HERBERT HENRY COLLIER, KATE MOSS & MATCHLESS MOTORCYCLES - WHAT'S THE CONNECTION?
What links Herbert Henry Collier the founder of Matchless motorcycles in the late 1800's and Kate Moss supermodel of today?
Herbert Henry had his first bike in production in 1901, and until the factory's closure in 1966 with the collapse of Associated Motorcycles (AMC), Matchless were among the leading innovators in engineering and design, and garnered many honours in trials, endurance and road race competition. Kate Moss sat on one for a Vogue photo session in 2013. Why? Is an appropriate question.
Brands dominate our era, and the name Matchless has been seen as having an identity that can be used to sell stuff. In this case high value fashion wear and accessories: but there is also a motorcycle angle to this, of which more later.
In 2006 the Matchless name was bought by a Greek outifit who intended to use it to front up a range of the aforementioned fashion gear. But that all fell flat and they sold the brand on to the Malenotti family of Italy, who had previously had experience of turning a famous motorcycle brand from utility, to must-have fashion item, by acquiring Belstaff. The wax cotton jackets seen on the back of just about every top trials and scramble (moto x) rider back in the day, and made 'famous' by Steve McQueen, who was a skilled enough off roader to be picked for the USA International Six Day Trial team – a tough team rally that was the forerunner to the Dakar and other long distance events.
The Malenotti's unloaded Belstaff for a number of millions to a US businessman named Harry Slatkin, famous for his exploits in getting A list celebs to endorse his company's fragrances - you don't really want to know, but like everything else in the world the info is on line. Slatkin successfully turned a rain and oil soaked garment that probably lived in riders' sheds, into a must-have fashion range, but they still trade heavily on motorcycle antecedents on their web site, there's even a piece about Sammy Miller.
The Malenotti family are embarking on a similar exercise using Matchless as their brand, and like Belstaff the advertising and website www.matchlesslondon.com leans heavily on the motorcycle's history and background. After all it was Charlie Collier, son of Herbert, who won the first TT race in 1907.
Their gear is aimed at a new, and perhaps more affluent market than 'traditional' motorcycling caters for. Designed for both casual wear and riding it does not come cheap. For example one of their plain style leather jackets will clock up £879 on your plastic, and what caught my eye so to speak, and encouraged me to explore further, was a pair of sunglasses for a penny short of three hundred quid – that would be £299.99. With the Matchless logo and words 'Speed 1899' on the frame. Referring to the year the first prototype bike was unveiled.
This is not stuff for the year round rider, tourer or daily commuter. More likely to be purchased by those who want to own a motorcycle as a lifestyle appendage. Nothing wrong with that of course, but not a segment of the market that is going to keep a generic trade thriving within the UK.
At last year's EICMA show in Milan. Matchless unveiled their Model X project. The Model X was a bike produced by Matchless between 1929 and 1940 in a number of guises. Originally with a V twin engine and a reinforced frame to take a sidecar, it was transformed in 1937 into what we would know as a sports tourer; and the current Matchless owners have used this as a concept to design and build a modern motorcycle.
It's certainly an eye catching lump, dominated by the V twin1100cc engine and created in a style that's a cross between a bobber and a Harley. Just a single deep leather seat on the prototype that's online (see web address above), and it's not difficult to vision one of these cruising the streets of Shoreditch with a well financially endowed hipster in the saddle – I hope they know how to keep all the lovely alloy polished and free from road crud.
We contacted Matchless to enquire when the bike might go into production and what the price is likely to be, but at the time of writing had not had a response. Whilst the UK bike industry disappeared from the sixties onwards; today a market for hand built niche market bikes is becoming more prevalent. With the Norton Commando coming with a price tag around £16,000, the new Ariel Ace priced from £20,000 depending on spec, and the re-modelled Brough Superior weighing in at around £50,000.
The world turns. Before volume production most bikes were hand built in small batches by people with craft and engineering skills that have largely disappeared. These new companies are reviving those skills but will be fishing for sales in a small pond. Nevertheless it would be good to see some of these new old bikes plying the highways.
Any comments on this article? Food for thought. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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