Bookshelf: The art and beauty of the vintage motorcycle

Book showcases Heroes Motors’ restorations of aged two-wheel machines

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Larry's favorite bike in the book is this 1929 Majestic 500cc | The Art of the Vintage Motorcycle photo

There are obvious differences between motorcycles and automobiles. Number of wheels. Degree of exposure of rider, driver and passengers to the environment. And at least one you can appreciate even if you never climb aboard a motorcycle — the fact that you don’t have to open a hood to see the source of propulsion. 

It is this later element that allows motorcycles, and especially vintage bikes, move from the realm of transportation to that of art, as works not only of mechanics but of sculpture to be seen and appreciated.

And yet the machine displayed in the stunning that most fascinated me was one in which the powerplant is hidden behind what amounts to automotive-style coachwork. 

Book cover

The bike is the 1929 Majestic 500cc, the creation of George Roy, a Frenchman who wanted a vehicle that was part automobile, part motorcycle, and so he spanned the front and rear longerons with louvered metal panels. While those panels hide the engine, a 4-stroke, single-cylinder, air-cooled, 11-horsepower Chase, they actually enhance the bike’s sculptural appeal.

In the text of The Art of the Vintage Motorcycle, we learn that Roy’s motorcycles were among the first to feature then-revolutionary hub-center steering. We also read that he produced 100 of these half-car/half-motorcycle machines, painting those he did in 1929 red and those produced in 1930 blue.

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But the image in the book that I think best captures the essence of the machine is the pre-restoration photo with the coachwork showing an aged, dull-brown patina. Personally, I’d prefer the bike that way, preserved rather than restored in bright red, but Serge Bueno’s art form is the restoration of such vehicles to give them renewed life.

Bueno grew up in France but dreamed even as a child of Southern California and its surfer lifestyle. He studied art and photography at the Beaux-Arts de Paris school, but found a career in computer technology, though spending weekends restoring motorcycles in his garage. 

At age 40, he sold his company and moved to Los Angeles to open Heroes Motors, which has restored motorcycles for many Hollywood stars and has expanded with showrooms on La Brea Avenue in LA, on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood and in Malibu.

To showcase his work, Bueno worked with French journalist and author Gilles Lhote to produce a stunning and thick book featuring 40 of the motorcycles Bueno has restored, bikes ranging chronologically from a 1905 Peugeot factory racer to a 1955 Norton Manx 350. In between there are Indians and Harleys, Excelsiors and BMWs, and perhaps a few from motorcycle manufacturers you’ll be encountering for the first time.

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The photography is beautiful, the text is informative, and the paper is so thick as to add a luscious quality to the presentation. 

The book officially publishes in late September but you can pre-order it now for yourself or to jump-start your holiday shopping for the rider in your family.

Reviewed

The Art of the Vintage Motorcycle

By Serge Bueno and Gilles Lhote

Universe Publishing (an imprint of Rizzoli), 2020

ISBN 927-0-7893-3954-6

Hardcover, 240 pages

$45.95

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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