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Wall Street Journal: BMW Motorcycles and a Tour Through History

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Photo: JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Photo: JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Classic motorcycles can be works of ‘industrial art.’ For one collector, the R5 ‘makes this incredible sound. It’s like a symphony.’

Nov. 17, 2015

Philip Ernst Richter, 45, president of Hollow Brook Wealth Management in New York City, on his BMW motorcycles, as told to A.J. Baime.

The 1930s was a terrible era in so many places around the world, but especially in Germany. To me, BMW motorcycles from that era are like a silver lining. The engineering was out of this world. And the bikes are so beautiful.

My father grew up in Germany during the war. He told stories of riding his motorcycle around Hamburg afterward. When I was six, we lived in Greenwich, Conn., and he bought me a Honda 50. That bike kicked off my love of motorcycling; I still have it today.

Right now, I have 11 BMW motorcycles, many of them from the 1960s or prewar. The R5 is the Holy Grail of prewar BMWs. It’s unique in that it was a low production bike built only in 1936 and 1937. It was a technical tour de force, a superbike of its day. It had overhead valves and adjustable front forks. Unlike earlier BMWs, this one was fast and powerful, but also comfortable to handle. I could get it on it now and ride across country, at today’s speeds.

My R5 was the eighth-last one ever built (coming off the assembly line Dec. 2, 1937), and that’s been documented by the historical archives at BMW in Germany. It has certain things that are unusual. For example, the muffler is not chrome, because leading up to wartime, materials like chrome were difficult to obtain. The bike was shipped new to a dealership outside London, and that’s the key to its condition today. Most bikes that stayed on the continent were destroyed during the war or picked apart after for parts.

I have a documentation file on this bike a mile long. I know the name of the original owner, and his phone number and address at the time. I have service reports from the original dealership. Most important, I was able to document the authentic serial numbers showing that the frame and the engine are original. That’s extremely rare.

To me, these bikes are industrial art. When I ride the R5 today, it makes this incredible sound. It’s like a symphony.

— Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/ajbaime.

This R5’s number plate is not original, but it has the original figures from when it was purchased new from a dealership in Isleworth, England, according to Mr. Richter’s research. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

This R5’s number plate is not original, but it has the original figures from when it was purchased new from a dealership in Isleworth, England, according to Mr. Richter’s research. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘To me, these bikes are industrial art,’ says Mr. Richter. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘To me, these bikes are industrial art,’ says Mr. Richter. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The R5’s handlebars. This speedometer was rebuilt by a California company specializing in vintage speedometers. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The R5’s handlebars. This speedometer was rebuilt by a California company specializing in vintage speedometers. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

'Unlike BMWs from earlier, this one was fast and powerful, but also comfortable to handle,’ says Mr. Richter of his R5. ‘I could get it on it now and ride across country, at today’s speeds.’ JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘Unlike BMWs from earlier, this one was fast and powerful, but also comfortable to handle,’ says Mr. Richter of his R5. ‘I could get it on it now and ride across country, at today’s speeds.’ JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The New York license plate lists this bike’s birth year—1937. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The New York license plate lists this bike’s birth year—1937. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Richter with his wife, Sarah Willeman, who shares his passion for old BMW machinery. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Richter with his wife, Sarah Willeman, who shares his passion for old BMW machinery. JAMES ROBERT FULLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


A screen shot of the actual article that ran in the WSJ.

A screen shot of the actual article that ran in the WSJ.

A screen shot of the actual article that ran in the WSJ.

A screen shot of the actual article that ran in the WSJ.

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