Most of us love a good custom-built chopper. The more chrome the merrier. And when it comes to custom trikes, the same rules apply. Trikes can provide “mile-eating” comfort that most sport bikes, cruisers may not provide. Surprisingly, trikes have been growing more and more in popularity, especially for those that hit a certain age and still want to experience life on the road. From Harley’s Tri Glide Ultra to the original Honda Goldwing, trikes can offer some pretty sweet amenities. For those of us that enjoy getting our hands dirty and even sometimes in trouble, trikes offer a great opportunity to take on a custom-build project that can be somewhat less forgiving. The Rocket II is no question, one of the most unique trikes ever conceived. It was designed and built by two of the world’s most creative artists, and its styling is as powerful as its 1,000-horse Hemi.
Tim “The Frogman” Cotterill is an English sculptor who grew up loving the outdoors, animals, and motorcycles. He’s spent decades creating frog sculptures that are always in high demand—but his artistic talents extend to vehicle design as well. It was around 1989 when Tim got the inspiration to build a radical, three-wheeled, six-cylinder trike. The stocky, aptly named “Rocket” seriously disturbed the peace in his old English hometown. But he soon moved to California, and though he lost interest in that wild trike, he never forgot about it. But a few years ago, Cotterill met another artistic gearhead: Michael Leeds of Blastolene. Leeds designs and builds high-profile machines, including a stunning retro/future roadster called the Blastolene Special owned by Jay Leno. Leeds’ considerable skill clearly carried over to sheetmetal, and with Tim’s ideas and drawings in hand, they went about planning what Tim called “A custom motorbike like no other.” It would be called the Rocket II.
The Blastolene crew started mocking up Tim’s vision of a killer trike—with longer, more classic proportions. They created a rough frame on an assembly jig, put down 2×2 cedar boards to create a 12-foot wheelbase, and placed a dummy foam 426 Hemi block into it. Then they replaced the wood with 1.75x.25-inch-wall DOM steel tubing and welded it up. Rocket II would use unique, “pincer” front suspension arms. Wood prototypes were cut on a band saw to help speed up the development process—but Michael still lost sleep. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night, run over to the shop and knock something out to ‘capture’ the thought before it evaporated,” Leeds explains. Once the arms were fine tuned, the production versions were cut out of .25-inch steel plate. The arms had to be both beautiful and strong, as they’d mount a 40-pound, 18×26 front wheel, two 24-inch Metzeler motorcycle tires, an aftermarket brake system, and the steering linkage. And designing an effective steering system was a major chore. It took eight different tries over eight months to finally zero in the handlebar-to-draglink setup. Leeds says they used “Archemedian leverage principles, racing go-kart bearings, and heim ends” to make it work. The curvaceous skin received lofty inspiration as well, as Randy Grubb—dubbed the “Salvador Dali of automotive art,” designed the sleek, retro body.
Anything named Rocket II needs massive power, and that’s where John Arruzza of Arruzza High Performance came in. Arruzza is an expert Hemi builder, and he screwed together a real monster for this machine. It started with a rare, 426 Hemi block that was one of only 50 cast. Its forged internals have to contend with a massive 8-71 blower, which puts the squeeze on massive amounts of fuel from two big carbs. It takes a Dave Nelson-built MSD ignition, to charge the 16 spark plugs (two per cylinder) to ignite the highly compressed mixture. Burned gasses are expelled via Bassett Racing speedboat headers, which do their best to make Cotterill’s presence known the next county over. The engine runs on plain old 91-octane pump gas, idles smoothly—and makes an insane 1,000 horsepower!
Tim has no idea how fast it will actually go, but he had a 240-mph speedo installed just in case. However, he does know that it’ll go from 0 to 100 mph in just over four seconds, and it’ll boil the hides at the slightest provocation. And while it swills fuel at a rate of 3 miles per gallon, Cotterill is too busy enjoying the smooth ride to care.
Not too many people have their artwork displayed in big-city art galleries, while screaming around the country on a supercharged, Hemi-powered trike. But Cotterill—like the Rocket II—is one of a kind.