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1936 BMW R5: Something Special This Way Comes

I owe much of my burgeoning pre-war BMW collection to the tireless efforts of Robert Freeman. His decades of experience and robust network make him one of the most knowledgeable living experts on the subject of pre-war BMW motorcycles. Robert is based in England and is very connected with the U.K. BMW Motorcycle Club. He is also the registrar for the AFN (Archibald Frazer-Nash) archives. AFN was the sole factory-authorized importer of BMW motorcycles in the U.K. during the 1930’s. Robert, as readers of this blog well know, is the original owner of my 1937 BMW R5 HMK 477.  His father owned an R5 in the early 1940’s and decades later Robert bought HMK 477 for 11 pounds sterling. Robert spent the next twenty years restoring the R5. He spent hundreds of hours searching for hard-to-find parts without the benefit of modern tools like the Internet.

Robert has been instrumental in helping me source rare vintage BMW’s that were sold new in England, and all have heavily documented ownership histories. The three bikes that we have found in England all have the essential benefit of factory-correct frame and engine numbers. Each bike Robert has found has been verified by the BMW Historical Archives and further vetted through the meticulous AFN registry. The heavily documented provenance of my British AFN bikes is rare because most pre-war BMW’s that were found in Europe and elsewhere have no certifiable records. Most of the bikes from the European continent were victims of World War II and had no known or traceable ownership history. BMW can not verify the majority of these bikes as numbers correct. Finding original photographs or any personally-written records is all but nearly impossible. Today many bikes are coming out of Poland that are incorrect fakes with no provenance. In the world of vintage BMW’s, it is buyer beware.

Last summer Robert emailed me that he knew of a possible numbers-matching 1936 R5 that might be coming up for sale. We jumped on it, and I promptly submitted an offer via a sealed-bid auction process. We beat out several bids (one allegedly from BMW itself) and won the auction by only 300 pounds. After winning the sealed auction, there were several complex export and registration paperwork issues that Robert helped resolve. After several months of logistical back-and-forth, the R5 finally arrived in the port of Los Angles last week. Mike Dunn at Vintage German Motorcycles will be completing a full restoration while simultaneously doing some detail work on my other R5.

The 1936 R5 arriving in Los Angeles on January 15th 2016

What follows is Robert’s unedited written history of my newly acquired 1936 BMW R5.

BMW Model R5

Registration Number EMF 863

Frame No; 8931. Engine No; 9001.

The Early Years, 1936 – 1944

The introduction in early 1936 of the BMW Model R5 was really in its way, a groundbreaking design that both pleased the eye in its simplicity, but also performed the task for which the concept was intended, extremely well. So much so, that even in 2016 an artistic impression of this has been recreated by the BMW Historic Group. Using the latest design ideas, perhaps not to everyone’s taste, mine included, it does, however, actually, with an eye half closed, mirror the original design

2016 BMW R5 Hommage Concept Bike

This original design is still reflected in the BMW’s offered for sale today.

Why? Because it was right, then, and still is now.

Yes, technology has moved on, but the R5 was a motorcycle that holds the road, feels comfortable to ride, reliable, and performs to the ‘lucky’ owner’s wishes safely.

How do I know?

Because I owned a 1937 R5, HMK 477, it is now in the ‘tender care’ of Philip Richter. I purchased it in 1966 for the ‘huge sum of £11 pounds sterling bringing it back from a box of parts in 1966 to a road worthy motorcycle. The story does not end there, my Father, Cyril Freeman. 1914 – 1996 also owned an R5, FJO 265 from 1938 – 1945. Though I was too young the know this, my parent’s tales of their exploits during the War Years remain. As it turned out later, my Father’s R5 was only four engine numbers from my own.

Thus the ‘seeds’ of BMW kinship were sown, and little did I recognize as a schoolboy in the late 1940’ – early 1950’s, how that would come back to bite me in very later life, bringing so much pleasure.

Having perhaps set the scene, we turn the R5 in question.

1936, Frame No; 8931. Engine No; 9001. Registered as EMF 863

The 1936 R5 differs from the later 1937 model in that each of the twin carburetors had separate (what are affectionally called ‘Elephant Ears’) air filters, and a left foot operated gear change lever, that works by a linkage. These features were tidied up in the 1937 R5, and with the next step of sprung rear suspension in 1938, the 1937 model. The 1938 R51, continued in more or less in that form till 1954.

