Journey through time: The mysterious premiere of the BMW R 32.

The first BMW motorcycle

In 1923, the BMW R 32 was a sensation. It was the first motorcycle to be badged a BMW and it had all the features that would become iconic for our brand: a boxer engine with cylinder heads projecting out on each side and a shaft drive that transmitted power directly to the rear wheel. This pioneering construction marks the beginning of an exceptional success story. One that celebrates its 100. birthday this year. However, one question remains: Where was the R 32 presented for the first time? At the motor show in Paris or at the German automobile show in Berlin? 

The mystery is solved

A trove from the BMW Group archive clarifies this matter: All the orders for the new R 32 machines were written into a commission book. The employee in charge meticulously recorded production and delivery dates, recipient and special equipment. And in this book we find the answer to our question: Paris or Berlin? The documents prove that five models of the BMW R 32 were sent to Berlin to the German automobile show in September 1932. Two of these were sent back to Munich after the fair had ended, three were sold in Berlin. So it’s official: The premiere of the first BMW motorcycle was celebrated in Germany. 

Engineers drove the R 32 themselves

The commission book offers more interesting details about the early days of BMW. So called managerial orders show that the engineering management team itself tested the new models in everyday drives. Besides Max Friz and Rudolf Schleicher, the engineers of the R 32 and R 37, two famous motorsport people tested the motorcycle: Rudi Reich and Franz Bieber. They were the first to race in the German Championships and win trophies subsequently. 

From Munich into the world

The notes also show that the first BMW motorcycle was in demand internationally. 1924 our company delivered two fully equipped models of the BMW R 32 to Japan. What is remarkable about this: Full equipment was not standard these days. The light system was only available with a surcharge as well as the horn and the speedometer. These features only became standard in 1930. Besides the exports to Japan, the commission book notes that a model of the new motorcycle including sidecar went to the city of Kaufbeuren in Bavaria to support the fire department – this marks the beginning of business with public authorities. 

The spirit lives on

Today, the first motorcycles of BMW are sought-after rarities. The commission book is helpful in determining the origin of recovered R 32 motorcycles by comparing engine and chassis numbers. Not only the sporty aspects enticed people, but the handmade motorcycles also had convincing qualities. The shaft drive was easier to maintain than the traditional chains or belts and all parts susceptible to repair were encapsulated. The R 32 engine produced 8.5 hp and propelled to a top speed of 95 km/h – roads allowing. A real driver of innovation which was followed by the classic R 5, R 90 S and the R 80 G/S. Its inventiveness lives on in the emission free Scooter BMW CE 04 and the recently presented Parcourer BMW CE 02. 

More information on the R 32 and relevant documents can be found here.