Thursday, May 30, 2013


The IMZ M-35K supercharged sports racer took Best In Show, its Soviet inelegance mocking the delicate trophy girls in their picnic wear.  This is perhaps the first time a major Concours d'Elegance has awarded their top prize to a Soviet-built machine. (photo courtesy Motociclismo magazine)
In a brave and unprecedented move, the jury of the third Concorso di Moto on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, have awarded Best of Show to a Soviet racing motorcycle.  I can recall no moto or auto Concours awarding a top prize to a Soviet-built machine, as industrial products from the Communist era have suffered nearly a century of scorn and derision for being inferior 'copycats' of better-developed Western originals. The celebration of the IMZ M-35K at Como is an important step towards shedding light on the shadowy history of Communist motorcycles, which are nearly invisible to students of Motorcycling.  Why did the IMZ win?  To place it within the context of the show, there were 16 NON-BMW flat twins in the Concorso, many of which used BMW or BMW-inspired/copied motors.  In that crowd, the fact that the IMZ was based on the BMW was no demerit.  The IMZ was one of only two Racers on show (the other being a Ducati 750SS), and the only supercharged bike present. It is in excellent 'as raced' condition, as rare as they come, technically interesting, with an air of mystery around its 'story' - its presence was most unusual.  We've all seen Victorias, Douglas', Indians, Harleys, Condors, etc, but when was the last time you saw a supercharged Soviet racer?  Well, probably never!
The gorgeous BMW record-breaker ridden by Ernst Henne from 1929-35, a 750cc OHV machine with supercharger above the gearbox, and a tubular chassis (the metal panels are aerodynamic, not monocoque!).  Good for 154mph by 1935...  Part of a display of '90 Years of BMW Motorcycles' in the Villa Erba rotunda
The IMZ (Irbitskij Moto-Zavod) factory was established in 1940 at Irbit, Siberia (near the Ural mountains), well out of reach of German bombers, once Stalin and Hitler were no longer on speaking terms.  The first 'Ural' M72 models were built nearby, copies of the BMW R71, starting in 1941, and 9799 were built during the War. M-35K has a 350cc pushrod engine with a supercharger, and uses a lighter version of the Ural chassis - a copy of the 1936-54 BMW chassis, which was the gold standard for motorcycling pre-war, road or race, until the advent of the McCandless 'Featherbed' frame in 1951. With plunger rear suspension and telescopic forks up front, and an all-welded oval-tube frame, IMZ wasn't the only company tearing pages from BMW's notebook; Norton had copied the fork design wholesale for their Manx Grand Prix racers pre-war, and eventually all chassis builders would abandon 'lugged' frames.  The M-35K had 45hp @6600rpm, weighed 165kilos dry (363lbs - compare that to the BMW RS255@ 137kg dry, 300lbs). Between 1947-62 IMZ built a range of road-racing 350, 500, and 750cc machines, some supercharged, for Soviet racing and record-breaking; a subject I'll certainly explore further.
The IMZ M-35K showing its BMW parentage, down to the knee pads and tank-top toolbox.  The gearbox is  R71 with the air cleaner casting removed, but the motor is unique, a 350cc pushrod engine with supercharger driven from the crankshaft nose, and fed by a Slavic TT carb.
Before gaining the big laurels, the IMZ won 'best' in a very cheeky class - 'Boxers in Competition with BMW'!  As BMW owns the Villa d'Este Concorso, it's a joke they can comfortably make, especially as 'their' boxers are still in production.  Second and third place went to a very rare Austrian 1937 Puch 800 flat-four (from the Hockenheim Museum), and a Swiss 1947 Condor C580, both elegant and sophisticated machines.  There were plenty of boxers in the wide world of motorcycling - and even a pair of Honda flat twins at Villa Erba; a Gold Wing of course, and a 1962 Honda 170cc flat-twin scooter, the Jumo M85.  I've never seen one!
Ueli Schmid's well-traveled 1932 Standard BT500 Luxus.  Note the 'Castle'/HD forks up front - the original application for this short-link design was FN's, who apparently never pursued action against Harley, or Brough, or Standard, for poaching their design of 1906! The legshields and panniers are period accessories, and this Swiss-built Standard (this German company had a facility there, probably to ease access to Motosacoche engines) uses an MAG ioe 500cc motor.
In the 'Traveling by Motorcycle' class (ie, touring bikes), the winner was a 1936 Indian Chief, and Ulrich Schmid took 2nd with his beautifully original and unrestored 1932 Standard BT500 Luxus.  Packed in a 'period manner' (no Givi top-boxes here), the Standard looked amazing with 1930s accessories (including the legshields and those groovy metal saddlebags).
