R-11 Restoration PDF Print E-mail
Written by BMWVMCA NEWS   
Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Article by James Watson

Following retirement at the end of 1998, I first completed the restoration of a 1912 Pierce single which I had begun in the early 1970’s. During 1999 and 2000 I restored a 1922 Cleveland and during 2000-2001 a 1927 Harley-Davidson model JD, both of which had been acquired prior to retirement. I also had most of a 1928 Henderson which I had planned to restore following the Harley, but in June of 2001 I instead traded it for a 1948 Indian Roadmaster Chief  “rider.”

By spring of 2002, I thus found myself without a restoration project and, despite several inquiries; I failed to acquire another project bike before winter.            

Separate from my restoration hobby (addiction?), I have ridden BMW’s since 1968 and have a 1961 R69S, a 1968 R60/2 with Hollandia sidecar and a 1995 R100RT Classic airhead. In early 2003, I decided to focus specifically on locating an early BMW twin as my next restoration project, but by autumn had not yet located a suitable candidate. While in Atlanta on business in November, I visited John Landstrom’s Blue Moon MC in Norcross and inspected several R12’s as well as a 1931 R11 that he had imported from Europe for resale. I quickly focused on the latter machine which, despite being thoroughly worn in appearance, gave the impression of being essentially original and correct except for the footboards which had been replaced by pegs. Among other details, the stepped nut fasteners all looked original, the filter screen was still present in the fuel tank filler hole, and the taillight wire clips were still present on the rear fender. The flat tires bore Cyrillic markings, probably indicating that the machine had spent time in Russia or eastern Europe, but an original brass dealer’s tag from Berlin was also still present on the fender.           

I reached a tentative agreement with John to purchase the R11 with the stipulation that I first wanted to hear it run. After flying home to central Texas, I returned the next week with my trailer to complete the purchase. Following 3-4 hours of fiddling and adjustment, the machine started and shifted through the gears on the center stand, so I swallowed hard, wrote out a check, and loaded my prize for the long trip home.  This purchase was a painful awakening for me, as it was the first time that I had found it necessary to pay a fair market or dealer’s price for an antique motorcycle-all my preceding projects had been machines located from individuals during my working career. This was also to be my first non-American restoration, so I would have to establish a substantially new network of sources for parts, information, and services.           

The R11 was produced in six series between 1929-1934. The serial number (66647) of my machine indicates it to be from very near the end of the second series. Interestingly, it is fitted with a SUM (vs. BMW as on most series 2’s) carburetor but without the intake air pre-heaters introduced with the /3 series.            

En route home I stopped by Bench Mark Works in Mississippi to have Vech critique my purchase and to pick up some immediately needed items such as tires and gaskets. Once home and having completed basic services, adjustments and installation of new tires, the machine was started and run around the neighborhood, confirming that the clutch, transmission, and rear end as well as the engine were at least serviceable. However, once thoroughly hot, the engine would tighten and try to seize but then would restart and run fine once slightly cooled. The tight engine obviously dictated a sooner than later restoration schedule, so a complete teardown was  commenced in December 2003 in parallel with the research/education process. My plan became to have everything apart and cleaned up so that parts acquisitions and any outside work could be done in time to permit reassembly during the winter of 2004/spring  2005.           

On engine disassembly, the crankshaft was found to be stamped with the same serial number as the cases, and the rod bearings and journals felt good. Vech’s assistance was enlisted to remove the nose gear (unlike the R12, the R11 uses all gear drive for the cam and magneto) and to place the front and rear mains “on principle”, but the crank was not broken down.

Against Vech’s advice I have chosen to retain felt seals throughout the machine instead of modifying to install mechanical seals-I’m a bit of a nut for originality; time will tell if I have erred in this decision.            

The cylinders were found to be about 0.060” oversize but the bores true and the pistons a bit tight with ~0.002” clearance, so I decided to seek new rings to fit the existing pistons and to hone the cylinders to ~0.0055” clearance as recommended for the old flatheads by the machinist at Bore Tech who does work for Bench Mark Works. After some searching, I found a set of rings (intended for a Nash) to fit the pistons. They were obtained from Hastings. These, plus new valves (Chevy) and guides were fitted by a local machinist,  James Starling.

Otherwise this restoration was primarily a matter of  homework, networking, parts location/acquisition, and routine disassembly/cleanup/reassembly. My first line source for parts and (lots of) advice were Vech and Elaine Vechorik (God bless em !) at Bench Mark Works. The exhaust system was obtained via Mark Huggett in Switzerland.            

A local saddle maker by the name of Dan Jacoby made new black leather covers for the rider and pillion seat frames, and a local photographer used digital enhancement to clean up and produce a like new face for the Dräger speedometer.            

Following mixed inputs from various sources regarding the nickel versus chrome plating issue, plating was done in chrome by Speed and Sport Plating of Houston (The AMCA accepts chrome from 1930 forward).            

Specific to pin striping and other details, Richard Sheckler provided numerous detailed pictures of his unrestored R11 for guidance and  John Landstrom provided me free access to study his personal R11 in Norcross, Georgia.            

Painting and striping were done via Perry’s M/C and Sidecars (formally BMW of Ft. Worth).

While I know that John Landstrom has only limited knowledge of most of the machines which he imports, I want to acknowledge that I found this motorcycle to be essentially as represented at time of purchase; to all indications (internal and external case stampings, etc.) it appears to be an original unit. This has been an educational and enjoyable project and I expect this machine to be a good local rider despite its age-its already registered, licensed (antique) and insured for the road. 

Kind Regards,
James Watson


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 July 2008 )
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