I should have mentioned that the design, a horizontally opposed, (flat twin) engine, with shaft drive, is still the BMW Flagship today in 2016. Some items, such as a Bowden Cable operated headlight dip switch, remained until 1951. When production restarted then after the post-war reparations, it was using up New Old Stock to get things running. A hand operates gear lever, on the right, in addition to the left foot lever, remained till the early 1950’s. The thing is, it worked, and quite a few of the very early 1950’s BMW’s are still in use today in England. I have a 1951 BMW R25, 250 cc but it looks perhaps twenty years earlier.

Having given a little history on the origins of the R5 model, now at last something about this particular motorcycle. First, however, you may be asking exactly ‘how many’ were there imported and sold in England. The best I can say is a total of 63, of which 20 were 1936 model year. For 1937, they were the tidied up, the left foot change redesigned removing the linkages, but a feature which can be even in today’s production BMW’s, the air was carried from a central filter, by tubes to each carburetor. The ‘elephant ears went’ and the air filter integrated into a casting on top of the gearbox, making one smooth, tidy unit.

When I said 63 models of the R5 were imported and sold, that is the best information I have at this moment in time. In the five years since I was first given access to view and record the AFN Archive, three previously unrecorded pre-war BMW’s have come to light. These unknown bikes were confirmed by BMW Archive in Munich. So as always, the data is only as good as that recorded. BMW will not reveal an exact number, but will readily confirm, if an alleged motorcycle is correct or not.

The 1937 model year R5 numbers ran from 8001 – 9504, thus, EMF is exactly number 1000 into the production run. For interest, the 1937 model year R5 engines ran from 500001 – 502786, of which 43 models came to England. HMK 477 was four earlier than my Father’s R5. That very last one sold in Britain. Engine 501147. That seems to have disappeared in the late 1950’s.

The frames were universal across the range, covering also covering the R6. So, therefore, the numbers stamped upon these do not follow a pattern. It was as they came off the production line, having an advantage as an R5 or R6 engine cannot be fitted to any period frame and claimed to be genuine. There are in Eastern Europe ‘off the peg’ replica frames available. If they fit is another matter.

EMF 863 was built in Munich 22nd July 1936 and delivered to AFN Ltd, Falcon Works, London Rd, Isleworth, on the 16th of August. The R5 was sold on the 16th September 1936 to a Mr. G. Clarke. Unfortunately, no other information was recorded. Some records are very detailed. Sadly for us, exceptionally, this one is not.

1944 – 1962

No more is known until a set of Tax Discs, relating to this motorcycle, the comically titled ‘Road Fund Licence’ by successive governments. They start in June, then September 1944, June, & December 1945, September 1948. The Road Fund Licence was introduced 1920, to ‘ha-ha,’ to pay to fund road building. It did not then and does not now.

1944 Tax Disc from EMF 863

The next concrete evidence it a letter to the owner, Kenneth Bruce Bolton, 48 Glebe Rd. Egham Hythe. Egham Surrey. Dated the 7th June 1952. The family kept the BMW until 2005.

Kenneth, or Bruce as it seems he preferred, both when he joined the BMW Owners Club, but more importantly, when he married, Ivy D. L. Watson in the September quarter, (July, August, September) of 1948. They spent their early married years, as did so many, living with his parents at Egham. Age 28, he was, unfortunately, asthmatic, and lead to his untimely death in 1962 at the age of just 40, leaving his wife with three daughters, Karen born Sept 1958, Beverley, December 1960, and the youngest, Shelley, September 1960. A baby in arms.

What has been established beyond all doubt is the fact that in the November 1951 Journal of The BMW Owners Club, both Mr. Bruce K. Bolton and Mr. Errol Bright, owners of R5 models EMF 863, 1st series, and HMK 477, 2nd series, respectively both joined as members. So it is not a stretch of the imagination to speculate that these Gentlemen knew each other, perhaps meeting at club events. So in bringing these two machines together under one roof, is recreating history. A third BMW, Model R71, JML 649, also in Philip Richter’s collection belonged for very many years to Les Gillies, yet another who joined the BMW Owners Club in early 1956.

