Old BMW motorcycles

Old BMW Airhead motorcycles that I have owned

By Duane Ausherman

I have been lucky to have owned some interesting vintage BMW models and here is a list with a few details.  Most are photos of photos.  Sorry for the poor quality.  Many of these photos were taken in Fort Bidwell at my BMW museum 1975-92.

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This is volume 1, number 2 in October, 1972 of the Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners Club.

1.  The oldest was actually a 1921 Victoria that used the M2B15 BMW engine.  This was before BMW made their own bikes.  It was a 500 cc boxer flat head with an external flywheel.  The bike wasn’t complete but it had enough of the parts to be interesting.  The engine wasn’t crosswise like BMW always mounted them, but fore and aft.  A chain drove the transmission and a belt drove the rear wheel.  The rear brake was a piece of wood that pinched the belt pulley on the rear wheel.  I discovered this bike in a small motorcycle shop in Denmark.  We were only in Denmark because Germany had some holiday and everything was closed.  I sold this bike in the late 70’s.

2.  I had three R52s for several years.  All were in running condition, but in different configurations with accessories such as lights and horns.

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Riding one of my R52’s in Fort Bidwell, Ca.  in about 1978

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3.  R35.  A single cylinder 350 cc “trials” bike.  Of course it had the usual hand shift.  It ran quite well, but it vibrated very badly and was very uncomfortable to ride.  This one puts vibration in a whole new light.

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4.  R2.  This was a series 1 and was quite complete and in decent running condition and we used it often in various events.  It had two solo seats and was fun to show passengers the mid 30s BMW experience.

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5.  R17.  A 750 cc overhead valve sport bike of the late 30s.  It had a beautiful valenced front fender with an interesting oval shaped cutout in it.  I never had it running because of missing clutch parts.

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6.  R4.  I owned two very rusty models that we only had one engine fire up and sort of run.  It shook so badly while on the center stand, that it would walk sideways across the floor at certain rpm.

7.  R61 and R71.  The R61 was a great runner.  Very soon after I got it from Germany I entered it in the California 1000.  A Southern California event that wound all over in deserts and mountains while trying to go 1000 miles in 24 hours.  I made it with a couple of hours to spare.  The top speed of that old tired engine was limited to about 60-65 so I only ran it at about 55 and that meant only 4-5 hours to sleep, if nothing went wrong.  The battery ground wire came loose, but that was only 10 minutes to fix.  I didn’t pass even one rider during the whole 1000 miles.  I had my sleeping bag and a tool kit and that was enough.  It was the oldest bike to enter or finish.  Hundreds of riders wished me good luck and offered encouragement along the way.

R71L.jpg (40784 bytes)                                              R71R.jpg (40577 bytes)

8.  R23.  It ran ok, but we didn’t use it much as it wasn’t as flashy as the R2, or as old looking.  It was about the same as a R24 with a very short tank.  Can’t find a picture of it.

9.  R75 sport solo bike.  After the war the allies restricted motorcycle companies to only 250 cc bikes.  In 1950 that was altered to allow 500 cc bikes.  It was late 60s until they were allowed to make a 750.  The war had ended and BMW had been bombed to rubble.  They were cash strapped and had to do something.  The found some old R75 military motors and built a special frame similar to the R71 for it.  I heard that maybe as many as a few dozen were built and sold “under the table” to rich sport riders.  The engine was highly modified and very powerful.  I ran across one at some BMW rally.  The owner had only some slight knowledge of his bike.  I bought it and spent the next couple of years trying to get the full story.  I learned that of the several factories that had been converted to BMW motorcycle production some continued to make motorcycles.  We were never sure that the bike was made by BMW.  It was popular, in Germany, for private owners to use the military engine in an old frame.  The frame had to be modified slightly for it to fit.  When this one finally was stripped of paint then we could see that it hadn’t been modified, but had been specially built for that engine.  It has now ended up in the hands of Joe Groeger who has fixed a clutch and transmission problem.  This bike is very powerful for something so old.  It has been raced in the vintage class in the San Francisco Bay Area.

R75SL.jpg (41071 bytes)                                R75SR.jpg (41034 bytes)

10.  R24.  A gift of a German motorcycle rider whom I visited in 1969.  He lived in a small village near the border with Eastern Germany.  The only person who could speak English in the village was a 10 year old girl and poorly, but better than my German.  It was literally leaning up against a wall in his barn surrounded by straw.  I was prepared to buy it, but he wanted to give it to me.  He had used it often up till about 63.  It ran ok, but had carb problems.

R24L.jpg (42411 bytes)                           R24R.jpg (40389 bytes)

11.  R51/2.  A real throw back to the late 30s.  It didn’t’ even have a magneto, but battery coil ignition.  I had a full spare drive train for it.  The air cleaner was unique.  It was the same wire mesh used in many of the R61/R71 era bikes, but they added a swooping cover to it.

R51-2L.jpg (40764 bytes)                             R51-2R.jpg (40725 bytes)


12.  R67/2.  We started restoring it and got the mechanicals finished, but none of the cosmetics.

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13.  R69, 1956.  When BMW came out with the Earles fork models they showed several weaknesses.  Most of them were fixed and came out in mid 57.  It was called the accessory group and even advertised.  I restored it in 1974.  This one is now owned by my long time friend, Peter Brewer.  It took me 10 years to find all of the “bad” parts to make it correct.

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I have owned one, or more, of all of the postwar bikes up to 1979, except the R68.