Strangely, given that his bike has a Nissan Skyline turbo and nitrous, James Young is not a man to be rushed – this build’s taken 20 years
If you want to put in context just how long James Young has been building this Harris Magnum 4 turbo, consider this: he bought it when John Major was still Prime Minister. It certainly didn’t look like this then, though. In actual fact, having just been flipped by a Performance Bikes journalist and cobbled back together from the brink of being taken to the scrappy, it was basically, to quote James, “a shopping trolley.” “Underneath it all I knew it could be a great bike, so I started putting my own stamp on it,” says James.
That was 20 years ago. Not that it’s been a two-decade build up to this specific point, of course. The bike has gone through several alterations, including four rebuilds of the ’92 GSX-R1100 Slingshot engine James fitted as soon as he got it, and features a host of homemade touches that showcase James’s engineering prowess. But the first thing that usually catches the eye is the fact that James has not only gone for a whopping Garrett turbo from a late ’90s Nissan Skyline, but fitted a nitrous bottle under the seat as well. Because, you know, when around 250 horses aren’t enough, you might need another 50, right? “Too much is never enough,” laughs James. “Over the years I’ve owned hundreds of bikes, starting with a 100cc KTM I used to ride around a farm, and my goal was always to have a turbocharged bike. But I liked nitrous as well, so I thought I’d go for both.”
Riding the bike, as you can imagine, is a fairly lively affair – partly because of the power but also because of the rarity of the frame. Nothing focuses the mind and clenches the buttocks like a Harris Magnum 4 frame of which only six exist. “It’s one of the original 4s,” says James. “They made half a dozen with oversized frame tubes, before they reverted to thinner ones. But ‘lively’ is a good word to describe the riding experience. Up to 5000rpm it feels pretty much like a normal sportsbike... then the turbo kicks in and it turns the bike into a complete animal.
James’s thirst for more power had knock-on effects, not least on the Harris swingarm that came as part of the Magnum 4 kit. “Seeing as I was running a lot more power I needed extenders to stretch the swingarm, so I took it to NWS, who are based just around the corner from Harris,” says James. “They cut the end off and put a 9in extension on it, then braced it with that triangulated section you can see. I got the job of repolishing it. I knew that would be hard work, so I rigged up a washing machine motor to a mop and went for it. It took a whole weekend to get it shiny like that.”
The 17in Marchesini wheels are, without doubt, the swankiest thing on the bike. The reason? They’re ex-500GP rims from Harris’s brief stint in the top-tier of racing back in the ’90s. “I used to run stock GSX-R wheels but then I got a call from a mate of mine at Harris, giving me the nod that Steve Harris had the 12 sets of Marchesinis back from the race season,” smiles James. “I went down there and bought a set off him, plus the gold rear caliper that was off the race bike as well. Being magnesium, you can pick up one of these wheels with your little finger.”
The standout feature of this 1992 GSX-R1100 engine is the massive Garrett GT28 turbo, which made its way on to James’s bike from a modified, late ’90s Nissan Skyline R33. “If you want bottom-end and mid-range power you go for a smaller turbo like you’d get in a family car of some sort,” says James, “but if you want the engine to be driveable to a point but lairy when you want it, you go for one this size.”
A BIT ON THE SHORT SIDE
This isn’t the bike for a swanky, titanium, four-into-one exhaust. The slash-cut header pipe is so short that you can put your hand inside and spin the turbo.
This picture has so much going on, you barely know where to look first. The biggest modification here is one only a Harris expert would notice: directly above the clutch, the two frame rails are two inches closer together than on the other side. Because the lower rail on the Magnum 4 frame comes across the clutch housing, James had to get Stuart at Warpspeed to cut it – a nervy business given that there are only about six of these oversized Magnum 4 frames in existence. Other nice touches include the engine temperature gauge on the side of the clutch, the blue-faced nitrous gauge and the red nitrous foggers.
I’m currently running it on about 6psi and it’s kicking out around 250bhp. When you think that it’s got the potential to have the boost wound up to 12-15psi, plus an extra 50bhp of nitrous on tap, ‘lively’ is about right.” But to simply categorise James’s bike as all about brutal power would be to overlook a seemingly endless list of ingenious mods intended to please the eye and keep people guessing.
