Hexe produced mopeds and small motorcycles in Duisburg Germany, from 1955 to 1966. There had been a previous Hexe in the 1920s which was unrelated. The name is a strange one, as it translates to Witch in English, and it would not seem to be a good association for a motorcycle in any language. This is perhaps why they were also branded as Amelung, after founder Carl Amelung. By the late 1950s, Hexe was producing both Touring and Super Sport versions of its premier 50cc machine. The touring version featured a more comfortable quasi step-through configuration and a luggage rack. The Super Sport was more of a traditional single seat layout. Both featured Sachs engines, telescopic forks, pressed steel frames, and premium fit and finish. Although the Hexe brand ended in 1966, Carl Amelung Fahrzeugfabrik continued to produce Mopeds until 1973.
Classic Velocity Blog
Today it is pretty commonplace to see a 4 door Porsche on the road, and it is not uncommon for even ardent Porschephiles to accept, and even own one. This is a far cry from what was once considered a heretical thought. Porsche worked very hard in the early days to become a world leader in competition-derived sports cars. And it succeeded. Like Ferrari and Lotus, road cars were more of a funding source for competition, so more practical transportation was not the goal. However, once there was a modicum of success, it was inevitable that discussions about more practical variations would take place to varying degrees of seriousness. They always begin with cabriolet and fastback versions, but eventually the conversation turns to 2+2 or true 4 seaters or 4 doors. Porsche did all of the above, but like other true competition-based marques, 4 doors was not in the DNA.
There was a Type 530 prototype that Porsche produced in 1952 which had a longer wheelbase, proper rear seats, and a higher roof line. It never went further than the prototype. The most well-known early Porsche 4 door was actually a conversion of a 1967 911. It was commissioned from Troutman-Barnes for Texas Porsche dealer William Dick. Not exactly a factory effort. Discussions surely took place in the 1970s, but nothing made it to prototype stage. The first official factory effort to see the light of day was the Porsche 928 which was a birthday present for Ferry Porsche. It featured two miniature rear doors, and was more of a shooting brake in appearance. At the time, the 928 was thought to be the future, and several concept variations were developed. None made it to production, but we covered it here in our 2018 trip to the Petersen Museum where it is on exhibit. The 989 prototype of 1988 was an official effort at a large platform front-engine sedan, that was cancelled due to slumping sales of the 928.
In 2002 Porsche produced the Cayenne, which is technically the first 4 door Porsche to reach production, but it is an SUV. 20 years after the 989, in 2009, Porsche finally launched the Panamera as the first production 4 door Porsche sedan. DNA eventually evolves.
5:07am Lebanon, TN. I am standing in darkness that has a tinge of the coming dawn. It is a cool if not slightly chilly 63 degrees farenheit. Dew covers the grass and every other surface that resists moisture. A droplet hangs from a leaf, while another sits content in the valley between a few blades of grass. In a slow 360 degree sweep i see no other human being. I smile. What i do see is a subdued multi-colored sea of tents and motorcycles. Hundreds of them. It is as if some strange infestation has beset the normally green meadows. They are all uniformly blanketed in dew. And it is silent, but for a few birds who are trying to explain this strange phenomenon in song. It helps that the entire serene landscape belies the day to come, and the very reason for the invasion.
Regular readers will know that the BMW MOA Rally is an annual pilgrimage to a different part of the USA for the gathering of blue propeller devotees (see 2018 coverage or even 2009 coverage). It is three or four days of seminars, rides, shopping, music, beer, and general comraderie. For our part, we got a Rox handlebar riser installed on the GS (free installation rally special), and got another Sena speakerless mount. We attended interesting sessions on Airhead restoration and on travelling South America. Three riders who we met randomly walking around, joined us on a great unplanned ride in the area. There was also a surprisingly good stunt show due to the use of a stock BMW 310 ! Suffice it to say that rider skills are highly underrated. We spent a few days camped beside guys from Massachusetts and Connecticut on the one side, and Alabama on the other. More importantly, a new F850GSA, an R1150R, and an K1600GT. With the diversity in personalities, machines, and storytelling, the entertainment probably surpassed that onstage. It helps that riders tend to travel with samples of their favorite social lubricant.
The vintage display is a rally staple, and always a favorite. Since the rally moves around the country, you get to see the best examples within striking distance of a given area. This year allowed for some great examples from the southeast. The lobby of the main exhibit hall provided a nice setting. With the majority of vintage BMW models (pre 1970) being black with white pinstripe, models of any other color tend to standout. This year that was more evident in the mix of machines. Dover white machines always look good and there was a very nice /2. Even more unusual was a red /2 US. Our favorite however was an ultra rare grey /2. An overall people’s choice favorite for the entire event though was a metallic blue /2 with matching Stein sidecar which was parked just outside the exhibit hall. Back inside, two even older machines stole the vintage show for us. The first was a 1938 R61 in red and black post office livery and equipped with sidecar. It is a reminder, that these were ultimately practical machines used for work and transport at the time. The second, was Craig Vechorik’s 1921 Victoria. Before producing its own machines in 1923, BMW produced engines for others.. Victoria was one of them and this model sported a horizontally opposed engine mounted longitudinally in the grey Victoria frame. It helps that this is a museum quality restoration.
