Tuesday, September 21, 2010


1940 BMW R12

1942 BMW R75

THE XA-750

The BMW Military Motorcycle R75
From 1920-1990 BMW was known for their odd but truly remarkable engineering, from the shaft driven air cooled motor and ease of maintenance the bike was truly known for is bullet proof reliability and performance. Although ignored by the Europeans and Americans, the twin and single cylinder motorcycles ruled the American motorcycle scene until the early stages of WWII.
The American Military, seeing the bullet proof reliability, ease of maintenance, engineering excellence and good performance in all terrain from the deserts of Africa to the Frozen Tundra the Americans knew that Germany has something we did not - A good reliable robust motorcycle....

In the early 1940's Harley Davidson motorcycles was called upon by the military to make a more robust and and reliable motorcycle than their Harley Davidson and Indian Twins by making an opposed air cooled twin BMW clone to contend with the BMW's superior military machine, not only to see if this could improve the reliability of the military HD, but maybe discover a whole new outlook on motorcycle engineering, thus the 1947 XA-750 was born by cloning decent copy of an 1938 R13. Although a failure in more ways than one, it does show the open minds that HD once solicited and when you look back it reminds me of why I have always been a fan of Vintage / pre 90's Harley Davidson's outlook on American Motorcycling.

Excerpt from HD:
1942Among other motorcycles made for the Army, H-D produces the unique XA 750, a motorcycle with horizontally opposed cylinders and shaft drive, designed for desert use. The contract is cancelled early due to war combat moving out of North Africa. Only 1,011 XA's are built.


  1. Surely it was a copy of the R71, as was the Russian M72 - the Germans gave the R71 designs to their Russian 'allies', probably because they knew they had the OHV R75 ready to roll - and there might have been some horsetrading with the Russians when they switched sides.

    And the XA was intended for use in the desert, where the superior cooling of a flat twin was a bonus, as was a shaft drive. The 45 saw the Americans through the rest of the war, though, and they weren't tempted to go any further with the XA - but then the American and the British used motorcycles very differently to the Germans ... which was very different to the way that they are portrayed in Hollywood today.

    And not so unique to the Germans: the French Gnome et Rhone was another flat twin, but didn't survive the war: the Germans occupied the factory and continued building them for the Wehrmacht. Probably got flattened by bombing in 1944 when the allies took out their German requisitioned aircraft engine facilities.

    Interestingly, the Zundapp KS800 flat-four wasn't as successful as their or BMW's twin at keeping cool, and Zundapp seldom get a mention for their bikes - probably in the same way that Indian's army Scout gets passed over when referring to Harley, but then we conveniently forget that not all of the German army were riding the new R75s, and the rest were riding whatever they could get their hands on, from R11s onwards.

    Whatever, to suggest that German engineering as vastly superior to anything used by anyone else is to ignore all those that didn't capture the imagination as the R75 did, but truth is the first casualty of war. The WLA/WLC 45 did a good job, and many survive ... while the R75 is a true rarity.

  2. Thanks for the lesson - appreciate it.