The Amazing Victor McLaglen Motor Corps: The History of the Oldest Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team in the World 1935–2014
by Ruth H. Fisher
Reviewed by Wendell Perry
Who was Victor McLaglen and how did he become involved with a motorcycle stunt team?
What is it like to ride a speeding motorcycle through a tunnel of fire?
How does one rider manage to drive a 1964 Harley-Davidson with 23 other guys hanging on for dear life, and why?
The answer to these questions, as well as the compilation of other important facts, has been a long time coming, and no one more dedicated to the subject matter could have been entrusted with this precious task than Ruth H. Fisher. Her unique perspective as the wife of Harry Fisher, commander of the Victor McLaglen Motorcycle Corps (VMMC) from 1979 until his death in 2014, is an important qualifier. Ruth, also known as “The Voice of the VMMC,” as she would usually announce for the team performances, identifying the stunt formations and interjecting interesting facts and details about the team and members, shares her passion for the team and what their history has driven in this work of love.
Having covered motorcycling events for THUNDER PRESS since 1992, I had the opportunity over the years to become familiar with the team, and in 2003 I was thrilled to be invited to their 68th annual Awards Banquet, held at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, California.
Up to this point in our acquaintance I had marveled at the team stunt and drill performances on Harley-Davidson motorcycles at all the best motorcycling events, but I hadn’t quite understood the true importance of the team to the sport and significance to the motorcycle industry. The opportunity to view the photo album of Hubert “Hubie” Phillips, the first historian for the original Victor McLaglen Light Horse Team, starting in 1937 (the precursor to the motorcycle team), as well as many tables full of accumulated trophies, assorted memorabilia and photo albums, opened my eyes and fueled my curiosity to learn more about the historic team.
It was that night that Ruth first assured me of her sincere intention to compile a book with this information and history, wanting to take it out of the albums, notebooks and boxes, locked away in safekeeping for so many years, and see it shared and enjoyed by enthusiasts of all kinds.
Ruth has more than accomplished her goal. With this publication she does more than chronologically organize the information, photos, media coverage, and is able to include incredible personal stories of team members as well as her own personal experiences as a representative of the team and the firsthand witness to 35 years of accomplishments and history.
Ruth is able to tell an interesting tale while maintaining attention to detail as to locations and dates of performances. Ruth generously shares credit throughout the book when she was able to rely on some of the many real expert individuals who have been involved with the team over the years in attempting to put a date on some of the photos. She also took care as to particulars of years and models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles used, as well as information about necessary modifications made to assist in the execution of some of the complicated stunts. Her easy manner of speaking, much as she would announce for team performances, helps her deliver what could be dry details with much love and enthusiasm.
Ruth presents a clear picture of the level of commitment required from team members in order to present an entertaining and safe performance such as the event attendee would enjoy today, but also reveals that in years past there was intense competition between the VMMC and several other teams, both locally (in the southern California area), from out of state, and even from an international rival, which necessitated even more dedication to practice for perfection.
The inclusion of copies of articles from a variety of motorcycle magazines, ranging from Motorcyclist Magazine, the official publication of the American Motorcyclist Association, to Easyiders, Cycle News, Street Chopper, Modern Cycle, Hot Rod Bikes, and THUNDER PRESS, adds historical interest and depth. Clips from numerous local newspapers from around the United States, as the team would tour to multiple states in some years, conveys a feel for the change in the culture as time progressed.
Each decade represented in Ruth’s layout of the VMMC history reveals interesting tidbits besides the facts and statistics. Readers will be amazed to find a connection to the television show Sons of Anarchy and the Academy Award-winning team namesake. The Victor McLaglen Motor Corps, themselves, appeared in a 1941 Academy Award-nominated movie.
I urge the reader to explore the appendices, as the end isn’t the end until you delve into the details of the 1995/1996 Cycle World International Motorcycle Shows (Appendix B) and 2000/2001 Cycle World International Motorcycle Shows (Appendix C), for an astounding picture of what it takes to put the VMMC on the road.
Ruth ends her history of the team in 2014 due to the end of her official association with the team, but assures readers that the team is alive and well and performing at a motorcycle event near them.
A soon-to-be-published sequel, of sorts, to the VMMC history is described by Ruth as an additional appendix that couldn’t be included in the first book due to size constraints. The 117-page book includes the list of members of the team from 1935–2014 with pictures of each, if available, and any information Ruth has about them, and additional information about the team “Blooper Awards.” This could be of interest to a limited audience, but sounds to me like important “need to know” information.
The motorcycle history buffs on your Christmas list will appreciate these publications.