Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Yours truly will be providing 'color' commentary again for the MidAmerica Las Vegas Antique Motorcycle Auction, January 7/8/9 2010, and have been doing my 'homework' by taking a hard look at the 500 bikes coming under the hammer, as I'm hired to speak about most of them! Surely, not a bad gig for someone so thoroughly saturated in Motorcycle History.

One of the many rare machines for sale, which caught my eye is this 1955 Maico 'Mobil' (above); certainly unusual on American highways, even with the great enthusiasm of our domestic scooter collectors. In fact, while I've seen a few of the later 'Maicoletta' model, I don't believe a 'Mobil' lives in the Bay Area - a pity, as the bodywork for this early production streamliner was designed by none other than Louis Lucien Lepoix, subject of a recent post. I'm fairly sure he also designed the 'Maicoletta' which refined his initial concept of bulbous, flowing shapes, to something a lot lighter visually... although both scooters are among the largest ever produced (the portly Velocette Viceroy looking positively svelte by comparison to the Mobil).

A scan of Lepoix's pioneering wartime sketches (above) for rider-enclosed two-wheelers, and his 1948 actualizations of those designs (around B.M.W. and Horex machines), clarifies the line of his design evolution between 1942 and 1950, when he penned the bodywork for Maico. Like his motorcycles, the Mobil has full protection for the rider, and a road test report in Motor Cycling (Dec. 1953) quotes, "A 115 mile journey was undertaken at the outset, and on arrival at the destination the rider had only superficial water splashes (it had been raining continuously) on the shoulders and head. A pedestrian walking 400 yards would have suffered more".

The Mobil isn't a scooter per se, but like the Honda 'Pacific Coast' of the 1990s, is a fully enclosed motorcycle. The 175cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine of Maico's own make is housed in a full duplex tube frame, with telescopic forks and interchangeable 14" aluminum disc wheels, with a spare carried out back. The body panels are aluminum, and quickly detachable, with easy engine access and a lockable lid for capacious integral panniers. Promotional materials at the début of the prototype (June 1950, Reulingen, see photo of prototype above) called the Mobil 'not a scooter but a motorcycle with a body giving a high degree of protection against the weather', and 'an auto on two wheels', which could enable a rider to cover 300 miles in a day comfortably. The 60mph top speed of the Mobil would have meant a Long riding day for that kind of mileage, but with good suspension front and rear, and all that wind shielding, the bike lived up to its promise.

Teutonic reliability is taken for granted these days, but Maico was only 3 years into making its own engines, built within completely new manufacturing plants (at Herrenberg and Pfaffingen), after their original factory was dismantled by Allied forces immediately postwar. Terrific showings in the 1951 and 1952 I.S.D.Ts (using their more traditional motorcycles) provided an instant reputation for Maico reliability, especially as their NSU-riding teammates in '52 had a dismal mechanical showing, while all 6 Maicos entered gained golds (an interesting echo of the early postwar competition successes of Japanese manufacturers like Yamaha and Honda).