How Mr. Bolton became the owner of EMF 863 is not sure. In conversation with Beverley Chapman, Mr & Mrs. Bolton’s 2nd daughter I was able to put meat on the bare bones. She gave an eyewitness history on the R5. It seems that Bruce was by trade an engineer or tool maker with a business in Staines, Surrey. It is not certain how he came by ownership of the R5, or exactly when, as the original ‘buff (brown) log book” has gone but a collection of Road Fund Licences (Tax discs) pinpoint when the motorcycle were fitted with a sidecar. In a long telephone conversation, she then kindly emailed me this 1st hand information.

Dear Robert,

 Thank you for your letter and nice talking to you earlier.

 I was sad to hear that Mike Lunn has passed away.  Not sure if you ever met him, and I only met him a few times, but he was one of the most interesting men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Please pass on my condolences to his wife.

 The motorbike in question was my fathers.  I heard many stories of my mother and fathers adventures on the bike (which was his pride and joy) and even recall the ‘sidecar’ they used to have attached to it.  The sidecar came into disuse when my mother saw a spider in it.  She never set foot into it again!  I do have some photos somewhere of them with the bike which, I expect, will be around the 1950’s.  I will see what I can find. 

 My father died in 1962 (when my sister and I were babies), and it was left to my mother.  After he had died, it was dismantled and put into our loft.  It reappeared a few years later and took ‘pride of place’ in the hallway for many years – in a ‘partly reassembled’ form (my mother had a boyfriend who somehow thought he could bring it back to life).   

My mother died in 2005, and we sold the bike to Mike in around September 2005.  He spent many, many years rebuilding this and a few years ago took us to his farm after he finally got it running.  We never thought we would see the day! 

 The address where my mother and father lived was: 68 Age bridges Avenue, Thorpe Lee, Egham, Surrey before that, they lived (with his parents) in Glebe Road, Egham Hythe and, before that, they were in Staines Middlesex as this was where my father’s tool making business also was.

 I hope that helps and hope the new owner gets as much joy from this as I know my mother and father did.

 Kind Regards   

 Bev Chapman    

Beverley Chapman thought he might have acquired it from a business college, either in part or full payment of debt, or straight forward purchase. But a tax disc for March 1944, lists solo motorcycle, expiring on 30th June. That date must be the change of ownership. However, in August 1945 it is taxed as Motorcycle and Sidecar.

She added a rather fun family story about the sidecar. Her mother climbed in one day, and screaming, flew out, ‘There’s a big black spider!’. The spider was removed; her Mother vowed she would never sit in it again, and didn’t. In my experience, all spiders are like that when seen by a lady. However, reading between the lines, the arachnid may been shaped like a small Ford saloon in ‘Mum’s’ eyes. The result was the BMW ‘sort of’ sidelined and four wheels replaced two. Such was Mr. Bolton’s attachment to the motorcycle, which after his death it was eventually dismantled and stored in the loft, for a later day.

The later day did come when after a period of time ‘Mum’ formed an attachment with a Gentleman, who on hearing about the BMW in the loft said words to the effect, ‘Oh I soon get that rebuilt an on the road.’ Soon was perhaps10 years Beverley explained. The BMW partially built was parked in the hall, under a sheet. It would be given a play full “pat” when the girls walked by. Eventually is was reassembled, but not on the road

Going back to 1952, the letter to Bruce Bolton is from MLG Ltd. 8 Goldhawk Mews London W12. That is Sheppard’s Bush and signed by the proprietor, Charlie Lock, who closed in his typical way, ‘Cheerio for now.’ When I first came into the BMW world in 1963, MLG’s at Goldhawk Mews was a regular meeting place for BMW owners on a Saturday.

Charlie Lock passed away this year, 2016, at the age of 95. It is fair to say that without the encouragement of Mr Lock, the BMW Club UK & Ireland would not be in existence now. With some 3000 members, of which approximately one-third are a member of the Classic / Vintage register. That means people with BMW’s over 40 years old. I am fortunate to be the Archivist for this Register, which gives me the ability to access Club Journals, from which I have compiled some Indexes, on Names, Model of BMW, and often Registration Numbers

Obviously, Mr. Bolton was in the process of a restoration/rebuild on the R5. He was quoted for the cylinder barrels relined, £5/0/0, with pistons £11/0/0. This equates to a total of £450 today. Nothing changes. He was also after steering heads races; these were in order to collect. No price quoted.

