Thursday, June 24, 2010


"Yes, but what's it like to ride?"
Every time I've seen the handiwork of eccentric constructor Friedl Münch, I can't help but be impressed by the sheer scale of the Mammuts which bear his name.  While every single one of his limited-production motorcycles is different from the rest, they have a remarkable consistency of build quality and use of trademark components, notably the NSU four-cylinder car engine used in the Prinz,  from which all parts radiate.
(Massive lump on the clutch side...)
Münch began his career in the late 1940s as an independent tuner and inveterate modifier of motorcycles.  His first notable work was on a Horex in 1948, which had such good performance the factory offered him a job in their competition department.  He had no desire to work for someone else, and refused their offer, but later relented due to financial difficulties, a consistent theme in his business life.
An example of the super-tasty Horex cafe racers built by Münch before turning to NSU engines...
After Horex went bankrupt in 1960, Münch bought their tooling, and made spares and built Horex specials (such as the tasty cafe racer above).   In the quest for more speed, he created a 'relatively' light racing motorcycle using the NSU ohc four-cylinder engine, weighing in at around 480lbs total, and giving good performance.  The frame was based on a Norton Featherbed, as were all his subsequent chassis.  The first proper 'Mammut' (Mammoth) was built in 1966, with 996cc and 55hp, which gave good performance for the day at 115mph or so. It used a very large (250mm) magnesium front drum brake which Munch had originally developed for racing Nortons.  The new machine was a sensation for its speed and impressive scale, and Munch pursued the idea of series production.

By 1968, the capacity was increased to 1177cc with 88hp with the '1200 TTS' model, the state of tune reflecting the NSU car of the same name.  Münch created the cast magnesium rear wheel with flat spokes which became a trademark of all later Mammuts, as even with robust 5mm spokes for his original wire wheels, the threads tended to strip on the spoke nipples.  As well, the seat/mudguard unit, headlamp bucket, and chainguard were cast in magnesium, for lighter weight.  Petrol tank and side panels were hand-hammered aluminum, and the single headlamp Sports models were joined by dual-headlamp Touring machines.  Despite all the magnesium, the bike weighed in at a mammoth 295kg (650lbs); not far out of line with 70s/80s sports machines from Japan actually, but in 1970 sports bikes were still typically under 500lbs.
Münch himself atop the Touring version with dual headlamps
The early 1200 TTS models used twin Weber DCOE carbs, but by 1973 fuel injection and 1278cc were available in the TTS-E, giving a full 100hp, with true Superbike performance.  American publisher and controversial motorcycle enterpreneur Floyd Clymer invested in Münch with an intention of large-scale production for the US market, but died before the project was fully underway, a tale of woe shared by his links with Velocette, Indian, Royal Enfield, Italjet, etc.

Thirsty?  Yes.
Münch, always struggling financially and casting about for backers, eventually sold his own name in association with his motorcycles to businessman Heinz Henke, who intended to series produce 'Münch' bikes (only a few were built, perhaps only 4).  Friedl maintained 'Mammut', and shortly began producing models under this name in limited numbers for collectors.  Every machine from the first was bespoke around a similar core, although the state of tune, shape of tanks, seat, mudguards, handlebars, headlamps, color, etc, were all optional. Each machine was hand-built by Friedl Münch and his employees, and his legend grew for his unique and mighty machines.  Less than 500 were ultimately built.
A Münch on a perfect summer day in rural Germany...
So, what is it like to ride?

My Road Test machine is a 1970 model with 1177cc engine, set up in Sport mode with the large single headlamp and twin 40mm Weber DCOE carbs.  These would have been hot stuff on any sports car of the day, so why not a 4-cylinder motorcycle?  The instruments and switchgear are as per Honda, while turn signals and lamps are Bosch.  The big engine starts up with a button, revving slowly and lumpily, and takes a little while to warm up as there's a lot of aluminum and steel lurking under that big red tank.  The exhaust is subdued with Lafranconi-pattern silencers made in Frankfurt keeping things quiet.  A rorty cafe racer this is not.
The Münch could be mistaken for a Japanese four from the saddle, with Nippon Denso clocks
My host warns me to keep the revs up when moving off, as first gear is tall and the clutch doesn't fully engage until the end of its reach.  Regardless, I almost stall the bike as of course he's right; give it some welly and slowly engage the clutch - the engine, clutch, and gearbox are robust and can handle such abuse.
The cast magnesium one-piece tail/seat unit, and special 'vane' cast rear wheel
With a reputation for awesome power, I feared the TTS would leap out of hand with revs in first gear, but the engine isn't especially torquey despite the large capacity, and doesn't produce much power at all below 2000rpm.  In fact, when moving out or riding slowly, dropping below this figure meant hesitation and incipient jerkiness - just keep things on the boil and all will be well.
A period brochure...

