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A German superbike with American ties – the Clymer-Muench Mammoth

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1970 Clymer-Muench Mammoth. Photos courtesy Bonhams.

Motorcycle historians often cite Honda as building “the first superbike,” yet an obscure model from a largely unknown German brand – with ties to America – came to market first. The Muench Mammoth never enjoyed the same commercial success as its mass-produced rivals, thanks in part to its eye-opening price. Next month, a carefully restored 1970 Clymer-Muench Mammoth heads to auction as part of Bonhams Spring Stafford Sale, giving buyers a chance to acquire a unique bit of motorcycling history.

Friedl Muench began his motorcycle industry career in the late 1940s with German brand Horex, working as a mechanic in its competition department. When Horex faltered in the late 1950s, Muench found himself in a position to acquire an inventory of spares and unsold motorcycles, which he then tuned and converted into café racers for his performance-oriented clientele.

In 1966, Muench was approached by Jean Murit, a former motorcycle sidecar racer, who commissioned him to build a particularly powerful bike. Instead of choosing an existing motorcycle engine, Muench turned to the automotive world, where he opted for the air-cooled, overhead-camshaft 1,000cc four-cylinder used in the NSU Prinz. To fit in his hand-built cradle frame, Muench mounted the engine transversely, mating it to an existing Horex four-speed gearbox.

1970 Clymer-Muench Mammoth

To compensate for the engine’s weight, Muench fabricated a number of parts from Elektron, a magnesium alloy that was lighter than aluminum, though stronger and more expensive. Opting to retain a chain final drive, Muench fully enclosed the chain in an oil bath, equipping it with a tensioner to eliminate alignment issues typically associated with adjustment on conventional motorcycles.

Motorcycle journalist Ernst Leverkus was the first (aside from Friedl Muench) to test the Mammoth, and came away praising the bike’s power, speed and capabilities. Sensing that the opportunity could be significantly larger than a one-off creation, Muench and Leverkus took the prototype to NSU, once the highest-volume motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Then out of the two-wheeled motor vehicle business, NSU declined, but agreed to provide Muench with Prinz engines as needed.

Muench debuted his creation in September 1966, at the Cologne International Motorcycle Show, where he reportedly wrote 18 orders for a motorcycle he was ill-equipped to produce in such quantities. Enter American investor Floyd Clymer – founder of Cycle magazine and repair manual publisher – who offered to bankroll Muench’s endeavor in exchange for a sole distributorship in the United States. Clymer took on the business side of the joint-venture, freeing Muench to devote his full attention to engineering.

1970 Clymer-Muench Mammoth

In 1967, Muench opened a factory in Ossenheim, Germany, where 20 workers labored to produce 30 bukes during the first year of production. A copyright issue meant that the Mammoth name couldn’t be used in Europe, so instead, the bikes were called the 4TT (and later, the 4TTS), while American buyers were offered the Clymer-Muench Mammoth. By the time the production version debuted, engine size had grown from 1,000cc to 1,085cc, while horsepower rose to 70. Later, in 1968, displacement grew again, this time to 1,177cc, pushing output to 88hp.

Early production examples were equipped with spoked rear wheels, but even the stoutest spokes and nipples were no match for the torque produced by the 1,177cc NSU four. Muench took a novel approach to solving the problem, casting a bladed rear wheel with an integral brake drum from Elektron. The Muench became the first production motorcycle equipped with a cast rear wheel, a standard feature on contemporary machines.

At $3,995 – more than twice the price of a BMW – Muench motorcycles proved to be a tough sell, and the company struggled to remain afloat. With Clymer’s health in decline, the American investor sold his interest in the venture to Arthur Bell at the end of the 1960s. Bell tasked his son George with running the business, and even constructed a new factory for Muench in Altenstadt, West Germany. George remained on board for roughly a year before abandoning the business, and in 1971 Muench was forced into bankruptcy.

1970 Clymer-Muench Mammoth

A series of partners allowed Muench to keep building motorcycles into 1975, but then the production line stopped for good. In total, roughly 500 Muench motorcycles were assembled from 1967-’75, and of these, about 320 are known to survive today. The example heading to auction in April is one of roughly 150 Clymer-Muench Mammoths constructed, each of which was “Built up to a standard, not down to a price” per the period literature. Sold new to a buyer in New Jersey, the Mammoth has reportedly been restored to “the highest quality standards,” and Bonhams is predicting a selling price between £75,000 – £100,000 ($100,000 – $140,000) when the bike crosses the auction stage.

Bonhams Spring Stafford Sale takes place on April 21-22 at the Staffordshire County Showground in Stafford, England. For additional details, visit