Beyond the vintage display, there are thousands of bikes in attendance. 99% are BMWs, but there are probably no two alike. Such is the culture of this event that it is no accomplishment to turn up on a new machine having ridden 1000 miles to get there. Showing up after 1000 miles on an airhead or a /2, however, gets you major cred. Showing up on a machine not initially designed for long distance touring also gets you some cred. The guy with the Hayabusa equipped with large metal panniers (true attendee) gets some cred....and a go-fund-me for pain relief. The BMWMOA has made two key changes designed to improve the national rally and respond to repeated member feedback. First, they moved the Rally to June from July. Weather is a bit cooler for most of the USA, as was in evidence this year. Father’s Day weekend was not the best choice, so next year it moves a week later. They also just adopted a process for national rally locations which divides the country vertically into thirds. It is an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all members to attend if they do not have the time or the interest to cross the country. This year was the eastern zone. Next year is in the west in Great Falls, Montana. However, for a marque that prides itself on riding long distances, the rally location is just an excuse for a good long round trip. True for us once again. It helps that there is a big well-organized family reunion at the halfway point.
There are a lot of great-looking cars that never made it to production throughout the history of the automobile. The Mercedes Benz SL-X is one of the best looking in our opinion. It is a stunning vehicle now, as it was then. It is the result of an effort in 1965 by designers Paul Bracq and Georgio Batistella to develop a sports coupe at the top of the Mercedes range. It was a low and sleek mid-engined coupe with bulging side scoops, bulging fenders, pop up headlights, and massive hood vents. The cockpit enclosure had a generous greenhouse, and gullwing doors. In case you were inclined to mistake it for an Italian supercar, for which you might be forgiven, it was silver and there was a giant three-pointed star on the nose. The view from the rear is equally voluptuous, with angled rear pillars on the greenhouse, and an implied diffuser. This might have been an image-changing car for Mercedes who at the time had largely conceded the supercar space to others. It was never equipped with an engine, but Mercedes had a few good candidates at the time in six cylinder and eight cylinder guise. Ultimately, the prototype never went any further and we (and when I say we, I mean very well heeled sports car enthusiasts) were all denied a production version.
However, the vehicle did become the basis for another prototype in the form of the C101 (which was forced to become the C-111 due to Peugeot’s patent on model numbers with a zero in the middle). The C111 was unveiled at the Geneva show in 1969, but it was also never to see production. In this case, it was intended to be a test platform for a host of ideas and technology that Mercedes was experimenting with at the time.
It has often been our experience, that you visit someplace that you think will be of some interest, and discover that it has hidden gems. And so it was on our visit to the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, NY. When the website highlights Indians, Harleys and Choppers, we were thinking that this would be an interesting but short visit given our declared focus on machines from Germany. First of all, Motorcyclepedia is an impressive facility from the outside. It is large, and has generous grounds and parking. This is no small hole-in-the-wall establishment. Upon entry, it continues to impress. It is a large space organized around themes. The current centerpiece is a Chopper exhibit, so Easy Rider bikes and machines by Indian Larry and Arlen Ness and Ed Roth abound. Off to the side is another large hall with what is billed as the most complete collection of Indian motorcycles year by year from the beginning to the end of the Springfield MA production. The one more relevant motorcycle on this floor was a 1975 Hercules with its’ signature Wankel engine (see A Herculean Effort).
With low expectations for our particular focus, we headed down to the lower level. It was there that we encountered a completely different world of motorcycles. A large area was dedicated to British and other European machines of the mid 20th century. Sunbeams and Triumphs mixed with a Vincent Rapide, and a Black Shadow. A distinctive yellow Nimbus with sidecar sat near a beautiful silver DKW RT250 Twingle. A Puch 250 occupied a place of prominence above a corral containing a BMW R69S in Dover white. Another large area was dedicated to carnival attractions and full-size Wall-of-Death arenas. Among a collection of miniature single seaters used for wall-of-death attractions was one by BMW. A smaller area had a large number of Excelsior machines including board trackers.
The highlight of the lower level though, is a collection of the earliest motorcycles, including a reproduction 1885 Daimler. This section had some European and American turn of the century marques previously unknown to us, such as Orient, Steffey, Styria, Marsh-Metz, Brutus, Terot, and Manson. The list goes on. There were also more familiar marques such as De Dion Bouton, Thor, FN, Hildebrande and Wolfmuller, and there was a lovely Bohmerland with sidecar. We are leaving out a lot, as for fans of the very earliest machines, this museum is a must-visit.
