PHOTOGRAPHY OF BOB MAGILL | EPIC IMAGES OF VINTAGE AMERICAN MOTORCYCLING

“Don & Marge Fera, 1940s. Back then, race bikes had hand-shifters, metal number plates and if your gal had nerve she showed just a hint of leg.”  –caption by Dean Adams

These guys (Eh-hem…and gal) are cool because they’re not tryin’ to be– they’re simply doin’ what they love to do.  Riding. These epic shots taken back in the 1940s & ’50s perfectly show the natural, raw beauty of motorcycling in its purist form. The gear is no-nonsense and rugged sportswear, and the expressions of grit & joy on their faces are priceless– captured by the legendary motorcycling photographer Bob Magill (1917-2005). Riding never looked better. Rolled, warn denim. Engineer boots. Leathers and goggles and caps– oh, my.

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“While those wobblers James Dean and Brando get all the press about riding bikes in the 1940s and 50s, character actor Keenan Wynn actually raced motorcycles (as did Howard Hawks). Here Wynn (with cigar) fills up for his riding pals, about sixty-odd years ago.”  –caption by Dean Adams

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“Don Emde’s dad, Floyd, on the grid of the 1940 Oakland 200 mile race.” –caption by Dean Adams

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“Riverside, 1949″  –Caption by Dean Adams.

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“Unknown rider, unknown race. At speed.”  –caption by Dean Adams

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“Lincoln Park, date unknown.”  –caption by Dean Adams

“Magill, like many purists, could never get his head around the fact that nearly the entire news photography industry dropped medium-format cameras for 35mm, without a real analysis of the wonderful photos that the larger format produced. ‘I can’t understand why fellas use 35mm. The frame is so small, it’s like shooting through a microscope,’ he’d muse.”

–Dean Adams

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Bob Magill photos on SuperbikePlanets

photos found via Jockey Journal

15 thoughts on “PHOTOGRAPHY OF BOB MAGILL | EPIC IMAGES OF VINTAGE AMERICAN MOTORCYCLING

  1. Really Real. ”COOL BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT TRYIN’ TO BE” = nuff said.

    Makes [at least some of] the cycle boys at Hot Rod Hayride look… kinda… well…

    uncool by comparison.

    Like the sayin’ goes; It’s Only Original Once. Love your site JP

  2. That first pic is awesome. That picture would not seem out of place in Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ . I love it but it also saddens me as it could be a current Ralph Lauren advertisement, unfortunately.

    It’s so sad that these modern sleeze merchants have grabbed onto & sullied what was pure and electric.

  3. Amazing post…yeah, boil cool down to its essence and this is what you get. Nice to see Keenan Wynn…when I was a kid we were driving up PCH and he was out there by the bathrooms at Will Rogers State Beach using a towel to put out a small fire on the engine of his bike.

    I remember thinking “wow” there’s that actor from “The Great Race” trying to put out a fire on his motorcycle…and now I know why. He came by it honestly.

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  5. Wonderful, wonderful images; thank you. What’s with all the upper case text of late? Doesn’t read right.

    Nevertheless, another great post – keep it up.

  6. Magill was an interesting fellow and prolific photographer. You’ll see his images in a lot of 1970s-1980s Motorbooks titles. He knew Marlyn Monroe and Dick Mann, and I think worked on some NASA Apollo projects so he had many many stories.

    He was going to do more printing for my archives but then had a series of strokes and regrettably died. I haven’t heard much from his wife, Helen, since then.

    Thanks for running those images. I think the lead pic of Don and Marge is one of the best photographs ever taken of a motorcycle racer. Even today I find myself staring at that image for long periods. It’s the essence of a man racing his motorcycle.

    I enjoy this blog. If you do talk to Lupi in Italy, please pass on my regards and tell him I think of him every time I see some poor soul pushing his Harley.

    • Dean,

      Thanks very much for stopping by. Love the stories on Magill- keep ‘em coming.

      I agree- the pic of Don and Marge is tops.

      Thanks for the kind words, and I’ll give Michele Lupi your regards.

      Best,

      JP

  7. Hard to believe this all happened decades before “Born to Be Wild” hit the airwaves. Absolutely spot-on photos, inspiring me to pull out Grandpa’s stiff zippered leathers over “The Mild One’s” paisley smoking jacket. (Man, that was a damn slippery slope from “Unisex”, wasn’t it?)

    PHOTO TRIVIA: Notice Mr. Wynn sucking down a Lucky while pumping the petrol. I’m guessing this was in the Calabasas area, which to this day is HOME of the SUNDAY BIKERS. (Sagebrush Cantina, Rock Store, Mulholland, etc.) Amusing that today’s Calabasas is the one town in SoCal that makes it a crime to brandish a Zippo and fire up within the city limits.
    Also, in digging further the great shot of Brando in the doorway with the “B.R.M.C.” has two of the next decades greatest comedic Actors…WEARING COLORS! : Off MB’s elbow is ALVY MOORE, who was the memorable Agri-crat “Hank Kimball”, from “Green Acres” (’65-’71), and one Actor beyond is Jerry Paris, best known as Dick Van Dyke’s all too-affable neighbor Jerry Helper, who went on to become a terrific Television Comedy Director. So maybe they weren’t all “Wild Ones”, but somehow still managed to leave their imprints beyond that weekend in Hollister.

    Great piece, but I’ve come to expect no less. Thank you.

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