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Classic Velocity Blog

Blue Propeller, Red Propeller

Classic Velocity

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So much of the modern auto and motorcycle world evolved from the ashes of WWII, that it was almost like a reset of the industrial revolution. For much of the 1940s, all of the world's major producers were busy churning out military hardware or were busy having their infrastructure bombed into rubble, or some combination. Afterwards, they all spent a few years rebuilding physical, human, and knowledge resources. After all, military equipment is not known for it's design aesthetic or for handling prowess unless you are talking aircraft. Postwar, Germany was divided into sectors owned by each of the allied forces, and began a carefully controlled rebuilding of manufacturing capability. This tale is one of many critical historical forks in the road that took place in the postwar period...

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At the end of the war, BMW was limited like most manufacturers to producing appliances, and motorcycles of 250cc or less. They found themselves with plants in both the western sector and the eastern sector of Germany. The eastern plant was less damaged, and actually resumed production first.  Soon however, they both resumed operations producing products under the BMW name even though the eastern plant was now under the control of the Russian Autovelo. R35 motorcycles and then later the Type 321 and 327 cars were produced in low numbers at first, but picked up steam. Almost half of the production from the Eisenach plant in the east headed to the west, and BMW's Managing Director in the west, Kurt Donath, saw control slipping away. With greater production and assets, he was concerned that Autovelo could lay claim to the brand, and take control. This was reportedly not just speculation. He consulted the lawyers, relationships deteriorated with the Russians, a lawsuit was filed, and the eastern operation of BMW was legally dissolved.

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However, the story does not end there. Autovelo simply renamed the organization Eisenacher Motoren Werke, or EMW. Product did not really change, and even the logo simply changed to a red and white propeller rather than a blue and white one. Donath was not happy, but there was little he could do with the cold war now in full swing. EMW lost the right to any new R&D, but happily continued to stamp out the R35 motorcycle, and the 321 automobile. The Russians subsequently handed control to the East Germans, and EMW went on to compete in the 1953 German Formula 1 Grand Prix as a constructor. The next year however, operations ceased. With many EMW R35 bikes and some cars exported to the west, and since parts were identical, there are probably quite a few old BMWs with EMW parts in them and vice versa.

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It may just have been the quicker actions of Donath and the lawyers that resulted in BMW being in West Germany rather than East. It may just have been eastern block industrial philosophy that prevented EMW from eclipsing BMW as a brand in the postwar era. One never knows what might have been....Ironically, EMWs today are more rare due to their limited run, and have their own following among BMW enthusiasts. Of course, this was not the first time that BMW products made their way into Russian hands, but that is another story...