Returning upstairs is like returning from a trip on a time machine. The machines, activity level, and lighting are all very different. Leaving the facility is also a transition back to a large relatively non-descript building that could be anywhere. You are eased back into the current world after immersion in the complete history of motorcycling. Motorcyclepedia is aptly named indeed.
It is a rare fan of vintage iron, that does not also possess a few other items which indicate that they are a fan. Who do you know that is a fan of a marque and yet does not have a t-shirt or a key fob, or a baseball cap? It is almost required. And for the serious fan, books and wall art and more logo wear and a scale replica, are likely to be owned. However, at the level we are calling passion, the items and accessories lean to the more obscure. At this level, money is not the key criteria. With enough money, you could purchase a Mercedes dealership, but it would not necessarily prove passion for the marque. Rarity is more of a key criteria. There are other key criteria as well. The extent to which your passion has invaded other areas of your life, for instance. In true Classic Velocity fashion then, here are three levels of passion.
LEVEL 1 - Unique items in a space you control.
Exhibit A is this paper towel dispenser. Somebody went to a great deal of trouble to transform this utilitarian item, into something worthy of a Porsche garage. There are extra bonus points here, because as you can see if you look carefully at the lower right of the picture, there is a routine paper towel dispenser close by. So the Porsche dispenser is essentially now just a ceremonial piece of artwork. After all, it just would not do to have greasy finger prints on such a piece. It certainly satisfies this level to have an item that you cannot necessarily purchase, and one that took time and effort to create.
LEVEL 2 - Spillage into other areas of life.
Exhibit B1 is the VW Bus Birdhouse. It is nicely adorned with a flower motif suitable for your garden. It is a fine example of your passion extending to unrelated areas of your life. The birdhouse has a thoughtful drainage hole, and a keyring on the roof so that it can be hung. Lastly, it is a Bay window camper model, so it is entirely appropriate for a residence. Nicely done.
Exhibit B2 is this Audi Birthday Cake. Besides the obvious artistry, and good taste (you see what we did there) of the item, it says that friends and family obviously recognize your passion and decide that there is nothing better for your annual celebration of time on the planet, than to incorporate your favorite marque.
LEVEL 3 - Personal commitment.
Exhibit C are these tattoos. You just can’t get much more passionate than a permanent modification to your person. Assuming this did not happen after a wild night in Vegas of which you have no recollection, this is the ultimate way to say I identify with this marque. The BMW ripped skin tattoo earns extra bonus points, as it implies that your passion goes much more than skin deep. When people are arguing about how much they love their marque, you display either of these and end the argument.
Today, you can walk into most major motorcycle dealerships, and purchase a motorcycle that will do 200 MPH. You even have your choice of options from among multiple brands. These are not super exotic homologation specials, they are standard production machines, available to anyone. Back in the 1950s, it was difficult and expensive to find a production machine that would do half that speed. The world was recovering from WWII, and Germany in particular was just getting back into producing cars and motorcycles of higher speeds and displacements. BMW, Zundapp, and NSU were competing in the showrooms and on the racetrack for dominance. At that time, success on the track was the primary advertising material to get buyers into the showroom. And it worked. One area left dormant since before the war was the motorcycle land speed record. It was still held by a BMW from 1937. NSU siezed an opportunity and established a new record of 180.10 MPH (289.85 KPH) in 1951 with Wilhelm Herz aboard blasting down the autobahn. With 200 MPH in sight, there were several attempts by a variety of manufacturers over the next 5 years, but they all fell short.
Until 1956. The 1951 record had stood for 4 years before being eclipsed by a Vincent, and then by a Triumph in 1955. NSU decided to go all out in reclaiming it in 1956, and sent a well-equipped team of machines, spares, and mechanics to the Bonneville Salt flats that July. They brought 6 machines with engines all based on their very successful GP racing RennMax and RennFox machines. The 500cc (actually 499cc) machine was dubbed the Dolphin III as the most recent version of the original Delphin that broke the land speed record back in 1951. The 350cc and 500cc models were supercharged parallel twins, but with an interesting historical twist. The superchargers used a troichordal rotor on a fixed shaft in a figure 8 style chamber. If this sounds familiar, it is because it was the precursor of the wankel engine. The engine was an overhead cam with bevel-drive, fed by a single Amal carburetor. Soichoro Honda himself had been by the factory the prior year to take a look At what NSU was doing with production machines given their performance in the lightweight classes in GP racing.
