The 2012 running of the Motorcycle Cannonball, with it's extension to allow bikes built through 1929, is a great boon to we aficionados of the White and Blue roundel. In the inaugural 2010 run, the limit of 1915 or earlier simply precluded running any kind of a BMW, as the company itself didn’t exist until 1917.
BMW was formed from the preceding Rapp Motoren Werke, based in the Munich suburb of Oberwiesenfeld. Rapp had been building engines under license from other manufacturers for the German and Austro-Hungarian war effort, and they had developed their own design that they were trying to sell to the authorities. The name change accompanied the conversion from a private firm to a public stock company, and in 1918 a new logo design was registered that mimicked the round Rapp logo with its black border, but replaced the chess piece with the Bavarian state colors of White and Blue.
(It was 11 years later, on the cover of a publicity booklet, that an imaginative marketer dreamed up the idea that the BMW logo represented a spinning propeller against the sky.)
Although the BMW Type III motor was a success – immediately after the war, BMW smashed the altitude record with a Fokker D-VII aircraft and their new engine and special high altitude carburetor – the Allies were not pleased and the terms of the Versailles treaty essentially prevented the Germans from developing new aircraft, so BMW had to find other lines of work.
Among the avenues they followed, BMW began building a small utility engine, the M2B15. It was successful not only as a stationary engine, used as an agricultural motor and even as a water pump on fire trucks, but the company sold thousands of them to be built into motorcycles. A nearby company, Bayrische Flugzeug Werke (Bavarian Aircraft Works), had taken up motorcycle production as well, and produced a luxurious but ultimately unsuccessful model called the Helios that employed the M2B15 motor. In a merger in 1922, BFW became a part of BMW and BMW turned their efforts to producing complete motorcycles.
Near the end of 1923, BMW introduced their R32 model to the public. It was a complete redesign that took a modified version of the M2B15, now the M2B33, and placed it crossways in a dual cradle tube framed motorcycle, with a 3 speed unit gearbox and a driveshaft leading to bevel gears, driving the rear wheel. Front suspension was by trailing link dual leaf spring. BMW built their own carburetor, but ignition was via a Robert Bosch magneto or, if optional electric lights were included, by a Bosch mag/dyno. The engine, like the preceding M2B15, was a 500cc sidevalve boxer twin, making 8.5 hp, which could propel the R32 to 95kmh/55mph.
Development continued apace, and BMW introduced an OHV model, the R37, in 1925 and began winning a lot of trophies with it. In 1926, the next generation of bikes were introduced, the R42 (SV) and R47 (OHV). Two years later, BMW widened their model line with the introduction of the R52 (SV) and R57 (OHV) 500cc models and the R62 (SV) and R63 (OHV) 750cc models.
BMW engineers Rudolph Schleicher and Ernst Henne (pictured) began a program of chasing World Land Speed records. The WR750, based on the design of the R63 but completely custom built, began a streak of records with Henne aboard, starting with a run of 216kmh/135mph in 1929. In 1937 Henne would set a record of 280kmh/174mph on a supercharged 500cc bike that would last until 1951.
BMW entered automobile production in 1928 when they purchased the Dixi company, based in Eisenach, an industrial city in northeastern Germany. Dixi was producing the Austin 7 under license, so BMW got into the business with a running start. The assets included heavy presses for stamping body parts, and BMW used this equipment imaginatively to overcome existing problems with their brazed tube frames, which had some difficulty dealing with the loads of a sidecar. In 1929, BMW replaced the R62 model with the R11. The R11 had no tubes and no brazing; its frame and forks were constructed with twin C-channel stampings and riveted cross braces. Although heavy looking, the new frame weighed essentially the same as the old tube frame, but was significantly stronger. The first year R11 had an identical drivetrain with the R62 – so identical in fact that BMW’s records can’t distinguish which model a particular engine went into.
This year’s Cannonball features three BMW entries, two from Florida and one from California. Entry #23, chosen to represent the 1923 entry of BMW into motorcycle production, is Norm Nelson and Team HMS (Historical Motorcycle Society, a loose knit group of vintage bike fans). Norm Nelson is a retired fighter and airline pilot who is not only a vintage bike collector, but last year rode his 1958 Harley Sportster to Alaska and back.
They will be employing a 1929 R11 owned by Jack Wells. Jack has an extensive collection of BMWs, including all of the air cooled singles BMW has produced. Jack just recently won the Prof. Dr. Gerhard Knöchlein BMW Classic Award for preservation and sharing BMW’s history with the public. Jack will also pilot the team’s support vehicle, an 18 wheeler that Jack uses to transport his bikes to shows up and down the east coast and points further when the interest strikes.
