Tuesday, December 01, 2009


The Autostadt in Wolfsburg (home of Volkswagen and its subsidiaries - Skoda, Lamborghini, etc) is currently hosting an exhibition of exemplary motorcycles, from a single extraordinary collection in Bavaria. (top pic; 1 of 6 dohc 'LeVack' JAP engines, housed in a Zenith)

The machines on show are far from ordinary, and while not necessarily all motorcycle 'icons' per se, are worth the effort to visit, as several are unique, and can only be viewed if you happen to make friends with the owner (although some inhabit the Hockenheim Museum on occasion - such as the above NSU supercharged 500cc ohc twin).

Pride of Place, Best in Show, or simply Shiniest Bike Award must be laid at the wheels of this 1930 O.E.C.-Temple J.A.P. 996cc supercharged record-breaker (above), which was used for an attempt at the World Motorcycle Speed Record in that year, and apparently made 222km/hr. OEC is well-known for their experiments with telescopic front forks, although their steering linkages and surrounding frame trellis made for a limited turning radius and a pronounced tendency to resist all efforts to move from a straight line, while at speed. Neither of which is a bad thing for a record-breaker. (The saga of that particular record attempt is fodder for another post...).

More unique? This Schmid one-off has full body enclosure and a monocoque chassis...built in 1923! (above) A tour-de-force of lateral thinking, Carl Schmid (of Genf, Switzerland) may have built the bodywork as his 'masterwork' for an automotive carosserie apprenticeship, to prove his skills at panel-beating and fluid design. It looks terribly heavy with its steel panels, but the weight is visual, not material, which is certainly a benefit with only a 175cc ohv engine... of 3hp. A compelling machine, in as-found condition. It makes the Wooler 'Flying Banana' in the background appear commonplace!

Regular Vintagent readers will recognize this Brough-Superior Austin 3-wheeler with sidecar from my 'Bavarian Road Test' series... one of the finest motorcycles I've ever ridden. So yes, I'm intimately familiar with all the machines in this collection, having sat on them, pushed them, peered into their innards, bathed in their aroma, and occasionally, ridden them.

And while everyone can't see them in the metal, a book, assembled by Stefan Knittel, is now available for a glimpse into the magic warehouse from which these beasts hail....also called Motorrad Ikonen! More of an adjunct to the Wolfsburg exhibit than an exhibition catalog, the book gives detailed photographs of 50 wonderfully rare bikes from 1902 - 39, laid out chronologically, each machine getting the star treatment with 4 pages of large color photos. Text is minimal, and technical specifications are given in an appendix - the metal is allowed to speak for itself, which it does with eloquence.

And generosity. I can't recall another book quite like it, for every machine is lovingly photographed in detail and overview (literally, with a full-page overhead shot of each), making for a very large tome, with a lot of photographs, of a relatively small number of machines. No attempt is made to cram all the 'necessary' motorcycles into 240 pages; every particular two-wheeler has room to breathe, and the photos satisfy one's curiosity...except what they're like to actually ride!

There's an education to be had in the book, beyond a deep gaze into the eyes of a lovely motor; it's a declaration of the current state of curatorial thought, and what a major player on the global motorcycling stage finds important to share. Much thought went into the chosen lineup, and the conclusion one quickly draws is... unrestored motorcycles are authoritative, and 'lollipop' restorations are no longer a useful benchmark for a serious study of the art of the motorcycle.

Full disclosure; I was asked to consult with Stefan Knittel on the layout and certain design aspects of the book, so my reportage is utterly compromised! Still, it's a hell of a coffee table book, there isn't another quite like it, and if you like looking at really good photographs of really interesting motorcycles (and you do, because you're reading the Vintagent!), you can't go far wrong here.

Motorrad Ikonen: Technik und Design aus den Jahren 1902-1939 (Stefan Knittel text/Brigitta König photos, Delius Klasing Verlag, 2009). Available here, at Amazon.de.

(Click here to visit the Autostadt exhibit website).


Anonymous said...

Awsome article Paul! See you soon.

All my very best,


YJH said...

books are essential
no matter how much they cost, it's never their value
thank you Paul

Anonymous said...

I have had the very fortunate opportunity to see the collection from whence this exhibit and book came and I was utterly overwhelmed. In fact, I don't think I "came to" until after I had left. (I can only imagine what my host thought.) Furthermore, the owner, or steward as he humbly calls himself, is a sincere man, a complete gentleman, and was a perfect host.

If anyone has the slightest hesitation about the quality of the exhibit or book, I can tell you its wholly unfounded. You will not regret it and the attention to detail will amaze you.

Congratulations to the owner, Knittel and Vintagent. A very important addition to history, art and covetousness!


william said...

Hallo! Toller Beitrag. Die Motorräder sind einfach der Hammer!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

First, thanks for all you do with your blog. I really enjoy your stories and moto-history.

I recently read your story about the Motorrad Ikonen exhibition and book and want to order the book. Using your link to the German Amazon web-site, I am having a problem understanding how to specify the shipping here to the USA. Since I can't read German I have web translated some of the text but I'm not sure if there is an easier way? I can't find the book on the English Amazon site, so I wonder if you have a method of ordering that would make the process easier.

Thanks for your help.
If not, keep up the great work!

Tom Antreasian