Back to Bonneville. The Delphin (Dolphin) moniker was due to the streamlined shape of the fairing which produced a miserly 0.19 coefficient of drag. In fact, the major challenge was keeping the machine on the ground at speed, and weights were added strategically for this purpose. The seating position placed the pilot low, and was dubbed the “hammock” position. On the salt flats, it was a difficult couple of weeks. Conditions were windy, and NSU had a crash during the 250cc attempt with H.P. Mueller aboard. In fact Mueller was the pilot for all of the record-breaking runs except for the 500cc class. Several crashes or aborted runs took place in other classes as well. However, early in the morning on August 4th, 1956 with Wilhelm Herz once again in the pilot seat, and the winds finally calm, NSU was able to achieve a stunning 211.4 MPH, shattering the previous record by 26 MPH !! NSU had convincingly reclaimed dominance in the land speed arena, and returned home poised for continued success on the track and in the showroom.
For 19 years, the Mid America 02 Fest has taken place in Eureka Springs, Arkansas with a brief departure to Hermann Missouri some time ago. For the last 10 years, we have made plans to attend. We even got underway once, but was derailed and had to turn back. Part of the challenge is the logistics of getting to and from the event in a time window. It is a 2 day drive in the 02, and the event is 2 days (3 if you count the arrival evening festivities) so 6 days total. So it was a grand achievement to finally make it to the event. It was achieved partly by a combination of towing, and an all nighter to get back.
Eureka Springs is a Mecca for car clubs and motorcyclists. It is in northwest Arkansas in the heat of the Ozark mountains. The roads and the vistas are spectacular and very reminiscent of the smoky mountains. Curves and switchbacks and sweepers and elevation changes every few hundred yards. The area is referred to as the Pig Trail, or the Tail of the Pig, or various other pork-related names. Call it what you will, but put it on your list of places to go in your more sporting car, or on your bike. But just like Tail of the Dragon and WV 50 and Beartooth pass, you want to sample them when it is not prime time! We did.
A lovely drive allowed us to exercise the cars a bit and to sample roads that are all the stuff of movies. Narrow ribbons of unbroken undulating serpentine asphalt twisting off into the distance making you press the right pedal and smile even more broadly in anticipation. But you better pay attention to the more immediate future as well. Runoff is taken literally here. You could plunge a long way off the side of a mountain, or a short way into a deep drainage ditch. Either will ruin your day, and we were regaled over lunch with stories of a Ferrari that was a recent reminder. Big power can be a liability here. It is more Monaco than Monza. Which makes it perfect for a good handling, good power to weight car like the 02. We are happy to report that the big group returned unscathed.
Planned Tech sessions enlightened the group, while informal tech sessions broke out spontaneously all over the host hotel parking lot. It seems inevitable that 02 owners want to share a unique or just a well done solution to the challenges of maintaining 40 to 50 year old vehicles. And then there are the upgrades. Engine swaps were fairly common among the group, turbo flares, euro bumpers on squarelight cars, adjustable coilovers, and various schemes for getting fuel into the engine. Several of us had a spirited…uuhhmmm….discussion (yes, that’s it, discussion) on the merits and demerits of the 38/38 single carb setup. The opinions ranged from :
“Just run a GARDEN hose from your gas tank to the intake, same effect!”
And yes, they were shouting, to
“This is a sublime setup for the well-informed once you get jetting set. Much better than twin DCOEs, and you can get decent mileage if you control your right foot”
As we continued over dinner, we discovered that there is nothing like alcohol to enrich (pun intended) a spirited debate, and launch it into other combustible (pun intended) areas such as oil and tires. Of course, it was all among friends, and a good time was had by all. We missed the last bit of the rally, as we faced a long drive back to meet a prior committment. As a complete bonus though, we won a door prize! What better way to cap off a great weekend.
It has been mentioned before on these pages, that behind many of the events that we have witnessed and enjoyed, is a person with a vision of seeing others have a good time around vintage machines. Whether it is a Ride (see Classic RS Rally) or a museum (see The Moto Museum), or some other event, we are always surprised and appreciative of the mountain of work that it takes to help people enjoy themselves. And so it is with Bill Dwyer. The story goes that Bill was disenchanted with a prior show that was short on substance but long on ticket prices. He set out to prove that you could have a great quality event without charging attendees very much. 8 years later, the show continues to expand, and most of it is free !! You heard correctly, F R E E.
There is a host campground, and although you are not compelled to stay there, the main events are all within walking distance. There is a Thursday open house with a local air-cooled parts warehouse. Free. There is a beach event where you have to pay $20 (charged by the city to anyone, not a fee from the event) for beach access, but we got a free t-shirt and sun screen from the VW crew as compensation. There is a Bulli-Brigade event simultaneously at a public beach. Free. There is a Bay Window Rally at the main campground. Free. There is a Saturday night pre-show party at Guiseppe’s Pizza complete with DJ. Free, but you buy your own food if you want. The event has grown too large for this venue, and probably needs to move. And then there is the big show on Sunday. Free.
