by Sev Pearman
All you Cliff Clavens out there be warned: This book will give you plenty of trivia ammunition. What was the last year BMW held the absolute land speed record? (1937 — 173.67 mph) Who has held the record the longest? (H-D, 1990 – present, 322.150 mph) Tom Murphy is a lifelong motorcyclist and avid speed record freak. His collection of stories, really, shed a little light on the mysterious and ex-pen-sive world of speed record breaking.
Generously illustrated with many drawings and both black + white and color photos, Fastest Motorcycles offers a personal, behind-the-scenes feel of many record attempts. The photos are amazing. Most were taken by the author over a 25-year period, and are simply professional. No blurry snapshots; just excellent crisp images that draw you in, and make you feel as if you were present.
Chapters 1 & 2 provide an excellent overview of Speed record history, with descriptive sidelines about early Bonneville history, Britain’s famed Brooklands speedbowl, and the national German effort that tested on their new, at the time, Autobahn.
Murphy tells the tale of the Rollie Free Vincent, and illustrates it with several pictures and related anecdotes. Did you know that fellow ‘bathing suit’ rider Tommy Smith went off his Triumph at over 140 mph and lived to tell about it?
He also fairly describes the infighting between the European Federation Internationale Motorcyclistes (FIM) and our own AMA-sanctioned Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) in the 50’s & 60’s. Triumph didn’t care that the FIM didn’t recognize Johnny Allen’s 193.72 mph record run. They slapped ‘World’s Fastest Motorcycle’ stickers on the fork, and sold butt-loads of their 500 & 650cc twins.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the text is not up to par. Murphy turns a blind eye to Oriental engineering, and is stuck in the predictable ‘ “Milwaukee Iron!” rut. Phrases like, “…blasting your Sumbitchi 750 hard down the highway…,” and “Sportster-engined Tramp III finds itself on the street, looking for some poor defenseless Kawi or Suzuki 1100 to educate.” are better served in Easyriders annual ‘Tattoo & Chrome Spectacular!’ than a competition history.
All history is biased from the viewpoint of the writer, but Murphy’s book is so obviously slanted toward Brand “H,” that not even the excellent illustrations can save it. Recommended for ‘enthusiasts’ only