Lot 137

New York - Art of the Automobile 2013

1914 Flying Merkel Model 471


$181,500 USD | Sold

United States | New York, New York



Engine No.
  • America’s original “superbike,” capable of 96 mph
  • Fully restored by specialists
  • Correct colors and original equipment

As the motorcycle industry burst from the crucible of bicycle production at the turn of the 20th century, Joseph Merkel, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, established himself as one of its most brilliant minds. Merkel had begun attaching motors to his bicycles in 1901, and a year later, he launched the production Merkel motorcycle upon an unsuspecting public. This occurred just months after the “Henry Ford Company” had been incorporated, and America’s most famous motor car, the Model T, was still seven years away from being introduced.

Every manufacturer has one model that ignites the flame of their legend. For Merkel, this was the Flying Merkel, reportedly christened as such by a spectator at one of the races in which the company enthusiastically participated. “All roads are smooth to the Flying Merkel,” the company boasted. From 1910, the name would appear, painted in a comet trail of letters visible even from a distance, on the Flying Merkel’s gas tank. By this time, it should be noted that the paved road in America was only one year old.

Merkel’s technical expertise places him beside George Brough, Albert Crocker, and Phil Vincent in the pantheon of early motorcycle legends. His skilled hands pioneered designs for front and rear suspension, with his front suspension design resembling the telescopic forks still used today. His rear suspension design is often assumed to have been developed by Vincent in the 1930s or Yamaha in the 1970s, but Merkel was years ahead of them both.

The engine itself was years ahead of its time and nothing short of mechanical brilliance. Tested up to 6,000 rpms, counter-balanced for smooth operation, and fed by a throttle-controlled engine oiling system and an industry-first gear-driven Bosch magneto ignition, the Merkel engine had, quite simply, no competitor. It would be years before the common automobile could keep pace with such a motorcycle.

Offered here is a V-twin track racer, exactly as it was presented from 1910 onward, when one could purchase the Flying Merkel from a catalogue. When built in 1914, it sparkled in Omaha Orange, all the better to set off the flare of its signage. This was the year in which professional racer Maldwyn Jones, the most famous Merkel rider, won a five-mile match race against a Mercer Raceabout, pounding the dirt of a Dayton, Ohio, track. Highlighting the speed and reliability of the big twins, Jones won the National Endurance Race from Chicago to St. Louis and then followed that up by breaking the record on the Vanderbilt Cup course. Nineteen fourteen was, quite simply, the Flying Merkel’s brightest year in the spotlight.

The buyer who saw such successes would have ordered this Model 471 V-Twin with its single-speed transmission and the desirable final chain drive, rather than the belt drive that was an option. It boasts a headlight, mounted on correct brackets, as well as a sporty foot-operated cut-out on a new “silent” muffler. Behind Merkel’s patented Truss Spring Front Fork, the improved loop frame is built from AA1 standard welding tubing, with Double D reinforcement at the joints and flexible joints covered by oiled leather. Despite 28-inch wheels, the Flying Merkel’s suspension permits a low seat height. A Musselman rear coaster brake is activated by back-pedaling.

The owner has researched this Flying Merkel’s history back to the early 1950s, when it was owned by noted racer “Shorty” Tompkins, of Sacramento, California. Tompkins was renowned for the quality of his collection, which also included the famed 1915 Cyclone board track racer. Following Tompkins, the Flying Merkel was owned by renowned collectors Stu Laidlaw and Loren Burch for many years, and it is, indeed, believed to have been a California resident since new, as evidenced by the 1914 California license plate. At the time, California’s state highway system was just being built, so one must imagine a motorcycle of such power and speed navigating these newly paved motorways. It must have seemed almost otherworldly to the average passerby!

No less loving has been its present owner, for whom the spectacularly detailed, ground-up restoration was completed, using entirely authentic and correct parts. The owner is an expert in Flying Merkels, but this is, without exception, the best one he has ever owned. It has never been fired and has been shown only once, at the 2009 Newport Concours d’Elegance in Rhode Island, where it was awarded Best Bike.

Perhaps the Flying Merkel’s days of dirt and thunder are long behind it, but that spirit survives here, in this bike, which is presented in spectacular condition and has been returned precisely to how men like Maldwyn Jones would have known it. It speaks of California sun and East Coast brawn, with white wheels rolling and “THE FLYING MERKEL” announcing itself to all whom it passes at 96 mph.

This lot will be offered on a Bill of Sale.