Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bob Magill and The American Racer

I have been hunting for a certain book for a number of years now, the book in question is American Racer by Stephen Wright, in particular volume 1, American Racer, 1900-1940, published at the authors own expense in 1979.

There are currently two copies on e-bay, one at £285 the other at £395! I guess it's a book that is rare and sought after, so much so that it has recently been reprinted in the USA by Megden Publishing Co, but still costs $125 to purchase and post to the UK. It looks like I'm going to have to bite the bullet though because the book really is worth owning for a student of vintage bike racing like me.

The book has been described as containing "indispensable information and many rare photos" and also as "a book handsome enough to rest on anyone’s coffee table". The author was also quite a charachter himself. His occupation at the time of writing the book was restoring and purchasing early American bikes for Steve McQueen’s collection... Oh yeah!

It is the amazing photographs that really bring the book to life though. One of the photographers credited for the bulk of the photographs in the 2nd volume is "Magill".

Bob Magill was a talented photographer who mainly worked in California during the late 1940s using a Kodak Medalist and several other medium-format cameras. He was also an accomplished machinist, he worked on the Apollo Space programme during the 1960s, built houses and worked in a Coast Guard sea-and-air-rescue unit during WW2. He was also full of tremendous stories that could be backed up with the prints he carried with him. Magill, like many photography purists of that era, could never get his head around the reasons why the news photography industry dropped medium-format cameras in preference for 35mm. "I can't understand why fellas use 35mm. The frame is so small, it's like shooting through a microscope". I wonder what he'd make of todays digital kit?

To get a feel for some of the wonderfully evocative and immensely detailed images that Bob Magill will be remebered for, here's a selection of his photographs that were reproduced for posterity on SuperbikePlanet courtesy of Dean Adams, who also provided the basis of the information on Bob Magill.

Actor and motorcycle racer Keenan Wynn (with cigar) out for a ride with his motorcycling mates.

Don and Marge Fera on a real 1940s American Harley-D Racer

Floyd Emde at the start of the 1940 Oakland 200 mile race.

Stripped down British Bikes on the start line at Lincoln Park.

The start line at Riverside in 1949

An Unknown "American Racer" at speed.


1 comment:

  1. I recommend that you buy the book from Steve right away. All of his books are top notch. And he's a nice guy too! I have a quick review of two of his books here: http://occhiolungo.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/bibliography-3-general-mc-books/

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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.