The show on Sunday is the crown jewel. The location is picturesque, as VWs of all kinds ring the municipal lake. In Port Orange. There is a swap meet area, a new vendor area, and the DJ returns to entertain the crowd. But the stars are the continuous circle of vehicles lining both sides of the ring road. It is whiplash city for fans of air-cooled Vdubs. We had a recent post on the Platform as Canvas, and this event personifies the concept. No two vehicles are alike, there are no real rules for what can be done, and everyone is ok with everything.
To say that Bill Dwyer has succeeded in the quest to provide great quality and substance for little or no money, is an understatement. My guess is that T-shirt sales, the only obvious attempt to recoup some costs, are all the more robust because of the format. It is almost your duty to purchase one. We did.
IThe Zundapp Citation was clearly a derivative of the Horex Imperator, and was reportedly only branded a Zundapp in order to work around the legal restrictions of the US importer Berliner Motors. The Imperator was a 400cc twin produced in the waning days of Horex before it was purchased by Mercedes (see Horex Motorcycles). The Zundapp version created an oversquare bore and stroke, and overhead cam to reach 452cc and to produce 40 hp. This was enough to market the it as a 500, and claim 100+ mph speeds. Not bad in 1958. It was named the Citation after the triple-crown winning horse.
Despite good quality, performance, and design, timing could not have been worse. The bike was introduced into the teeth of a worldwide recession. On top of that, a series of marketing and legal issues impacted sales in the important US market. The Citation was limited to a 2 year life span from 1958 to 1960.
Somehow, the cars of mid-20th-century Germany lend themselves more than the products of any other nation, to become platforms for Art. Why? I do not know, but there are few production cars from France or Italy, or England, or Japan, or America, that have found themselves used so much as a conceptual or a literal canvas. Contrast this with the Janis Joplin Porsche 356, the Andy Warhol BMW M1, or the political-environmental-philosophical platform (wanted or not) that is the VW Bus. This is an ongoing tradition with Porsche RSR Pink Pig, with Audi commissioning an RS4 art car back in 2007, Opel Adam art cars, and even a Mercedes Benz Metris van!. While BMW deserves credit for the long-running official commissioning of art cars, all other German manufacturers seem to have embraced the concept. And long before the manufacturers, people were doing the same as an expression of their individuality, or as experimentation with a new mobile medium, the car. For a country so well known for its engineering prowess, it is an interesting contrast.
Few would argue, though that as a platform for art, the VW Beetle is king. Perhaps because it is ubiquitous with over 21 million sold. The Toyota Corolla has sold twice as many, but it is not known as a platform for art.. Perhaps it is because the Beetle is universally understood and transcends languages and continents. Perhaps because it makes everyone smile. Perhaps because they are as cheap and available as actual canvas. Perhaps because from the beginning, they were the basis for many different manifestations.
Almost all of the VW air-cooled vehicles came from the Beetle. The Bus is famously a lengthened and reinforced Beetle chassis. The Thing, the Fastback, the Notch, the Ghia, the Fridolin, etc were really all modified re-bodied Beetles. Then there are the variations made by VW and other manufacturers. The Amelia Island Concours recently had a class just for this category. It featured versions by Rometsch, Dannenhauer and Stauss, and Hebmuller. What was not featured, was a Porsche 356, which is perhaps the most obvious variant, owing to their common designer, Ferdinand Porsche. Then there are the later variations on the platform like the Puma and the Beach Buggy, and inumerable kit cars. The list goes on.
But back to art. Commercial art has long taken notice of the Beetle as well. It is often turned into a mouse or a Bug or spider by exterminators, or into a taxi, or a unique delivery vehicle of some kind. It gets used positively and negatively to depict a slower pace, or hippies, or simplicity, or a bygone era. The headlights get eyelashes, the bumper becomes an accentuated smile, or the whole thing becomes a Transformer. I won’t even delve into the many applications of the Beetle that Hollywood has found, except for one word. Herbie.
For the more commonly used canvas, you need go no further than your regional VW show. You will still see variations you have not seen before. In a field of dozens or hundreds of cars, few if any will have an identical twin. Structure, drivetrain, paint, interior, and wheels, seem to create an infinite number of permutations. You laugh and grimmace and admire and stare slack-jawed at the pieces in this outdoor gallery. It is truly an art show with the VW as the canvas. The people’s choice award is as much about artistry as it is about anything else.
The Beetle is a universal canvas in the way that a BMW 3.0CS could never be. You can probably find a disintegrating one to use as sculpture somewhere near you. You can use just the shape, or a rear decklid, or a fender, or a hubcap, and everyone will know what you mean. It works as a stick cartoon, and as a fine art oil painting. It can evoke an era, or it can evoke a whole drag-racing class. Usually in art, you want to stay away from an icon, but in this case, a new VW Beetle based car could be driving around your town, or screaming down your local drag strip tomorrow. And a new VW Beetle art car could easily be in the world’s finest museums that same day.
