The star of our ADV:Overland exhibition at the Petersen museum was Max Reisch’s very special overland-kitted 1932 Puch 250SL, on which he became the first person to travel over land from the Middle East to India by land using a motorized vehicle.  The Puch was a star because it remained in exactly the condition Reisch left it after his journey, with all his packs and panniers, ropes and stickers and tools intact: it is truly an amazing artifact of global travel, when such journey were undertaken only by the brave.  It’s estimated, in fact, that only 50 people went around the world in a motorcycle before 1980.  Reisch was indeed a brave fellow, as you can read for yourself in one of his many books, especially India: the Shimmering Dream, which is one of the only of his very many books that only covers his motorcycle journeys, and has been translated into English.

The Max Reisch 1932 Puch 250SL at the Timmelsjoch Pass outside the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum in Austria last September, with Paul d’Orleans aboard. [Mark Upham]
Reisch made two major journeys on Puch motorcycles: his India trip and a journey the year prior on 1929 Puch 250T across Europe and the top of Africa. Being an Austrian, he thought it prudent to use Austrian vehicles…and it was a great way to get financial/technical support for his very extensive and difficult adventures. His 6000mile trip across North Africa was the first for an Austrian vehicle, and gave Reisch very useful experience on what to do, and not to do, with an overland vehicle.  It also made him something of a celebrity in Austria, and spurred his ambitions to be the first to conquer the recently-rediscovered overland path from Afghanistan to India.  His 1932 Puch 250SL was ridden two-up with Hubert Tichy, who later had a career as a mountaineer and explorer.  I first encountered that remarkable time-warp Puch at the Concorso Villa d’Este, and was entranced: the bike is as charismatic a motorcycle as ever I’ve seen.  When I conceived the idea for the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Museum in 2021, it was the first vehicle on my list, and it still amazes me that the family entrusted an unknown curator in a faraway country with such a treasure.

Max Reisch’s first overland vehicle, a 1929 Puch 250T. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
After his motorcycle journeys, Reisch went all the way around the world using a 1934 Steyr 100 car, which was also outfitted specially by the factory for the 24,000mile journey: from Vienna across the Middle East again to India, then Indochina to Shanghai, Japan, the USA and Mexico, and across Europe.  By now a veteran traveler, Max Reisch was yet only 22 years old in 1935, and began this automotive journey with 19yo Helmuth Hahmann, and engineering student. Before the construction of the Burma Road, driving from India to southern China meant weeks of difficult travel, constantly sinking over their axles in mud through jungle paths, crossing wild rivers on plank rafts, and meeting fascinating communities who’d had little contact with Europeans. Reisch arrived back in Vienna in December 1936, and wrote about his epic adventures in An Incredible Journey.

The amazing Steyr 100 convertible used by Reisch for his around-the-world journey in 1935/6, with Alban Scheiber, co-owner of the Museum. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
When Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Reisch soon found himself drafted by the German Army.  His familiarity with North Africa and his skills with vehicles saw him handed a wrench instead of a gun, and he spent the war repairing everything with wheels under Rommel’s Afrikakorps.  His book Out of the Rat Trap is an entertaining document of his time with a vehicle maintenance unit in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, his desert escapades with a captured Jeep, scavenging destroyed vehicles for spare parts, and visiting desert oases like Siwa.  He foresaw the German defeat and made plans for his escape, stealing an old fishing boat with seven colleagues and a dog, and making their way out of Africa to Italy through terrifying circumstances.

Europe’s first mobile home? The little Atlas 800 in deep sand in Saudia Arabia, 1953. [Max Reisch Archive]
After the War, when motorsports were allowed once again, Reisch won the Austrian Rally Championship in 1950 with a Steyr sedan.  Despite marrying and having two children, his wanderlust was ever-present, and in 1950 he commissioned what is probably the first European motorhome from the coachbuilder Jenbacher on a Gutbrod delivery van chassis.  Dubbed the Atlas 800 (for its 800cc / 18hp motor), in 1951/2 Reisch and his wife Christiane.  They first drove to the Arctic Circle to test the Atlas, then the following year Reisch made an extensive tour of the Middle East, including an invitation to Riyadh, which was then banned for infidels.  In 1953 he toured North Africa once again, for the Austrian Tourism Ministry, and his trusty Atlas was re-dubbed ‘Sadigi’ – friend in Arabic.

It’s all there – the bags and boxes and ropes and tools used for overlanding in the 1950s. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
Amazingly, all the vehicles Dr. Max Reisch used on his journeys were kept in exactly the condition in which they finished their travels, despite the decades and the wars, and displayed in a private family museum along with extensive souvenirs from his travels.  The family maintained his extensive archive and vehicles for decades (check their fascinating website here), but time has taken its toll, and the family has decided it best to relinquish these treasures to a museum better able to present them to a wide audience.

Alban and Attila Scheiber are handed the keys to the overland kingdom by Peter Reisch, Sep. 14 2022. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
What better place than another Austrian museum?  The Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum was of course, the perfect place, visited by hundreds of thousands of travelers every year.  On September 15th, I was privileged to attend a press ceremony for the handing over of the Reisch vehicles and archive in Timmeljoch, Austria, my first visit to the Top Mountain Museum owned by the brothers Attila and Alban Scheiber.  Many members of the extended Reisch family were present, with Max Reisch’s son Peter representing this amazing estate.  Along with the vehicles, Reich’s office is re-created in the museum, his desk and library, along with many of his photos and souvenirs.   Most amazing, though, are the specialized vehicles, with all their tools, bags, stoves, and gear still intact, along with stickers and graffiti from their travels scratched into the paint or painted on.  It must be the most extensive and complete display of vintage Overland vehicles anywhere.  If you’re in the north of Italy, or Austria/Germany/Switzerland, you owe it to yourself to visit the museum: not just for the extraordinary Reisch collection, but also because Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum is situated in the most breathtaking location possible, at the top of the Tyrol mountains, overlooking the world.

Max Reisch on his 1932 Puch 250SL en route to India. [Max Reisch Archive]
Can’t beat the view at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum, atop the highest road over the Tyrol. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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