A classic BMW R 90 S lovingly built from 1655 original but new BMW parts to create a one-off classic BMW with nothing on the clocks worth around £30,000!
Thankfully for we classic owners, many forward-thinking manufacturers are realising there is money to be made in ‘new old stock’ or even ‘remanufactured’ parts for old motorcycles.
BMW Motorrad not only produces a wide-range of cool-looking retro machines which tick many of our classic-bike riding boxes, but they also have a bulging spares department for old models and they embarked on a stunning one-off build to prove a point.
The BMW Group Classic spares department in the US of A decided to see if they could actually build a classic Beemer model from spares… and they managed it. Thankfully BMW Motorrad retained an array of original tooling (moulds, dies, patterns etc.) so they could reproduce many parts from past eras. But what to make?
Well, it had to be one of the most classic of Beemers – ever. You see here a factory-fresh 1974 BMW R 90 S. This wasn’t only a landmark model for BMW themselves, but it set a trend in the 1970s and beyond for a motorcycle which – may not be the most powerful – but most definitely handled better than most (if not all) of the opposition. OK, so it had only 70bhp, but what it did with each of those ponies was simply brilliant. It not only made the BMW R 90 S into a great road bike but also the basis for a good race bike. The Boxer twin’s most memorable race was the first year of the American AMA production championship where Reg Pridmore and the R 90 S clinched the 1976 title.
As an exercise in how comprehensively stocked the BMW Group Classic department is, in December 2013 MAX BMW Motorcycles began to build – from genuine packaged spares – a brand-new R 90 S. The build took three days and was completed on the fourth day by a successful test ride by Max Stratton, owner of MAX BMW Motorcycles, following an extensive top to bottom check that would make a PDI look like a cursory glance, of course! Nothing was left to chance here!
Master Technicians from the three MAX BMW dealerships of Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York took part in the build of the 1974 specification R 90 S, which was finished in the original two-tone ‘metallic silver smoke’ paint scheme. This was the colour first seen at the 1973 Parish Motor Show where the bike made its debut and – while it may not be as famous as the ‘orange’ is still pretty striking and uber-cool to this very day.
The entire build over all four days was recorded and many photos were taken, with images being posted frequently on Facebook. Both moving pictures and stills were lapped up by classic BMW fans across the world as the bike took shape over the three-day build period and the run-up to the actual ride itself.
“I was totally surprised by the global feedback received by email and Facebook. I could not believe it,” said Max Stratton. The R 90 S build project began about two years ago when Stratton and staff were trying to pick out how many classic parts were available. In the end they decided to pick one model to see what could be done and they could see it was possible, just possible to build an R 90 S from parts…
Of course it wasn’t a simple case of bolting an engine into a frame, the motor itself had to be built up from a short block, which had the crank, cam and cam-chain already installed. Max admits the engine build was one of the easiest tasks, but wheels too, had to be built from rims, so that meant finding the parts for the hubs and then sourcing the steel wire spoke sets. At all points of the build original/new BMW parts were sourced and used.
That ‘oh-so’ classic feathered-edge two-tone paint scheme/bodywork was still available as was the 24-litre fuel tank. The ordering and delivery of the parts was okay for MAX BMW because they are established classic parts and bikes specialists. “We introduced the first online shopping parts fiche in 2003 for BMW Motorcycles,” explains Max. “We are always checking ‘no longer available’ parts (NLA). For fun, I decided to see how many parts were still available for the R 90 S. Because the pages piled up and most of the numbers were good, I said ‘I think we could build a bike!’ The short block engine component was still a good part number but none were in stock. This part took about six months to become available and once that arrived we ordered and organised everything else. As a rule we usually can find the part in one of our stores. If it is not available in the USA, we can get it within a week or two.”
So, not only were they building everything from the very start – they were ordering parts too! Just imagine all the tech guys and parts specialists going through the parts lists and the many exploded diagrams researching and ordering every component. It was like a restoration but one that starts from ‘ground zero’ with not a single part to begin with!
Thankfully, MAX BMW is officially recognised as a classic spares specialist. All the three dealerships stock classic parts and train their technicians on vintage BMW bikes. Customers now bring MAX BMW work from all over the continental USA. Many of the guys (and gals) employed love their work and indulge in various BMW-two-wheeled-inspired events at weekends: it’s a great advert for them, their passion and their employers and this would be one helluva rolling homage to their all-round dedication.
“The BMW classic scene is big and continues to grow all the time,” explains Max. “I think many motorcyclists are at a point in their life that they want to go back to the first bikes they had or wish they had. The bikes are available and so are the parts – this makes it very easy for anyone to get into the vintage BMW scene.” And the retro scene too – don’t forget that BMW also produces the R nineT Racer – a modern ‘homage’ to the original R 90 S model….
But back to the build: Max and the team found that out of the1655 parts only six original specification parts for the R 90 S weren’t available. These include the spring clip for the air-box and rear brake lever rod. The right front fork slider was also unavailable. But in keeping with the new parts theme, two new R 100 RS items (in black) were sourced to take their place…
The MAX BMW technicians also had to resort to improvisation on a few things: two wiring harnesses had to be used – one from a 1976 R 90 S and another one from a later air-head because only an electronic tachometer is available since the older mechanical tachometer drive is now defunct. Many parts have obviously been superseded over the years and feature from later ‘air-head’ Boxers. But as Max Stratton explained, this is perfectly ok because it makes for a better bike, right? Only the purists would really howl at that logic. That meant that this new BMW R 90 S has the latest, greatest version of all the parts available from BMW Motorrad…
It was obvious who was going to get the first ride: “A storm was coming in from the distance and all the camera people were there and I needed to get some test ride shots, so I ended up on the bike first,” pleads Max. “Otherwise it would have been Phil and Jeff – two of the Master Technicians that built the bike. I can tell you the bike felt solid, had great usable power and the gearbox shifts were smooth.”
Estimated cost for the build of the (2014) R 90 S was approximately $46,000 (£27,877.10) even a tad up on a fully-specced up R nineT Racer, which starts at around £11K! Just a few years later you can bet your bottom dollar that it would cost mightily more than that. But, to look at the cost of the bike is to miss the vital point: it was a simple case of ‘can it be done?’ It could be and it was: even if you can bet your air-head that there were a number of prospective buyers waiting in the wings to buy this unique machine…
“It was a lot of fun to do,” says Max. “The R 90 S was a very different experience; it was pretty wild to see a bunch of boxed-up parts turn into a brand-new bike. For this reason we’d like to thank BMW AG for supporting these motorcycles – not many manufacturers support product this far back. We’d also like to thank our customers too, because their enthusiasm motivates us; and finally also the staff of MAX BMW Motorcycles because behind the scenes a ton of work went into making this project work.”
Pictures: MAX BMW/Judson Bartlett