Recently we offered a post that was titled Old is the New New. Well nothing says old like a BMW boxer. A basic design from 1923, that even eschewed water cooling until 2014. However, the new machines are packed with modern technology, and compete with the best the world can produce. Indeed, with the RNineT, BMW itself is mining its past and producing retro machines. They are inspired by artists and artisans that, much like Harley Davidson’s knucklehead community, see the boxer as a timeless platform that can be forever re-imagined. We recently had the opportunity to spend some time around two excellent samples. The heart of the machines is pure BMW, but the creations come from Japan, and America.
“Nostalgia” states its’ case with the name, and was created by NMOTO Studio. It pays direct homage to the BMW R7 of 1934, which was shown as a prototype, but never actually produced. It is considered by many to represent the pinnacle of Art Deco motorcycle design. Nostalgia is based on the new RNineT platform, but it is all about the beautiful bodywork. NMOTO has done a great job of incorporating most of the design elements from the R7. In particular, the fenders and the tank side panels and the exhaust, combine to fool the casual observer into thinking a priceless prewar motorcycle was on display. The headlight nacelle and the paint are similarly convincing. The big disc brakes and valve covers are the main visual cues that this is a modern creation. Other than that, it successfully evokes the pressed steel frame and Art Deco aesthetic that the R7 represented. The best part is that you can have your own Nostalgia. It is in limited production and is sure to stop traffic and dominate your local bike show.
“Departed” takes a different approach. It is a custom built one-off commissioned by BMW Motorrad, and created by Uichi Yoshizawa and Yoshikazu Ueda of Custom Works ZON. It is all about the engine, which is reportedly a BMW Motorrad prototype. If the engine is a mere accessory to the body on Nostalgia, then the rest of the bike is an accessory to the engine on Departed. It dominates the motorcycle, and the duo uses the valve covers and alternator cover and the rear wheel center, to evoke its own Art Deco theme. This is complemented by tank and side covers and a breast plate all in metal finish, and reminiscent of a WWII fighter plane. Even the stubbed exhaust and trellis frame add to that image. This is a good thing, as it is designed to be a land speed racer, complete with rear sets, minimalist seat, and no lighting. And in case you think the large wheels create a more modern feel, the fabulous swingarm, the beautiful girder fork and exposed drive shaft will pull you right back to the prewar era. Ironically, Departed has a diminutive front disc brake that would fit inside that of Nostalgia.
A fellow rider joined me in admiring the machines, and at the end asked which one I would have if forced to make a choice. I said Departed because I could see it getting ridden and dirty and still looking every bit as cool. He chose Nostalgia because he said he would not survive the riding position of Departed for very long, and his wife would allow Nostalgia in the living room when not being ridden. We agreed to swap periodically....
Who can pass up a weekend of vintage racing at a historic track? Not the Classic Velocity crew. The weekend is organized by SVRA, whose motto is “Some people collect art, we race it”. And that motto was in full bloom in early March as competitors and fans converged on the heart of Florida. Perhaps it is the venue, or perhaps the entry fees, but this particular event tends to have more fly-and-drive participants and more expensive cars. There were a lot of “race management” outfits in the paddock, and fewer DIY solo competitors. However, this in turn resulted in more high-end and historic art that was raced. Porsche was by far the most popular marque, but Ferrari and Aston Martin were also well represented.
As always, it is the people that make these events so enjoyable. I had a chance to speak with the owner of the lovely 914 pictured here. The owner did all of the work himself other than paint, trailered it from Phoenix, ran it, wrenched it, and still had time to tell me all about it and swap 914 stories. Commendable indeed. At the other end of the spectrum, I got to spend some quality time with one of the Audi suspension technicians for the WEC LMP car of Tom Kristiensen and Alan McNish. I got up close and personal with the car and changes they had to make to the suspension for the relatively bumpy Sebring circuit. Suffice it to say that there was not a lot of suspension travel on those cars, and not much seat padding either!! It gives you new appreciation for what it must be like to do a multi-hour stint in a car like that. Oh, and the rear suspension arms cost more than the 914 !
There was also a car show sponsored by Hagerty which included an eclectic mix of vehicles from an Austin A35 to a VW Westfalia, to a Ferrari to a Pontiac Grand Safari (one of the largest of the behemoth station wagons of the 1970s). There were enough items of interest to keep any gearhead engaged over a few days, and the access and approachability of those in the paddock made this a special event.
The Bitter SC was the successor to the Bitter CD chronicled here before (see Sweet Bitter). It entered the market in 1979, even as CDs were still available. Although it was based on the largest of the Opel platforms, the styling was very Italian, and it could almost be mistaken for the Ferrari 412. This was not a bad thing, as it is clearly a handsome coupe. Much of the car was built in Italy, first at OCRA, and then at Maggiore, but eventually by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria. All cars then came back to Schwein, Germany for final assembly or for inspection. The car was powered by a 3.0 or a 3.9 liter inline 6 cylinder., and produced 180hp. or 210hp respectively. It used Bosch fuel injection. Weighing 3500lbs, they used that power to propel the car to an 8.3 second 0-60 time.
