Blueprint for future BMWs
1925 BMW 494cc R32
Frame no. 33645
Engine no. 33645
Very rarely can a motorcycle brand's DNA be traced back to its first model in a straight, unwavering line. There are usually side trips and dead-ends along the way. Not so with BMW and its debut motorcycle, the R32 of 1923. Today's Beemer rider would recognize it as a BMW even if the famed "spinning propeller" logo was taped over. Likewise a rider from yesteryear could easily pick a new BMW out of a lineup of modern machines.
Bayerische Motoren Werke, a maker of aircraft engines starting in 1917, came to motorcycles courtesy of the Treaty Of Versailles, which ended World War I. Under the treaty's strict rules, a defeated Germany could have neither an air force nor a domestic aviation industry. Faced with that ultimatum, BMW turned to producing engines for land-bound vehicles, including the Victoria motorcycle of Nuremburg. It used a Max Friz-designed BMW motor but with its opposed cylinders running north-south, the front jug benefitting from cooling air while the rear cylinder, "shaded" from the airstream, tended to run hot. When BMW decided to build its own complete machine, Friz thought he had a better idea. By turning the motor 90 degrees sideways, each cylinder jutted into the onrushing windblast like stubby airplane wings, cooled equally and effectively. The blueprint for all future BMW "Boxer" motors had been laid down.
Other features have carried over the decades. At a time when most motorcycles had separate engines and gearboxes, the R32 had a bolted-together "semi-unit" design that would foreshadow the combined engine/transmission housings almost universal today. The engine was lubricated by recirculating oiling system, an advanced feature compared to total-loss lubrication that was normal at the time. For reliability, clean running and low maintenance the R32 ran a shaft final drive instead of a chain, a feature that has remained synonymous with BMW.
Friz's masterwork 486cc flat-twin gave 8.5 horsepower, good for a top speed of about 60 mph, plenty for the roads of the day. Factory speed demon Ernst Henne rode a much-modified supercharged version to a world speed record of 173.88 mph.
The 1925 version on auction is one of perhaps 60 R32s thought to exist. Paperwork from the factory documents it as a matching-numbers machine and denotes its build-date. Stampings on the engine case halves, transmission case halves and rear drive housing all match, and the components show no signs of repair. The carburetor and most other running gear appear original to the bike. It has the rare Norris speedometer option while most other R32s if they have a speedo at all wear the more common AVC unit. The bike is also equipped with the higher-output "laydown" magneto, another rare factory option.
Part of a large collection of motorcycles the R32, fittingly, is owned by a mechanical engineer. He advises us that the BMW runs well and is used occasionally at meets and rallies. Most of the time, though, it is kept on static display at a private residence. Sold on an Arizona certificate of title.
- Please note, the frame number for this lot is 3644.
After going to press with the catalog, this motorcycle was displayed at the Greystone Mansion Concours d'Elegance, and won the award for Best Antique Motorcycle