This Whimsical Harley-Davidson Has A Saxophone For An Exhaust, A Microscope For A

Buried deep within the halls of the Harley-Davidson Museum sits something special. There is a real running motorcycle in the museum that is constructed with more non-motorcycle parts than motorcycle parts. This custom turbocharged 1972 Harley-Davidson Aermacchi SS350 has almost everything thrown at it from a saxophone for an exhaust and a microscope projector for a headlight to a pencil sharpener for a brake light and a juicer for an air intake. It comes from the mind of a Boston woman and it’s only the start of this awesomeness.

Last month I finally visited the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. I’ve lived nearby all of my life and have even visited the museum property for a Pride event, but never actually stepped foot inside. My only regret is not taking a tour sooner because the museum is so cool that it would be a worthwhile visit even if you don’t care about motorcycles.

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The museum’s halls meander through Motor Company history from the earliest surviving Harley to incredible customs. Before you leave the museum, you should find your way to the museum’s vault, which houses some additional 3,000 machines that you did not see on the multiple levels of the main museum.

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The first motorcycle you’ll see when you exit the elevator is a bike you’ve never seen before and one you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time looking at. This 1972 Harley-Davidson Aermacchi SS350 has so much going on you’ll get excited at each new detail you find.

From A Brilliant Mind

Custom motorcycles are a fantastic form of expression and you get to see the workings of the builder’s brain in vehicular form. We’ve covered a few wild builds like radial motorcycles, a scooter with a wooden body, a motorcycle with a Ford flathead V8, a motorcycle consisting of 16 other bikes, and even a bonkers 17-foot bike with a Chevy II engine.

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Madhouse Motors

This Sprint is the work of J. Shia, a builder who runs Madhouse Motors in Boston. To call her skill impressive would be an understatement. The folks of vintage motorcycle parts supplier Prism Supply interviewed Shia last year and it’s worth the watch:

As Shia explains in the video, she has spent her entire life around tools and machinery. Shia says she comes from a family with generations of metalworkers and when they came to America from Lebanon, they brought the tools of their trade with them. Her vintage tools show the marks and patina of eons of hard work.

In the video, Shia explains that her father was a huge inspiration. He loved tinkering on worn-out bikes so much that the family’s property at one point had 70 or so motorcycles sitting on it. It was this childhood influence that inspired Shia’s shop’s name Madhouse Motors. I think the name is certainly fitting.

Shia notes that an additional influence came from her neighbor, who was a professional motorcycle racer, and his mechanic. The mechanic would find Shia tinkering on motorcycles in the yard and eventually, Shia and the mechanic would partner up with Shia learning the tricks of the trade and the both of them finding work fixing bikes.

Madhouse Motors was founded in 2009 and its growth was fast enough to push it out of a yard and into its own buildings. The business hasn’t left its roots and Shia says you can take any bike to her shop and her team can fix it up. Madhouse Motors even offers towing services for when your day turns sour. The video notes that Madhouse Motors is the only motorcycle shop of its kind with a Boston zip code.

Madhouse Motors is also home to Shia’s functional art. She’s a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art & Design and uses her skills to turn everyday motorcycles into award-winning art that’ll blow your mind. Well, her build blew my mind!

The Pareidolia Series

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Madhouse Motors

The 1972 Harley-Davidson Aermacchi SS350 currently on display in Milwaukee is part of a build series that Shia calls the Pareidolia Series. Four custom motorcycles came out of this series and I’ll let her explain the theme:

These ‘72 Harley Davidson Aermacchi 350s are known as “The Optical Conclusions,” were debuted on the stage of The Boston Symphony Orchestra stage to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Op. 20 Act II. These two machines are the final part of a four-part series that builder J. Shia of Madhouse Motors has been working on since 2017. “The Pareidolia Series,” comprises four motorcycles in total, all of which function unconventionally and are constructed in a nontraditional way.

The Pareidolia Series started in 2017 with a 1971 BSA A65 named The Manipulated (below). This motorcycle was the catalyst for the whole build series and motivation for Shia to combine her art experience with her wrenching experience. 

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Madhouse Motors

The bike was built in 70 days with Michael Ulman and features unconventional parts. A piece of a Boston sewer drain is the bike’s taillight and handlebars were modified into an intake manifold. The headlining part of the bike is how it’s started by physically pulling an antique bolt cutter arm.