Team HMS has nine members in total. Besides Norm and Jack, there is team manager Bill Robinson. He is a member of the Iron Butt Assoc., as well as the BMW club of North East Florida (BMWNEF), the AMCA and a founding member and past president of Riding into History. Larry Meeker is the road manager and another Iron Butt member. Webmaster Alan Singer, an IT specialist and amateur car racer, will oversee the website.
Chief Tech Chris Alley and Tech Neil Fogelberg are charged with keeping the R11 on the road. Alley is a retired Mercedes Benz mechanic who did the wrenching on a 1969 Triumph Trident that completed the 2011 Iron Butt Rally. Fogelberg has spent over 30 years working on Porsches and BMWs. Technical Advisor Ed Miller and Legal Advisor John Duss round out Team HMS. Handy with a lathe, mill and a multimeter, the most interesting bikes to Miller are those that do not (yet) run. Although his day job is as an attorney, Duss is heavily involved in the vintage scene, working at events like Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance or judging at Riding into History.
On the other end of the spectrum from Team HMS, is rider #62, Joe Gimpel, Jr. Joe was fascinated by the 2010 event and, when the 2012 event was announced, determined to join in the fun. He is a capable guy who retired early after developing and patenting a class of quick closing valves for nuclear and steam turbine applications, has restored many vintage autos, such as an air cooled 1929 Franklin, of the type driven by “Cannonball” Baker in a race against the 20th Century Ltd. passenger train on its run from NY to Chicago; a 1925 Bentley GP and a 1934 Graham. Joe is the current president of the AMCA Sunshine Chapter.
In order to participate in the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, Joe started searching for a suitable mount. He found it in the collection of well-known BMW collector and dealer John Landstrom, owner of Blue Moon Cycles in Norcross, GA. The 1928 R62 had been in John’s private museum for years, after he bought it from one of Dr. Wernher von Braun’s team members in Huntsville, AL. Now it is apart and soon it will be renovated and ready. Joe has done extensive motor work, to ensure he has every one of the original 18hp available, including new pistons and main bearings, and he has updated to modern seals from the original felt items. The magneto has been overhauled and he turned a new driveshaft.
Joe has long experience with the so-called Airhead BMWs from the 1970s, but those are very modern bikes, especially in comparison to the R62, with their overhead valves, four and five speed foot shifted transmissions and modern niceties like 12V electrics with electric start and centrifugal spark advances. None of that will be on the R62. Its three speed hand shift transmission requires the same right hand, which must also manipulate the air and throttle thumb levers, to grasp the ball end of the shift lever and change gears.
The final BMW entrant, #52 – matching the R52 model number – is Darryl Richman of Santa Cruz, California. Darryl has assembled four others to form the rolling part of Team Boxer Rebellion. Chief Mechanic is Paul Glaves, who writes a mechanical column for the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America club and, more importantly, has been keeping his wife Voni on the road for decades as she finally amassed 1,000,000 BMW miles last year. Steve Woodward will drive Darryl’s bright yellow Sprinter van as the support vehicle and Don Cameron, former owner of Deming Cycle, will be assistant mechanic. Jeff Wu is the team’s videographer. In addition, Darryl has Brent Hansen, a certified BMW mechanic and independent shop owner, on call should there be some specialized work required during the rally.
While not quite in Voni’s league, Darryl is nearing 600,000 miles of touring and commuting on BMW boxer twins. Until 17 years ago, he rode only modern bikes, but in 1995 he put together a 1961 R60/2 and was hooked. Restoring an old bike does not come as naturally to Darryl, who is a computer programmer by trade and whose only previous wrenching experience was limited to working on his VW Beetle. He now has a BMW from each decade they were made excepting the current one and the 1930s. (He’s looking for a late 30s R66, in case you know of one.)
Darryl purchased his 1928 R52 from S. Meyer in Germany, in 2004. The 500cc bike started and ran ok, but a variety of small problems required the bike be disassembled and, while it was apart, Darryl took the opportunity to have extensive motor work done – crank rebuild, bore job, new pistons, rings, valves and main bearings. The magneto was rebuilt as well. The bike, with a documented history through three previous owners, back to its first registration after WWII in 1954, came to California in 2006 and was seen at the Legends of the Motorcycle show in Half Moon Bay in 2008 (and was by far the oldest bike on the Sunday ride following the show). With only 12hp, the R52 tops out at about 100kmh/60mph.