Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A lovely shot of the vast interior of the BMW factory in Munich, with the very first true BMW motorcycles on the production line. The interior space is fairly new, and was actually built in 1917 to make airplanes, as the company started life as BFW - Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Airplane Works). As history notes, the Versailles treaty which ended WW1 included a ban on all airplane manufacture in Germany, and the company sought other uses for their space. The workforce dropped from 3500 to a mere handful (as shown), as first they built the M2B15 engine, which was a Douglas flat-twin built under license, and was sold as an engine only to other motorcycle makers (including Helios, Victoria, Corona, Heller, Schneid, Henninger, SMW, and Bison from Austria).
Karl Popp (managing director of BMW) pressed Max Fritz (chief design engineer) to design a better engine, and although Fritz much preferred airplanes (and had ignored the ban to create one last BFW biplane, which flew to a record 32,000' in 1919 - and really pissed off the Allies!), he turned the Douglas engine through 90 degrees to bring the cylinders out to the sides and into the airstream, helping the engine run cooler, but making the cylinders a bit more vulnerable to damage (as I can attest, having ripped a jug off an R69S after a 'conversation' with a truck...).

The engine was 'square' at 68mm x 68mm, and of a sturdy but not powerful sidevalve design. (I've never ridden one, but have heard they are moped slow), and from the start used a clean shaft drive, and Metzeler tires (still original equipment on BMW's). The little bike weighed 264 lb, and with 8.5hp on tap, was good for around 60mph (by comparison, the 1920 ABC boxer 400cc twin would do around 74mph, and was raced at Brooklands), with an expected 80mpg fuel consumption (oh, where is such frugality today?). In 1924, the front wheel gained a brake, as shown in the second image (top pix have none, dating the photo as '23). Even with a low top speed, the R32 was reliable enough to win races from its inception, and was the harbinger of great things to come.

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