Does this 1926 McEvoy look familiar?  It was at the Vintage-Revival Montlhéry the week prior.  A very rare British Superbike with Anzani OHV 1000cc V-twin motor.  Behind the McEvoy is a Czech-built Walter M750, a transverse V-twin OHV of 750cc, from 1923.  Everyone, it seems, was making big OHV V-twins by the mid-1920s...except the greatest adherents to the big V-twin; Americans!
I wasn't able to attend/judge the Concorso this year (important family matters come first!), and am grateful to Stefan Knittel for providing photographs and information about the motorcycles on show.  I'm looking forward to next years' fantastic event on the shores of Lago di Como; May 16-18, 2014...
A few of the 'other' flat twins (Boxers) at Villa Erba; in front is the test-bed Douglas used as the slave chassis for the very first BMW motorcycle engine, before they built whole motorcycles.  The Victoria KR1 behind was among the first marques to buy the new BMW engine - a practice BMW stopped shortly after they launched the R32 in 1923.
The BMW R10 prototype with 125cc two-stroke flat twin engine.  Installed in an R25 chassis, the little engine fails to adequately fill the frame...probably why only this example was built.
More flat twins!  In front, a 1926 Indian Model O with sidevalve 262cc fore-and-aft twin, a 1923 ABC/Gnome-Rhone with 398cc OHV transverse twin, and a 1922 Harley Davidson Sport with 584cc for-and-aft sidevalve twin.
The exquisite BMW R7 prototype.  Read my report on this machine here.  BMW puts on a great display in the rotunda at Villa Erba; this year they celebrated '90 Years of BMW Motorcycles', with 35 machines showing the full development of BMW two-wheelers - excellent!
Close up of the ABC/Gnome Rhone OHV cylinder head.  ABC was built from the post-WW1 remains of the British Sopwith aircraft works, and when they ran into financial trouble, the French aircraft builder Gnome et Rhone took over production.  Lots of aircraft practice in this engine, from the rocker gears to the machined-from-solid-steel cylinder barrels.
All BMW-powered, none BMW itself!   In front is the 1924 Bison, then a 1923 Helios, the Victoria KR1, and the Douglas test-bed.  All powered by BMW's first motorcycle engine, the M2B33, a sidevalve flat twin of 494cc, producing 8.6hp @3200rpm
A closeup of the 1924 Bison's BMW engine with external flywheel and radial-finned cylinder.  
We are living in Good Times for motorcycling: BMW teamed up with custom builder Roland Sands to create the 'Concept 90' custom, inspired by the original 'tangerine' R90S.  Good work, Roland!  The bike was unveiled at Villa d'Este...
The crazy simplicity of a Bugatti engine
As Lake Como is a favorite haunt of movie stars, this '54 Corvette looks right at home, with its chromium smile and carefully shielded eyes...
The unique BMW/Douglas hybrid test mule.
Shiny red boxes, stacked carefully above a flat single motor; the 1930 Moto Guzzi GT500 'Norge'
a better shot of the 1922 Harley Davidson Sport flat twin
Period gear for the original-paint 1924 Bison
The 1962 Honda Jumo M85 scooter with flat-twin motor of 169cc
1903 Humber in original paint
1917 Indian Model O, a 262cc sidevalve flat twin
Original-paint 1936 Indian Chief 1200cc, winner of the 'Touring' class.
1974 'John Player Special' Norton Commando 850, from the '1970s Heros' class
A mechanical landscape full of appeal
Lamborghini Miura on the lawn Sunday at Villa Erba, when everything is open to the public.  I've always especially loved the knock-off wheels on this model... 
A small reminder that BMW once built aircraft too...
The 1925 BMW R37; their first OHV sports motorcycle, basically an R32 with OHV cylinder heads.  Not many of these around!
BMW R90S-based racer, with raised engine and interesting anti-dive fork brace
Steib built racing sidecars too...this one attached to a BMW RS54
1923 Victoria KR1
Jaguar XKSS reflects a lovely day to be in Como...


r50us68 said...

I hope that Shinya takes some inspiration from the R90S race bike with the anti-dive front suspension for the custom he is working on now. I think more BMW should incorporate them to insure their valve covers stay rash free.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic!!! the publish is really the greatest on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your future updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantastic lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates. Solid work and much success in your business enterprise!

GuitarSlinger said...

Note to BMW Motorcycles

re; The ' Concept 90 '

Build It !!! Damn it !!!

Anonymous said...

Why do you think they picked this for the win?

Vicki Smith

The Vintagent said...

Vicki, good question, and I've revised my first paragraph to answer exactly that.

Amos said...

This is cool!