A £60k price tag for 'the find of the decade'

Bonhams are offering a lot in April which they are billing as "the find of the decade".

An original circa 1895 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller motorcycle - described by the auctioneers as "the ultimate motorcycle" - will sell at the first of its two annual Stafford auctions.

Manufactured in Munich, Germany, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller is of the utmost historical significance as the first powered two-wheeler to ever enter series production.

As such, it is the first such vehicle to which the name "motorcycle" (or "motorrad" in German) was ever applied.

The Hildebrand brothers, Henry and Wilhelm, developed their motorcycle in partnership with Alois Wolfmüller and his mechanic, Hans Geisenhof. 

Their design was powered by a twin-cylinder, water-cooled, four-stroke engine displacing 1,488cc, which until relatively recent times was the largest power unit ever fitted to a motorcycle. 

Despite a maximum power output of only 2.5bhp at 240rpm, the H&W was capable of speeds approaching 30mph - an exciting prospect at a time, when powered road transport of any sort was still a novelty.

Even until fairly recently, the bike's 488cc engine was the
largest power unit ever fitted to a motorcycle

Patented in January 1894, H&W's motorcycle was greeted with considerable enthusiasm and plans were drawn up to build a factory in Munich to produce it.

It was also licensed to a firm in France and marketed there as La Petrolette. 

Despite some impressive demonstration performances by factory riders, the H&W's shortcomings became all too apparent once deliveries to paying customers commenced, and early in 1897 both the German and French ventures collapsed. 

Opinions differ with regard to how many machines were produced. Figures range from as low as 800 to as high as 2,000. 

Survivors are, needless to say, exceedingly rare.

The example appearing at auction has been in the ownership of the vendor's family in the USA since at least the early 1930s, which is when it last ran. 

Presented in original, unrestored condition, this wonderful machine represents the ultimate acquisition for the serious private collector or any museum devoted to the history of powered transport and is estimated at £40,000-60,000.

It will auction at The International Classic MotorCycle Show in Stafford, on April 25, 2010.

If you are a collector of historic two-wheeled machines, you'll also be interested to hear that an important collection of 100 motorcycles - mainly pre-1950 machines, from Pamplona, Spain - are auctioning at the RAF Museum in Hendon, UK on February 27.

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