I would add, without Charlie Lock, the BMW Club of Britain may well have ‘stalled’ in its very early days. Charlie Lock as I understand, worked for AFN at one time, and having come out of the ‘services’ at the end of the hostilities, used his ‘gratuity’ to found MLG. The other partners were Vin Motler, who was involved in the day to day running of the business, and a gentleman who’s name as far as I can ascertain was Mr. Gregory. He was the accountant but did not hold that position very long I have been told by a very reliable source.

BMW Concessionaires (BMW Factory Owned) were set up in Portslade, just outside Brighton, to handle imports of the Isetta 3 wheel Bubble Cars in the late 1950’s and in 1962 took over the import of motorcycles. AFN more or less ceased trading the bikes, but a director, D. A. Aldington, continued to offer spares for a few years. Quite possible, ‘using up’ their stock. Several small traders set up at about the same time in the London area, amongst these were Ron Perkins, not far from MLG, Chas Coombe, at Slough. He bought his spares direct from Germany; they came in by air, and he would collect them weekly from London airport. This he told me, ‘Rather upset BMW’. Sadly he took his own life. One other who is actually still in business is Bob Porecha at Sydenham, South London.

So all this left MLG in very strong position. Charles Lock must have BMW written on his heart. He knew everyone, and as I have said his business was meeting point anytime of day for riders.

1962 – 2016

As I mentioned, Mrs. Bolton’s ‘boyfriend’ it seems did more or less, reassemble the R5, but not as a viable running motorcycle. It remained in the condition till 2005, over thirty years or more. Upon the death of Mrs. Bolton in 2005, it was sold to Mike Lunn

Well-known in BMW circles as a restorer. He found, as is the case with all pre-war BMW’s the lack of new, or second-hand spares is the biggest obstacle. The war in Europe and the fact the numbers of BMW’s that came to England were so few, the chance of finding any part is a very long term search.

By 2013 Mr Lunn had the R5 running, albeit fitted with post-war carburetors, as can be read in his letter below. The originals have since been found and accompanied the motorcycle when it was sold in 2016. Mike Lunn had not obtained a replacement ‘log book’ upon his death. Therefor in 2016 the whole process was started again, taking several months. It was not easy, with initially the DVLA thinking the R5 was an import and Value Added Tax was due to H.M. Customs. As for reclaiming the original number, though photos existed, I have records of it sale in 1936 and BMW confirmed it’s delivery to the UK, none of the documents or photos confirmed the Engine / Frame as ‘that’ particular motorcycle. So it was refused, quite correctly.

Eventually, we had to settle for an Age-Related Number, VXS 313. This is a number from a vehicle that has been scrapped, destroyed, whatever. The original may have been a motorcycle, car, milk float, or road sweeper. But it is correct for 1936. On the DVLA web site it is listed thus;

Vehicle details

  • Vehicle make BMW
  • Date of first registration November 2016
  • Year of manufacture 1936
  • Cylinder capacity (cc) 500 cc
  • CO₂Emissions 0 g/km
  • Fuel type PETROL
  • Export marker Yes
  • Vehicle status Taxed and due
  • Vehicle color BLACK
  • Vehicle type approval Not available
  • Wheelplan 2 WHEEL
  • Revenue weight Not available

When in its new home in the USA, the original number EMF 863 may, of course, be displayed if desired.

 Mike Lunn’s communication to Bruce Bolton’s Daughter

Dear Richard, Beverly, and family.
Here is the photo of Beverly’s dads R5 BMW. There is still work to do to completely finish it but it is up and running, and I am now applying for a new log book for it. Parts still to be located include a carburetor and a luggage rack, but they will turn up in time. Finding parts on a bike like this is always a problem and this year I drove to an auto jumble in Hockenheim looking for old BMW parts. Just recently the records for AFN who were the pre-war importers of BMW into the UK became available to club members, and although quite brief they are very interesting including the name of the first owner. It also gives you a good idea why parts are so hard to find as only 15 R5 in total were imported into the UK. It was a very rare and desirable motorcycle.
I hope you are all well and if you want to pop over to see the bike you would be very welcome
Regards, Mick Lunn.