On the open road, the engine seemed happiest above 3000rpm, and hit a sweet spot between 4000-4500revs, at which point the machine is hustling along at 80mph in top gear, with a quiet motor and soft induction hiss from the Webers.  But, redline is a long way away yet on the Nippon Denso tach, and winding the throttle back produced a total change in character.  From smooth and quiet tourer, Mr Hyde emerged, and while my arms weren't jerked out of their sockets, a satisfying surge of power combined with a sonic wall to remind me that there was indeed a tuned motor between my legs.  Sounding for all the world like an early 70s race car in Rally Sport mode, the carbs loudly sucked air while the mufflers gave a harsh rasp, the rev needle swung around past 5000, and the speedo was well into the illegal zone.   There was no point in revving past 5500rpm, as the bike didn't seem to spin quite so freely anymore, and the handlebars began to buzz slightly.
Münch's own special racing brake, a massive and powerful piece, capable of stopping the mighty beast
The German country lanes wind between forest and hills, affording a great chance to assess the handling of this tall machine.  True to its Norton frame heritage, the Mammut tracked straight and true and secure on all corners, with no drama or fuss.  The high center of gravity and weight disappeared once in motion, and it felt completely secure and familiar banking around corners.  Changing direction on short 'S' bends was easy and required no effort, the Mammut proving silky smooth when transitioning from left to right.  The wheelbase is short for such a large machine (giving rise to a cobby appearance with the large tanks and double-headlamp variants), and above 80mph, a slight weave set in; nothing dramatic, just noticeable, and it didn't get worse, nor disappear in a straight line.  When banked over at the slightest angle, any such uncertainty disappeared.  My Velocette Thruxton has the same quirk at over 100mph, yet is completely sure-footed, so the weave didn't bother me, but it is noticeable if subtle.
A Münch in the grass is better than two in the bush...
Braking with the extra-large Münch drums was very good for such a heavy bike (all-up weight with rider and fuel in this case being 820lbs!), and while not in double-disc territory, they hauled up the Mammut quickly.  This was especially welcome as the engine provided almost no compression braking, seeming to have very little flywheel effect in general, from idle onward...of course, Münch used a much lighter flywheel than the NSU car.  The suspension wasn't really noticeable, which is itself a high complement; the front forks are Rickman items, and hold the road very well without being Italian-stiff.  The riding position was very comfortable, more sport-touring mode than uncompromising boy racer, as of course, most Mammut owners were middle-aged connoiseurs, able to afford a handmade Superbike.
The Münch suits a 6' rider
The advent of inexpensive Japanese 4-cylinder machines only a few years after the introduction of the Mammut meant that sales were based on bespoke build quality, excellent handling, exclusivity, and charisma in spades - all of which the mass-produced motorcycles lacked.  The Japanese 4s did have power though, and to keep ahead, Munch regularly tuned his engines to higher outputs, eventually turbocharging the fuel-injected motor with the 'Titan' model.  I'd be interested to try one of them too!


Anonymous said...

Mr. d'Orleans,
I came across your site this morning (thanks to Sports and Exotic Car),and now have to justify spending the entire day on it to my wife.This is fantastic,keep up the good work and thank you.Let the household chores wait an other day.Cheers from the midwest.Sincerely,

Anonymous said...

Just read vintagent's Grossglockner Trophy (sp?) article, Vincent video clip pulled to belay action by the authorities, or stop the event being brought into disrepute?
Dear me, ‘act yer age not yer shoe size’ ;-) :keep it coming.

J Kraus said...

In addition to the motive power, the ovoid twin-headlamp cluster and inner bezel also looks to have come from the NSU Prinz parts bin.

YJH said...

Always thought PdO was the Depardieu of Motorcycling
ie, giants

Barry Brown said...

The Titan was Supercharged Not turbocharged. Freidel Munch's friend Felix Wankel designed and built a special Wankel supercharger for the Titan. The engine was injected as well.