BMW Motorrad Spezial

1911 Curtiss Marvel

Curtiss motorcycle
If you know the name Glenn Curtiss, you’ll probably remember him for his aviation exploits before World War I. Flying his own planes, he trounced established names such as the Wright brothers in competitions. And despite being American, he was awarded the #2 official French pilot’s license—after Louis Bleriot, who flew the English Channel in 1909. But Curtiss’ first interest was motorcycles rather than airplanes. He not only set the motorcycle land speed record, but also beat the mighty Indian Motorcycle Company in endurance races.

Curtiss motorcycle
Very few Curtiss motorcycles have survived the passage of time, but this lovingly restored 1911 Marvel Single 500 is one of them, and it’s going under the hammer on Thursday at the Bonhams sale in Las Vegas. According to the catalog:

“The new Marvel was quite ingenious and bristled with innovation. At a time when most manufacturers used atmospheric intake valves, the new Marvel engine featured a jug cylinder with overhead valves and a unique actuation design that used a single pushrod to open both the intake and the exhaust valve mechanically. The 500cc engine developed 4 to 5 horsepower, substantially superior to anything else on the market at that time, and was one of the earliest overhead valve applications. Curtiss may have also had ambitions to race this engine, as the top of the cylinder has a spare boss intended to add a second spark plug in the head. An open magnet Bosch magneto provided reliable ignition to run the engine and a glass bowl Heitger carburetor controlled the fuel supply.

Curtiss motorcycle
“The chassis was as unusual as the motor. Instead of simply clamping the gas tank and oil tank on a conventional frame, these parts were brazed into the frame, which used cast bulkheads. The engine served as a stress member of the frame. A sturdy fork of Curtiss’ own design handled the poundings received on the road.”

The sale estimate is $50,000-70,000. Head over to the Bonhams website to check out the 200 other rare motorcycles going under the hammer, including an 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller.

Curtiss motorcycle

  • That belt drive in neat, I only wish there were high-res photos so I can see the brazed joints on that frame…

  • Emmet, the belt was called a Wata Wata belt. It is made from continuous inner and outer strips of leather with little leather segments in between them every couple of inches.

    Here are some photos of a repop Marvel frame being brazed up:

    I have some additional Marvel and Curtiss stuff on my site here: The last article on that page has a decent photo showing how that push/pull rod works to open both valves.

    The restorer did a great job, but he might want to change the angle that the handlebars were brazed.

    • Excellent craftsmanship, and thanks for another blog to put in my Google Reader feed!


    What will people think of today’s machines a 100 years from now ??

  • That’s a lot of technology which has merely been refined in the subsequent 100 years.

    Must’ve been like a nuclear rocket bike suddenly appearing today.

  • KIK

    i wonder if you can do burnouts with it.