1895 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller | History

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Motorcycle Auction

Bonhams has announced the sale of an original circa 1895 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller motorcycle 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 enter series production, and is the first such vehicle to which the name ‘motorcycle’ (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.

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.

This motorcycle 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 $60,000 – $90,000.