Take the seat unit, for example. “Everyone thinks it’s off a Ducati 916, but it’s about two-thirds of the size of that – it’s actually from a late ’90s Cagiva Mito 125. It’s been chopped, reshaped and has loads of fibreglass in it. I really liked the style of it – it’s similar to the 916’s but I couldn’t find a blank 916 one where I could put my own rear lights in. I’ve cut about a fifth off the front, then where it curves under the seat it’s been reshaped and built up with fibreglass from the inside. It’s important to have stuff on the bike that keeps people guessing. Those who really know their bikes and engineering will be able to see the work that’s gone into it, but the average R1 or FireBlade owner might just see a bright yellow paintjob.” Which is Ford RS2000 yellow, by the way.
The list of stuff James has made himself, like the brackets, foot hangers and spacers, is almost too lengthy to go into, but even the eager specials builder has to call in help – and for James that came with the electrics. “Wiring is usually the Achilles heel of any special, so I contacted Ferret from Ferret’s Custom Electrickery, who’s usually in the What’s Your Problem section of PS,” says James. “He’s a real character. You have to book an appointment with him and then he decides if he’s going to do your bike or not. If your bike’s radical and off-the-wall he’s usually interested, so when I started telling him about it he said, ‘That sounds great – but I won’t be able to do it for another nine months.’
Still, when you’ve taken nearly 20 years, what’s another nine months? But eventually he came over, spent two days in the garage and made a bespoke wiring loom that’s amazing. He’s a proper genius.”Further help with the engine also came from PS’s very own Gary Hurd. “I’ve known Gary since my late teens, and he’s been my engine mentor,” says James. “He’s top – if you’ve got a bag of cookies he’ll fix anything.” Doing a special over such a long time means James has been able to find the best solutions, rather than simply hoping stuff works. “The brakes are a classic example,” he says. “I’ve tried everything, including six-pots off brand new bikes, but nothing beats the refurbed ’92 Nissin four-pots with the 320mm wavy discs and EBC sintered pads. Same with the ’92 GSX-R forks I got rebuilt – they’re nice and chunky, and suit the bike.” It’s a hugely impressive build, and one that it’s safe to say James will be keeping. “I’ve known this bike longer than I’ve known my missus,” he laughs. “A modern bike would run rings around it on a circuit but on a straight, this would seriously kick butt.” After 20 years, it must be a relief to have it finished. James looks puzzled. “Finished?” he asks. “A bike like this is never finished...”
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
James stops at nothing to get the right people. “The engine covers were by a guy who came out of retirement especially – they’re the last thing he ever made.”
DIALLING IN THE ’80S
James wanted retro dials, and found the genuine, ’80s turbo boost gauge in the US. An Acewell rev counter and speedo, plus an AEM air/fuel gauge, complete the set.
“I frenched in a pair of rear lights using aircraft-grade steel tube, which I merged into the rear seat unit. It took a week of polishing to get that mirror finish.”
Harris Magnum 4 turbo
ENGINE 1992 Suzuki GSX-R1100, air/oil-cooled 1127cc inline-four, Garrett GT28 turbo from a Nissan Skyline R33, 2003 Suzuki Hayabusa pistons, Warpspeed Racing stage one lock-up clutch, Wizard of NOS nitrous kit
CHASSIS Harris Magnum 4 kit consisting of frame, fuel tank and swingarm, frame modified to accept lock-up clutch, Cagiva Mito seat unit modified to fit, ex-Harris 500GP magnesium Marchesini wheels, modified 1992 GSX-R1100 front forks, Öhlins R&T shock, Eaton motocross handlebars, bespoke rear lights, Cibie headlights, ’bar end mirrors, Acewell switchgear, modified Harris rearsets, 1992 GSX-R1100 mudguard, refurbished 1992 GSX-R1100 Nissin four-pot calipers, 320mm wavy discs, EBC sintered pads, ex-Harris 500GP two-pot rear caliper with PFM rear disc, one-off wiring loom, Ford RS2000 yellow paint
WORDS HANS SEEBERG PHOTOGRAPHY JASON CRITCHELL