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Classic Velocity Blog

The Toaster

Classic Velocity

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Back in the late 1960s BMW motorcycles were celebrating a very successful long run of the /2 models. They were also aware of their reputation as a somewhat conservative choice among motorcycle riders as evidenced by the continued use of the Earls fork design, and machines which were essentially unchanged since the mid-1950s to the untrained eye. There were no flashy cosmetic touches on a BMW, there were almost all black, with the sole adornement being white pinstriping. They introduced regular telescopic forks at the very end of the 1960s in order to modernize the machine to some extent, but the machine was otherwise unchanged. This was somewhat ironic as BMW had been the first major manufacturer to introduce hydraulically damped telescopic forks back in 1935. Even with the changes, it was evident that a new offering would be needed to stay competitive with the then dominant British standards and the rising Japanese competition.

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The answer was the new/5 introduced in 1969 at Hockenheim, and produced in a brand-new plant in Berlin, abandoning the old facility in Munich. The /5 team was headed by Gunter Von Der Marwitz, and the goal was to maintain the tradition of building the highest quality motorcycles, rather than the fastest or the cheapest. This turned out to be a good strategy given that Honda was introducing the all conquering CB 750 at the same time with other Japanese manufactures following suit. The Norton commando was also introduced around this time. The British owned the 500cc single and twin space with café racers and other British standards. Continuing the tradition of high quality touring motorcycles was wise. BMW launched with the R 60/5 600cc model and then in the following months introduced the 750cc model and the 500cc model. These were durable high-quality do it all machines from racing to sport touring to commuters. All were well received, and the/5 series went on to sell close to 69,000 units before production ended in 1973.

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However, in the midst of the production run in 1972, BMW introduced a variant of the/5 which became known as the "Toaster" variation. It was so named because they had introduced chrome side panels on the fuel tank which caused the tank to take on the appearance of the kitchen appliance that inspired its name. The bike also had matching chrome side panels. This was all purely cosmetic, and a real departure for BMW.

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They made two basic mistakes with this variation of the/5. First, the tank was smaller at only 4.5 gallons. On a machine known for its long-distance and touring capabilities, a smaller tank was just not desirable. This was a variation introduced primarily for the American market, and BMW maintained and sold plenty of large 6.5 gallon tanks for everyone else. In fact, Hoske and others were producing larger 10 gallon tanks as aftermarket options! The second mistake was in overestimating the desire for chrome. Magazines and reviews at the time made fun of the bike, they were generally unpopular with buyers, and they created a backlog of orders for the optional larger regular tank. They also produced a rubber knee pad with an indent in it to fit over the chrome panel appendage. in this way, you could use an emblem and the knee pads to convert a toaster to a "normal" looking small tank. Many such conversions were made. Lastly, the dealers made lots of custom swaps. BMW quickly realized their mistake, and the toaster became a one model year only offering.

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With that said, at that time, BMW and other manufacturers were notorious for using whatever parts were available as they became available or as older parts ran out. As a result, toaster machines were available as early as late in the 1971 model year, and early in the 1973 model year as well (like mine). Most, but not all had traditional pin striping on the tank. Perhaps the absence was an attempt to tone down the appearance, or perhaps it was just customer requests. Lots of /5 variations appeared, and with toasters it is particularly difficult to tell what left the factory vs what the dealer swapped, vs what customers swapped. Four decades later, as in many cases, what was once undesirable and shunned has now become relatively desirable. The Toaster is now an iconic representation of the /5 series, with the smaller tank less of a limitation on a vintage machine, and the chrome now proudly representing the period much like the bright orange (Inka) of the BMW 2002.

Even with that, this was not the last time that BMW motorcycles were to defer to chrome. 25 years later, they introduced the "Chromeheads".....