Saturday, February 2, 2013

90 Years of BMW Motorrad - The R 37 – BMW goes racing…

The immediate success of the original R 32 established BMW as a serious player in the motorcycle industry some five years before the company even started the development of cars. Furthermore, this iconic motorcycle also paved the way for a sports model that took the brand into racing at the highest level. Enter the R 37…

With 494cc, 8.5 hp and a top speed of over 90 km/h, the original 120 kg R 32 had quickly earned a good reputation as a safe, well-handling motorcycle, with its easy maintenance and well-known reliability. Having achieved these important objectives, the talented engineers in the BMW factory were soon thinking about ‘tweaking’ the engine and chassis so they could go racing competitively on it.

Undoubtedly convincing his colleagues that ‘racing improves the breed’, a young engineer – and active motorcycle racer – Rudolf Schleicher, was put in charge of the project, despite the fact that he has only been with BMW since 1923. This gifted engine designer, still only in his Twenties, developed the first light-alloy cylinder head for the R 37 in 1924. The brand’s long experience and unsurpassed expertise in the field of light alloys is the key to the success of this – and the single-cylinder R 39 engine that follows – the first standard-production engines with aluminium cylinder heads.

Of course, there is a big difference between road riding and the exciting world of motorsport, and this is what spurs BMW engineers on to further develop the high-quality Boxer concept, using knowledge gained from aircraft engine manufacture, but adapted for motorcycle production and professional racing – which always places the highest demands on materials and technology. The R 32’s standard output of 8 bhp is considerably enhanced with the R 37 competition version – in fact, it achieves twice the power of its predecessor with 500cc and 16 bhp.

More than just a ‘tuned’ R 32, the R 37 featured a more efficient overhead valve system that was both oil- and dust-proof, which was a big improvement over the exposed systems that could be vulnerable to the weather. The cylinder heads were made from lightweight aluminium and the lights were removed to underline the sporting character of this machine.

The R 37 was a little heavier than its predecessor, but the increased horsepower propelled it to a more than respectable 115 km/h (70 mph). Fuel economy suffered slightly (4 litres/100 km) but the excellent performance made up for this. With a sales price of 2,900 Reichsmarks the R 37 was the most expensive motorcycle in the German market. As a result, it was not a sales success (only 152 were produced in its 1925-1926 lifespan) but this racing derivative of the R 32 took the brand into all sorts of motorsport competitions across the world, helping establish BMW’s reputation as a premium manufacturer.

Success in motorsport was very important at the time to prove not just reliability and endurance qualities, but also performance in all conditions. For the R 37, success was immediate, and long lasting. BMW test rider Franz Bieber won the 1924 German 500cc championship, with Rudolf Reich winning it in 1925 on the R 37. Although new to the world of racing, BMW enjoyed a wave of success: 91 wins in 1925, 105 in 1926, and 171 in 1927. In Germany, BMW won every single title in all classes up to 500cc between 1924 and 1929.

But it was abroad where the biggest headline came, when none other than Rudolf Schleicher won BMW’s first major international trophy – a gold medal in the International Six Days Trial in Great Britain in 1926 – the toughest cross-country event in the world at that time. As it was the first time that a German rider had won the event, this helped bring the BMW brand to the attention of the world and prove it meant business. In reality, it was just the start of a long relationship with performance, speed and competition that continues to this day.

Schleicher would later assume responsibility within BMW for the development of engines for standard-production cars and racing models, but thanks to his love of engineering, his passion for motorsport and his belief in personally using these products to prove their worth – both on and off-road – the seeds had been sown for many more exciting models on which to satisfy a rider’s thirst for competition and adventure.



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