Rare pre-war 1939 BMW R12 motorcycle

Rare pre-war 1939 BMW R12 motorcycle

Most of these German bikes were destroyed during or just after the war, making this restored one an unusual find

Since Bonhams and Mecum hold their annual motorcycle auctions this week in Las Vegas, I thought it appropriate that the Pick of the Day should be a rare bike.

BMW, known as the producer of some of the finest motorcycles in the world, introduced the R12, a 750cc model, on February 14, 1935, along with the R17, at the German Automobile Exhibition in Berlin.

The R12 was an advanced design

The R12 and the R17 were the first motorcycles to feature telescoping hydraulic front forks. The R12 was heavily used during World War II, and by 1942, BMW had produced 36,000 of them.

This is one of the wartime models, a 1939 BMW R12 advertised on ClassicCars.com by a St. Charles, Missouri, dealer who says it has been nicely restored and includes a rear luggage rack. With its hard-tail rear suspension, the R12 features a sprung seat to reduce wear and tear on the rider.

These 1930s and ’40s BMW motorcycles are pretty rare, despite the large wartime production, because most were either destroyed during or after the war, or they were simply ridden into the ground when any mode of motorized transportation following the conflict was hard to find.

The BMW is beautifully detailed

I love the details on these bikes, such as the pinstriped frame and bodywork and those fantastic cast-aluminum floorboards. Truly pieces of rolling artwork.

There is quite a lot to know about buying one of these iconic BMW motorcycles, and the devil is in the details. It would behoove any prospective buyer to have this bike closely examined by a pre-war BMW motorcycle expert to ensure that all parts are correct for the year it was built.

Many of these bikes are pieced together by whatever parts were around, and having a bike with the correct parts greatly affects its value. This R12 appears to have a matching-numbers frame and engine, which is a great place to start.

These durable bikes can be ridden regularly

If this R12 is indeed correct, it’s fantastic classic motorcycle that is immensely usable, much easier to live with than any classic bike built in the U.K. or the U.S. These BMWs were well-built and technologically much more advanced than anything else on the market at the time.

The asking price of $32,995 is well in line with the value of a correct example, and if this one is as nice as it seems, it would make a great addition to a collection and a fantastic way to step into the world of pre-war motorcycles.

To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day


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  • Ralph
    January 25, 2018, 6:36 AM

    I called about this motorcycle and asked what the frame and engine numbers were, the salesman I talked to couldn’t find either.

    • Bob Golfen@Ralph
      January 25, 2018, 11:11 AM

      There are actually pictures of those numbers shown with the ad. Take a look.

      • Peter Corrigan@Bob Golfen
        January 26, 2018, 7:11 AM

        the rear fender mimics the shape of a German Helmet

  • Kyle
    February 11, 2018, 6:41 PM

    These bikes shouldn’t have matching frames and engine numbers.. they didn’t start doing that till the early 50s


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