensive drillium on the rear plates, this design language defines Kiyo’s trilogy of land speeders.
The front half of The Galaxy’s bodywork is integrated with the frame and hides the fuel tank and pump, battery, and everything else it needs to run. The tailpiece is a hand-hammered aluminum piece that also carries the 2.5 gallons of oil that the three Honda engines require. The tiny port sticking out at the back is actually an outlet for the engine breather hose.
A pair of aluminum spun wheels bookend the machine at both ends, with holes cut into the front to reduce the effect of crosswinds at speed. The influence of ’70s top fuel dragsters is unmistakable in The Galaxy’s silhouette — and its stretched-out ergonomics. But even the rider triangle was carefully judged, offering massive control and knee grip for pinning it across salt flats.
"Everything in the making process is meaningful — deepening ties and trust through communication with all the people involved in the making, sometimes even enjoying suffering, improving skills, and growing."
Everything on The Galaxy was handmade, without the aid of CAD software or CNC machines — just the way Kiyo likes it. “I am more attracted to the warmth unique to handmade products,” he says, “such as roughness, unevenness, and left-right asymmetry, which is finished by hitting, bending, and shaving, rather than an accurate and unrivaled mechanical finish. That is the big joy of creating one with my own hands.”
When it came to the paint job, though, Kiyo took his hands off, giving total creative freedom to Gen Katsuragawa at Love Ear Art. “That’s because we want to enjoy 90 percent confidence, and the remaining 10 percent anxiety and danger,” he explains. “Because Mr. Gen is a true artist, he has the ability to pursue individuality and create works far beyond our imagination.”
Kiyo’s love and respect for those that scaffold him is palpable in how he speaks, and he’s quick to attribute his success to others. He made a point of thanking his dear friend, Youichi Sakamoto, for offering inspiration and advice, and his wife, Kat. “Without Kat, it wouldn’t make any sense, including making a bike. Her presence keeps me standing strong.”
Naturally, he’s grateful to Bobby and Stacey, too, for rolling the dice on his vision — and to his friends Shaik Ridzwan and Max Hazan for making the introduction.
“Making a custom motorcycle is always a challenge. Everything in the making process is meaningful — deepening ties and trust through communication with all the people involved in the making, sometimes even enjoying suffering, improving skills, and growing. I feel that. That’s exactly the feeling of living life.”
The Galaxy has now taken up residence in the Haas Moto Museum alongside its siblings, but Kiyo doesn’t consider it complete. Before he ticks that box, he has one more challenge to face: racing it.