Bitter went to great effort to create a premium car, with a luxurious interior including leather and woodgrain. A sedan, and a cabriolet were added in 1981. Just 488 were built, and only a handful came to the US, where they were carried by a few Buick dealers due to a deal with GM. That placement did not help, and US sales were tepid. However, demand was outstripping supply elsewhere, hence the move to Austria for much of the manufacturing. In an interesting twist, Bitter had difficulties with US emissions despite using a US vendor to handle that area. They eventually used a Porsche catalytic converter to solve their issues! They were also up against the rise of the BMW sedan, and other premium offerings. Lastly, the idea of a rebodied car was now primarily the domain of the supercar. No matter how nice it looked, and no matter how well executed, a rebodied Opel was going to be a challenge. Today, the SC from this period remains popular, and the wedge styling has stood the test of time.
There are some lessons that I cannot seem to learn. There are many instances on these pages of the CV garage returning over and over again to the same vehicle. My beloved 2002 is a repeat offender, the early 911 is a repeat offender, the BMW GS is a repeat offender, Norton Commandos are repeat offenders, and the BMW RT may be the most offensive of the offenders. 2 R100RTs, an R80RT (still here), 2 R1150RTs, and now a 2nd R1200RT. The only reason that the R1100RT has not made an appearance, is that it is the one RT that I do not care for aesthetically. I like the RT a lot. At least the R bike versions ;-)
Part of the appeal is the mile-munching capability. They are reknown for racking up mileages in the hundreds of thousands. Few cars can say that, and even fewer bikes. Second, they are reliable. which permits the first point. Occasional valve adjustments and quality oil are the primary requirements. Not that they have not had recalls and other issues in the modern era, but few compared to other marques. Third, they are comfortable, which also permits the first. Fourth, they are sporty enough. There are others in the segment that are sportier, but better riders than me have yet to know the limits of a modern RT on a twisty road. They handle well. Fifth, is storage capacity. You have to move to a true luxo-barge like the Goldwing or the K1600 to get any more storage. Sixth is weather protection. A generous fairing protects lower body. The hands are protected by the mirrors which have excellent visibility. They always had a large windshield, but the adjustable ones in the modern area can shield your upper body to the point of staying mostly dry in light rain. Seventh are the electronics. They are more and more sophisticated, but even on my R80RT, the alternator and the accessory plugs were intended to allow the rider to use heated gear and to power radios and auxiliary lights. In position 8 is the headlight. In my opinion, he RT has always had a good enough headlight to leave the machine stock. My R80RT has a pretty good headlight for a 35 year old machine. The R1200RT has a really good headlight, stock. Ninth are passenger accommodations. Once again, true to its roots, the RT shines with a wide comfy passenger seat and rubberized pegs. The top box doubles as backrest. Last at number 10, is suspension. Between reasonable weight that disappears once underway, paralever, and good suspension when loaded with passenger and luggage, the RT never feels unbalanced. In fact, my R1150RT seemed to feel better two-up!
So there you have it. Ten reasons the RT is a fantastic motorcycle from any generation, and the reason that it remains in, and returns to, the Classic Velocity garage.
If this seems like a good model name for a motorcycle, you are partially right. The BMW 700 was a very important vehicle for the company and we have previously covered it (see BMW 700). In that article, we pointed out that it was a successful combination of a car’s body wrapped around a motorcycle engine. We also mentioned that it enjoyed some racing success with the GT and RS models.
The 700RS was built specifically for hillclimbs, and featured an aluminum space frame chassis bearing little resemblance to the production 700 that shared part of its name. In true testament to the racing ethos of the time, it retained the 697cc motorcycle engine but managed to produce 70 hp from that unit. With a curb weight of just 1213 lbs, it had 100 hp per liter of displacement, and 127 hp per ton. Amazing numbers at the time, and very much aligned with racers like Lotus. It also handled very well given that it was mid-engined, and low and sleek.
The 700RS went on to numerous victories in the early 1960s, piloted by such racing luminaries as Alex Von Falkenhausen, and Hans Stuck.
Regular readers will know that Zweirad Union was the parent company for several brands, most notably Victoria, Express and DKW, and has been featured several times in these pages. The late 1950s saw the death of many German motorcycle producers, and Zweirad had acquired an ailing Victoria in 1957, a dying Express in 1958, and a castoff DKW in 1959. The idea of the new Director Dr Odilo Burkart, was to leverage models and tooling in Nuremburg to produce models for all three brands.
