Collecting vintage Münch Mammoth motorbikes

Competition to own the world’s first superbike is as fast and furious as the mighty machine itself, says Simon de Burton

The Münch exhibition at Technik Museum Speyer
The Münch exhibition at Technik Museum Speyer | Image: Technik Museum Speyer

Unlike the elephantine beasts of the same name that bestrode the earth thousands of years ago, the Münch “Mammoth” is not quite extinct – although it is extremely rare and rising fast in value. The Mammoth motorcycle was something of an oddity from the outset: it was the brainchild of genius German engineer Friedl Münch, who in the 1960s set out to build a machine that was bigger, faster, more comfortable and better engineered than anything that had gone before.

A 1971 Münch 1 177cc TTS, sold for £85,500 at Bonhams
A 1971 Münch 1 177cc TTS, sold for £85,500 at Bonhams | Image: Gordon Roland Peden

“When it came to the market in 1966, it must have seemed like a motorcycle from space,” says Mike Kron, the world’s leading Mammoth authority, who runs a business restoring and repairing original machines in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. “It was just so advanced and so different.” The groundbreaking behemoth had an oversize chassis and a 1,000cc, four-cylinder engine from an NSU Prinz car. Münch also equipped his exotic beast with numerous innovations, including his own highly efficient braking system, a quick-adjust drive chain running in a bath of oil, and an ahead-of-its-time cast-alloy rear wheel to cope with the engine’s 88 horsepower (which resulted in a top speed of more than 120mph).

Advertisement

Münch’s order book was quickly filled, despite the bike’s initial $4,000 price tag (three times more expensive than BMW’s contemporary flagship, the R69S) and a forced change of name to the undoubtedly less evocative Münch 4 after a bicycle manufacturer claimed the rights to the Mammoth name. But among enthusiasts Mammoth stuck, and the mighty machine soon attracted celebrities and the wealthy, who loved its extreme design and exclusivity. Noted owners included playboy Gunter Sachs and publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes (who also gave one to Elizabeth Taylor). More recently, one found its way into comedian Jay Leno’s celebrated garage, and French actor Gérard Depardieu rode one (borrowed from Kron) on a soul-searching road trip in the 2010 film Mammuth. 

Friedl Münch (third from right) and his colleagues in 1966 with the first Münch Mammoth ever built
Friedl Münch (third from right) and his colleagues in 1966 with the first Münch Mammoth ever built

Today, the best examples can fetch up to €150,000, with prices pushed up by scarcity; just 478 machines were built before production came to an abrupt halt in 1980, when the more affordable and less quirky large-capacity bikes from Japan made the Mammoth seem like an overblown irrelevance. “It’s estimated that only between 260 and 280 examples remain,” says Kron. “Since prices plummeted to around €2,500 in the early 1980s, some owners bought a second Mammoth to cannibalise for spare parts, which partly accounts for the fact that little more than half of the original production survives.” 

Advertisement

But rare as Mammoths may be, some fans just can’t stop buying them. In 2009 there was an auction of 10 examples from the estate of the late enthusiast David Manthey, who was so keen on the bikes he was dubbed “the Münch Man”. Several of the 26 Mammoths on permanent exhibition at Germany’s Technik Museum Speyer also belong to a single owner. Wilfred Dauphin, the CEO of an office furniture business, counts four Mammoths in his collection of 260 motorcycles, the earliest being the 13th produced and the latest, number 409. “I bought my first Mammoth in 1998; it was the first German superbike in my collection,” says Dauphin. “The strengths of the different models lie in their unique design and specifications, but if I were to recommend one to ride on a regular basis, I would definitely say one of the later 1,200cc versions.” The original 1966 Münch design was followed by the 1,200 TTS, which offered more power, even better acceleration and a top speed of 138mph; then the 1,200 TTS-E of 1973 became the world’s first production motorcycle to be fitted with a fuel-injection engine. 

“I haven’t, however, made long journeys on any of mine,” adds Dauphin. “They are only for display.” But for Kron, who can supply any part of a Mammoth and will even build a replica from the ground up, the whole point is the ride. “I’ve been riding Mammoths for more than 15 years. It’s a very different experience from a modern motorcycle – when you ride one, you feel as though you are actually part of it.”

Whether they want to ride them or not, few future collectors are likely to be in the position of having several Münchs to choose from, since enthusiasts tend to hold on to them and they rarely come up for sale. The last one sold in the UK crossed the block at Bonhams in October 2015, with a presale estimate of £28,000-£35,000; after a protracted battle between five bidders it sold for £85,500. “That was a 1971 example in good, original condition,” says Ben Walker, head of the motorcycle department at Bonhams. “In 2005 we sold one in San Francisco that had belonged to the well-known collector Otis Chandler for the equivalent of £41,036 – which just demonstrates how prices have risen. There is strong demand for these bikes, but they are becoming more and more difficult to source – and, therefore, all the more valuable.”

Advertisement
Loading