Then came the Devil’s Advocate in 2019. This motorcycle is a 1957 Indian from the period when Indian was not building its own bikes but instead rebadging imported Royal Enfields.

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Madhouse Motors

Shia says this motorcycle was built as a challenge to herself to come up with more novel ideas. The custom bike was built around the concept of using a gas pedal to operate the throttle instead of a twist grip. An antique hay hook is used as the gas pedal, foot-measuring Brannock Devices for pegs (you know, this thing), and a seat pan with parts from a Radio Flyer wagon.

Like any good performance, the finale here is grand. The white motorcycle I saw is a part of The Optical Conclusions:

And, as the final act of this series, J. built a set of two bikes. Inspired by Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake,” J. dedicated these twins to her mother, a former classical singer, by debuting them on the stage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

These two bikes are only a few hundred VIN numbers off from each other. They are identical in their length, height & weight, and their profiles are near silhouettes of one another. Their specs are both complementary & contradictory, a very fitting final illustration of J.’s style throughout this series.

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Both of these motorcycles come from those weird years in the 1960s and 1970s when Harley-Davidson was throwing everything at the wall to see what could compete with the flood of imported bikes. Small motorcycles were in, which was a problem for the Motor Company because its small bore fare was the 165cc Super 10. Harley bought out half of Italy’s Aermacchi in 1960 and started selling imported Italian motorcycles as Harleys.

The Aermacchi Harleys are sometimes seen as a dark period for the Motor Company, but they were successful race machines and they seem to be seeing a resurgence in popularity in today’s vintage craze.

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Madhouse Motors

As Shia’s documentation explains, the motorcycles effectively mirror each other. For example, the white Sprint has a frame that loops around the front while the black machine has a frame that continues to the rear. That’s the complementary nature. The contradiction comes from tuning. The white SS350 has a draw-through turbo with a dual scavenge pump while the black one has a wet nitrous system. Stock, an SS350 has a 344cc single four-stroke making 25 HP and has a top speed just under the ton. Shia doesn’t say how fast these bikes are now, but I have to think riding them would be an exercise in insanity.

Thankfully, that’s not where the madness ends. Let’s take a stroll to the front end. That steampunk-looking headlight is a microscope projector. Now, follow the motorcycle’s lines to the rear. That’s the stand to the microscope and it’s holding the oil for the turbo. The black bike also has a weird tail, but that one serves as an exhaust.

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Move your eyes down from the tail and you’ll notice that the brake light is a pencil sharpener filled with LEDs. And it doesn’t end there. The air intake is a grapefruit juicer, the pegs are stove handles, a milkshake mixer is under the engine, and the metal magnification widget on the microscope projector is how you switch from low beam to high beam. Even the tank is a custom affair that allows the battery to hide inside of it. Shia then wired the electrical system to also feed from a 110V source so the motorcycle could also function as a lamp.

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Mercedes Streeter

Even now as I look over my photos for this story, I see there are more details that I missed in the moment simply because the bike is overflowing with clever flourishes. For example, note how the rear brake is actuated using half of the jaws of a bolt cutter. Of course, the highlight non-motorcycle bit is the exhaust, which is a soprano saxophone cut down and welded to a flange.

Whimsical Details

Shia and Harley-Davidson say this is a real functional motorcycle, not just an art piece. Sadly, there isn’t a video of the sound the SS350 makes or how it rides, but it was revealed in a grand fashion:

Hopefully, when it’s done with the museum circuit we’ll get to hear what a motorcycle using a sax for an exhaust pipe sounds like. Until then, I guess a woman is left with her imagination.

Either way, this was easily one of the most exciting motorcycles I’ve seen in a long time. Everything about it is unconventional and offbeat, but I also love how it’s still a real motorcycle. I could see myself beating around town on it, probably dressed in steampunk-ish gear with some extra rear-end padding to account for that tiny seat. Shia did an awesome job and I think she’s a good inspiration for any woman even slightly interested in motorcycles.

If you want to lay your own eyes on this creation, I recommend taking the drive out to Milwaukee and visiting the Harley-Davidson Museum. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and currently, adult tickets are $24. Seniors, students, and military pay $20. I paid $48 for Sheryl and myself. Maybe I’ll host an Autopian meetup nearby before the summer is out!

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