One result of this approach was the avant-garde Zweirad Union Type 115/155, produced from 1960 to 1963. The 115 was a Victoria model, and the 155 was the almost identical DKW. They were aimed at younger buyers in an attempt to keep them on a sportier looking two-wheeler rather than going to one of the many affordable small cars that were on the market. The first thing that jumps out at you is the futuristic styling, evoking images of jets and space-age conveyances. The body lines suggest forward motion even standing still, and the chrome finned engine cover contribute a sense of speed. All of this is ironic, given that this is a 50cc 4.2 hp machine. Styling was polarizing at the time, but sales were fairly solid with 13,551 Victorias to 13,345 DKWs over the production span.
The machines became affectionately known as “Blechbanane” or Tin Banana.
The late 1940s and the early 1950s represent one of those periods where the automobile and the motorcycle world were experimenting with hybrids. In this case, a hybrid is referring to a machine which was in part motorcycle, and in part car. A car was a relatively expensive item to purchase, and motorcycles were still mainstream reliable transportation in Europe. Manufacturers understandably wanted to find a combination of these two that would produce an inexpensive reliable machine which would protect the driver and occupants from the weather. One manifestation of that combination was the micro car, and we have covered a few variations of that in this blog such as the Messerschmidt (see The Other Microcar) and the BMW 700 (see Heart of a Bike, Body of a Car).
One particularly interesting variation was The Zundapp Janus. It was produced in 1957 and 1958, and was the only car ever produced by Zundapp which of course specialized in motorcycles (see Volksmotorrader and The Green Elephant). The Janus got its name from the Roman god who also gave us the month of January. The distinguishing feature of Janus was that he was two-faced and could look backwards and forwards at the same time. The Zundapp Janus was similarly almost symmetrical front to back, and were it not for brake lights and turn signals in the back versus the headlights up front, you might have trouble distinguishing which way the vehicle was going from a side profile. This extended to the seating in the car with one bench seat facing forward and the other bench seat facing backwards. Both seats folded down to form a flat head when needed. A clamshell door opened either end of the vehicle further adding to the symmetry.
The car was powered by a single cylinder two-stroke motorcycle engine of only 245 cc. It was positioned in the center of the vehicle between the two seats, and would only propel the vehicle to a maximum speed of 50 mph. Zundapp did also produce more powerful versions with 400 cc 2 cylinder two-stroke motors and eventually 500 and 600 cc versions. Some 6900 examples of the Janus were built in all. The short life of the Janus was due to three main factors. First, it was rust prone primarily due to water leaking around the symmetrical quarter windows on the car. Second, it was expensive compared to the BMW Isetta, and other competitors in the Microcar space. Lastly, it was slow compared to competitors and it was probably a terrifying view out the back window as vehicles rapidly approached ! Production ended in 1958 and Zundapp returned to its motorcycle roots. Of course, the Janus has returned for a curtain call with the character Professor Zundapp in the movie Cars...
The Zundapp Sport Combinette was produced from 1962 to 1966, and fit into a special new class of Vehicle at the time in Germany. It was based on the prior Combinette which was a single seat step-through model. Starting in 1960, a Moped without pedals but with kickstart was introduced as a new category. It blurred the lines between motorcycle and moped, although displacement limitations kept it closer to the latter. Zundapp took advantage of this by introducing the Sport Combinette. It had two seats, a tubular frame, telescopic fork, 21” front wheel, atraditional tank layout, and even a clutch (of sorts), all consistent with motorcycles. However, the single cylinder 2 stroke engine was only 50cc and top speed matched the new category limit of 40kph.
The local BMW club, FSCBMWCCA, organized an outing to the Sebring Historics, and we tagged along. Sebring is a historic track with a rich legacy. The Historics event is an opportunity for historic and vintage sports cars to enjoy a race weekend in the central Florida “fall” weather. This translated into foggy mornings with sunny days with highs in the low 80s. The event also features a vintage aircraft fly-in with most from the WWII era. The display area for these machines was interesting by itself. Radial aircraft engines in particular are fascinating for their simplicity and reliability. And that brings us back to endurance racing where both of those virtues can help you to emerge victorious.
The racing portion of this event is organized by Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR). In the sprint races, a couple of Porsche 914/6 cars dominated group 2 and 3 with a BMW E36 sandwiched in between. A Porsche 911 RSR was on the podium in group 5 and 7, and there was a Classic RS race. A couple of 2002s were sprinkled among the field, but none managed to run at the front. The highlight is the Classic 12 hour, and a pair of Lola’s finished 1-2. The entire field was interesting with Ginettas and GT40s and Elans and longhood 911s and Cobras battling it out.
Like all historic events, the pits provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with some very cool machinery. Owners, drivers, and mechanics are all very tolerant of onlookers and questions. We had a great conversation around a BMW M Coupe, and got to climb inside an RSR. Very cool. Back at the club corral, there were some interesting machines as well. Not one, but two Z8s graced us with their presence, along with a couple of nice original M5s and an M2. Cool people, cool cars, cool competition. Not a bad way to bring in December.