Our Blog 6/2023

Fred Luther and one of the world's first (if not the first) automobile powered motorcycles

Fred Luther was a pioneering motorcycle rider who had been competing since 1915. By 1934 his life must have become somewhat mundane as he came up with the idea of building a motorcycle to break the Land Speed Record.

21-Jun-23 historicracing.com

That is the outright land speed record, not just the motorcycle land speed record! Now what made Luther think that this was a good idea is not recorded though there was talk of a $10,000 prize for the first motorcycle to exceed 300mph. As it was this turned out to be a hoax and didn't exist.

Fred, an employee of Chrysler, persuaded Plymouth to supply him with a PF six cylinder engine and transmission to which was sent to Harry Miller to be tuned. Harry managed to extract 125 horsepower at 4,500 rpm. the fan and generator were removed to further improve the performance.

The engine was mounted lengthways in a Henderson X frame which was stretched to accommodate the larger power plant. The bike was 115 inches long was steered by means of two sprockets connected by a chain from the front forks to the handlebars. The brakes were the two pads which can be seen in the photograph just in front of the rear wheel which were lowered to bring the beast to a standstill!

With Firestone supplying special tyres Fred set off for Bonneville after a couple of shakedown runs. In March 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird had raised the mark to 276 mph and shortly before Fred's attempt had lifted it again to just over 301 mph making him the first person to exceed the 300 mph mark.

So with the official timers in place, Fred set off reaching a speed of 140 mph. Feeling more confident he pushed the machine a little harder on the return run but broke a con rod at 180 mph while still in second gear. Luther managed to bring the bike to a halt without sustaining any bodily damaged and walked away never to try again. However he did set a 160.33 mph two way average and kept the frame to remind him of his adventure.