The entry in the November 1951 issue of the BMW Club Journal

R5                               B.Bolton         Staines            11/51

Kenneth died Sept qtr. 1962 age 40

Birth Daughters.

Beverly Dec 1960

Karen Sept 58

Shelly Sept 62

Annie died 2005, and the bike was sold to Mike Lunn.

Further communications from Beverly Chapman

 My mother was Ivy Doris Maud Watson, born December 1918, died June 2005. My father Kenneth Bruce Bolton, known, as you correctly say as ‘Bruce.’ They were married in September 1948. He did own a tool making business in Staines, Middlesex.  Sadly, he took on a business partner not long before he became ill, who he was planning to sell the business to and start a new one in Surrey.  However, on his untimely death in July 1962, as there was no will, all assets transferred to the business partner and my mother received nothing.  She was left with just the bike and, such was my father’s love of German engineering, a ‘Borgward’ car.  That lay rusting in the garage for many years after my father’s death (my mother did not drive) until she gave the car away in the late ’70s who said they would ‘restore’ it. We never saw that again. They were very hard times for my mother bringing up 3 young children on her own. The three daughters are:  Karen Joanne born August 1958, Beverly Gail born November 1960 and Shelley Anne born April 1962. 

I don’t think it is correct to say the bike may have been payment for a debt unless you have evidence that this was the case.  I looked for the photos I mentioned but have not come across them yet. If I do, I will send them on.


 Beverly Chapman

 Regarding the BMW maybe as a settlement for a debt. In conversation, Beverley had told me she thought that might be the case. I have no evident either way, just recording both sides. We will never know, but in 1944 the BMW would have had very little value in England, considering the War was still raging.

There is a record in the BMW Club Journals, recorded by Charlie Lock, of two damaged pre- war BMW’s being offered s, for sale in the early 40’s, for the price of a lunch. In £s Stirling, 5/- (5 shillings)   US $, two!

From The Amateur Mechanic, and BMW Encyclopaedia-man.

Hello Robert,

I think the bike might be a Triumph Tiger 80 or 90 registered in London sometime after December 1933 as this is the first date AXD numbers were issued. I have a document somewhere (but I can’t currently lay my hands on it!) which lists by date when numbers were issued. At first, I wondered if the bike was a French Dresch as the tank transfer seems to contain a lot of writing but Dresch didn’t use girder forks of the type fitted to this bike and anyway it’s doubtful Dresch had an agent in the UK. Interesting picture!

Have a good Christmas and a prosperous New Year.



Conclusion 2017

With that, I feel there is little more to glean upon the History of R5. 9001. It is fortunate that Beverley Chapman was so forthcoming with information, that only she could have known. So often I have found, that those closely involved with what is, after all, a 80-year-old motorcycle, have either forgotten or passed on.

The one thing that comes through is that Bruce Bolton’s obvious ‘love’ or appreciation for the BMW’s qualities has in its way enabled future generations to share his feelings and joy.

-Robert Freeman, January 2017

The R5 sometime in the 1950’s (Photo courtesy of Beverly Chapman)

The Happy Couple in 1949

On another bike

The Wedding of Ivy and Bruce Bolton

Join the conversation!

3 Responses to 1936 BMW R5: Something Special This Way Comes

  1. Somer January 15, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    It is always interesting the number of pre-war BMWs that turn up in UK. Parts were dodgy then. Not many made it ti the states. I have a R-66 that was sent to the states. A friend had a R51RS that the original owner was given the name of some agents elsewhere where he might acquire parts as trade between US and Germany was sketchy.

    • Philip Richter February 14, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

      I have been able to find some real treasures in England. The four bikes I have bought via Robert Freeman all have less than 3 original owners and we have files on each bike an inch think, including original service records from AFN and certifications from both BMW and AFN. The bikes in England were spared the devastation of the war on the continent. Its very hard to find numbers correct pre-war BMW’s that have a documented history and provenance. I feel that all of these marchines are still so underappreciated by the market. Time is on the side of the long-term investor! These are investments you can ride, admire, work on, and just plain enjoy. Stand back and watch as R5’s, R6’s and R51’s move steadily upwards–especially those bikes with documented history.


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