A Brief History: The Victor McLaglen Motor Corps

Victor McLaglen was a well-known movie star in Hollywood during the 1930s, having won an Academy Award for “The Informer” and appeared in several films with stars such as John Wayne. He later became known for his police-style uniformed and Harley mounted display team, the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps…as can be seen in the video at the end of the article that shows the team taking part in a 1937 educational video for GMC motors.

McLaglen’s previous interest involved the Light Horse Drill Team that he also sponsored, an outfit of incredibly well trained horses and talented riders that wowed all audiences before them. He loved to put on a show..

It was in 1935, while working on one of his many film sets, that McLaglen became friendly with stuntman Nick DeRush, who was as well known for his exploits on his Harley-Davidson as he was his film work. Bizarrely, at weekends, he would head over to the Santa Monica pier and pass his hat around the public to collect cash, with the promise that he would ride his Harley off the end of pier and into the sea. As soon as the hat was full, he’d do exactly as was promised, followed by his friends who’d help him drag the bike back to shore and clean it out ready for the following weekend.

After hearing about McLaglen’s Light Horse Drill Team, DeRush placed a bet that himself and the rest of his biker gang could put on a display that not only matched the horse mounted drill team, but also better them. If he proved it to be true, McLaglen would also have to sponsor a new motorcycle drill team with Victor at the helm.

McLaglen was so impressed, not only did he sponsor the team, he also bought each member a new leather jacket and cap…the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps was born.

Above: Victor McLaglen on the set of The Informer

In 1936, the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps went up against the famous Mexico City Motorcycle Drill Team in Los Angeles, a show that would rank among the best of the era. Both teams put on an incredible display, however ultimately McLaglen and his team took the World Championship.

DeRush remained leader until 1942, when WW2 caused the team to break-up temporarily, before being reformed with Herb Harker taking over the reigns for the next 32 years. Victor Mclaglen died in 1959.

On Herb’s retirement, Harry Fisher (of the Huntington Park Elks Motorcycle Stunt & Drill Team) took over and set about returning the now tired Victor McLaglen Motor Corps to full steam, complete with some of the old Elks riders. Until his death in 2014, his team set numerous world records, including the 1980 world record of 22 men on Harry Fisher’s 1964 motorcycle, and Scott Griffin almost set a record by standing on the seat of his Harley for 6 miles.

Despite a uniform change in 2001, the Victor McLaglen Motor Corps are still instantly recognisable and are still performing to hundreds of thousands of fans every year.

Visit the VMMC website

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