This is another in our occasional series of reviews of classic motorcycle books. Some of these books some are very rare; some are out of print, obscure, forgotten or generally out of the mainstream.
I have always been of the opinion that deepening our understanding and knowledge of what has come before can help us better appreciate what we now have and what will come in the future. Our hope is that you will discover something new, just as we have, and that you will become as inspired as we have been to deepen your knowledge of motorcycling history.
John Griffith was a journalist in the 1950’s, who wrote for Motor Cycling magazine, the precursor of the now-popular Motorcycle News. Griffith’s specialty was in road testing the motorcycles of the day, but he had a special interest in historic racing motorcycles.
These three very rare gems were originally published by Temple Press Books in the early 1960’s in London. They are wonderful little “pocket” books, illustrated with beautiful and excellent quality (considering the vintage) photographs and drawings.
The version of Historic Racing Motorcycles shown here is the original hardcover, which is very rare. The other two are soft covered and are reprints of the originals. The originals were published by Temple Press, but the reprints shown here were commissioned and promoted by the sponsor, Motor Cycle, in the early 1970’s, which makes them just that much more of a curiosity.
Griffith’s huge enthusiasm for motorcycling and especially for racing models definitely comes through in the text. He not only describes in minute detail all of the features of the various engines, chassis and more, he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of the riders and races in which they competed.
There are some relatively well-known and some very obscure models described, including rare bikes like the 1928 350cc Chater-Lea, the 1930 Rudge Whitworth 350 and the 1958 NSU Sportmax to the better-known 1960 Honda 250cc four cylinder TT machine and many more.
Even though the three books have different titles, they could really be considered as a three-part series of one continuous volume. Some of the chapters have originally appeared in the old Motor Cycling magazine and are reprinted in their entirety.
Built for Speed includes a look at 24 motorcycles, including juicy specimens like the Rickman Matisse 500cc, the Rotary Valve 500cc Norton Racer, Reg Dearden’s Supercharged Vincent and he first 125cc Honda racer.
Famous Racing Motorcycles covers 50 different bikes from the 1938 AJS R7 to the 1959 Vincent Special “Nero” and Historic Racing Motorcycles goes even farther back in time, covering another 42 bikes from the early 1906 Matchless to the 1938 Supercharged Two Stroke DKW.
These are really wonderful volumes for vintage motorcycle fans. The stories and the photos can keep one busy for hours and I find myself going back to them time and again for a relaxing trip back to the “good old days” of motorcycling and 1960’s Britain. Highly recommended and they’re worth the search, so keep an eye out the next time you’re in your favorite used book shop.