Masterpiece. Stunning. Superb. Roll out the superlatives; they all apply to Ultimate Collector Motorcycles by Charlotte & Peter Fiell, as it is the ne plus ultra of classic motorcycle literature.
There is little this magnificent two-volume set does not offer the serious motorcyclist, collector, aficionado, broker, trader, builder, designer, restorer, historian, or expert. Of the dozens of books about motorcycles, including classic, rare, and collectible bikes we have reviewed here at Ultimate Motorcycling, nothing comes close to this.
Spanning the history of the sport from 1894 to 2020, Ultimate Collector Motorcycles is printed on 940 lavish, heavy bond, 11-by-14-inch pages. It is packed with 990 exceptionally detailed color images, many of which span two pages, black and white period photographs, illustrations, and advertising art. Each motorcycle profiled is shown and explained with unparalleled clarity.
Even the printed-textile slipcase that the two volumes of the Famous First Edition (there are three editions available) are presented in is a work of art. Its front shows a full-color front-end view of the 1969 Clymer-Münch IV 1200 TT-S Mammoth, and the back displays the 1938 Brough-Superior Golden Dream show bike—the only one ever built.
Authors Charlotte and Peter Fiell explain it this way: “This double-volume work is an unrivaled anthology of collector motorcycles. Spanning the entire history of the motorcycle, it brings together 100 of the most extraordinary, exquisite, rare, and desirable bikes of all time while revealing the enduring pursuit of engineering and design innovation, power, and performance.”
The 1998 Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, which featured 114 rare and noteworthy motorcycles on display, “ showed us motorcycles could be treated with respect and dignity; this book tells us how that dignity and respect was earned,” says Jay Leno in his Foreword. If you missed The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim, this is better.
Each motorcycle featured is more than just a photo essay; there is a detailed technical and historical narrative, as well. That is no small achievement, as the motorcycles include antiques, prototypes, one-offs, and racing bikes. Many had specifications that were hush-hush to begin with, and enjoyed extremely limited production-run examples. In many cases, it would take painstaking research to develop even basic technical specifications data and production numbers.
Consequently, technical and historical details may be hard to come by. Imagine, for example, tracking down the technical details for the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, the one-off 1906 Anzani three-cylinder board track racer (the engine for which was a “W” configuration), or the 1922 Sgonina Special, with its advanced DOHC four-stroke single cylinder engine, another production run of one.
While rare, antique, and classic motorcycles are a central feature of the books, there is also fascinating coverage of some of the world’s most legendary high-performance, custom, and racing motorcycles and their extraordinary personalities. Examples include:
- ex-Freddie Dixon 1923 eight-valve Harley-Davidson board track