BMW R50/69S Café Racer: same owner since 1960!
A few weeks ago, we received a message from Jeff Thommen of Switzerland about this father’s 1960 BMW R50/69:
“I’d like to submit my father’s bike, which he’s owned for 59 years, customizing it in various stages over all these years, and is still riding it occasionally (being 78 years old).”
We were immediately interested, as it’s not often that you come across a café racer that’s been in the original owner’s hands for nearly six decades! Jeff’s father, Peter Thommen, was born in 1941 in a rural town in the north of Switzerland and had a quite successful amateur road racing career in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which allowed him to purchase this 1960 BMW R50 new.
Over the years, the bike went through some five different stages of customization, crossed the ocean twice, and received a larger 1969 R69S engine. Says Jeff of his father’s design concept:
“Generally, he had realised the dream of an elegant, Italian-looking motorcycle, with the reliability of a German-made engine.”
While many race and street bikes have come and gone throughout his father’s life — MV Agusta, Matchless, Ducati, and more — this BMW café racer has stood the test of time, accompanying its owner from Switzerland to Canada and back, to motorcycle races in Assen and Nürburgring with his motorcycle club, MC Wisent, and through 59 years of riding.
Few men and machines enjoy such a long partnership together. Below, we’re honored to delve deeper in this story.
BMW R50 Café Racer: Interview
Could you tell us a little about your father, his history with motorcycles, etc?
My dad was born (1941) and grew up in a rural town in northern Switzerland and became a dedicated fan of motorcycling after school, and then bought his first motorcycle, a 250 ccm NSU Supermax in 1959.
The NSU served as a commuting vehicle for a while, parallel to his growing desire to get into motorcycle racing. Then the NSU had to give way in favour of a MV Agusta 125 ccm racing bike.
The quite successful amateur racing career made it possible for him to acquire the now present BMW R50 / R69 S in 1961, as a price-reduced model of 1960.
The rising costs of maintaining a decent status in road-racing on an international level made it impossible to continue that “hobby”, as of 1963.
In 1964, he immigrated to Canada, of course accompanied by his BMW, which served as a longrange travel-companion until 1971, when he returned with his family to Switzerland.
During his stay in Canada he took part in a few races in Mosport-Park (Toronto) and Mt. Tremblant (Montreal), with a Matchless G 50.
Sometime in the seventies he also founded a motorcycle club called “MC Wisent” (Wisent is the European equivalent of the bison) together with some buddies with which he was regularly traveling to the motorcycle races in Assen (NL) and Nürburgring (GER).
As of 1982, he bought himself a Ducati 900 SS, and later, in 1993, a Ducati 900 SS Superlight, both sold in 1999 and 2013, so that the BMW is the “survival” bike until now. Old age takes its toll, so that he decided now to sell the bike to another real enthusiast.
What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
Long before buying the first Ducati, he had the idea to transform the BMW into something more elegant than the somehow clumsy looking original. Because of this vision, the changes of its appearance took shape on a step-by-step-basis, right up to the year 2013, when he was in a position to have the BMW totally overhauled, including engine, wheels, brakes, lighting (12 volt-ignition instead of 6 volt), as to the state today.
Generally, he had realised the dream of an elegant, Italian-looking motorcycle, with the reliability of a German-made engine.
Customized in various stages since 1960. Totally overhauled in 2014:
BMW R 50 1960 / R 69 S (Engine) 1964, 598ccm, 42 HP.
- Only the frame still is the one from the original R50 from 1960 (still in it’s first coating).
- Bought in 1960
- 1962 1.Customizing Stage (Handlebar, full board, tank, exhaust)
- 1964 Shipping to Canada on Steamboat “Carmania” (Cunard Line)
- 1972 Shipping back to Europa
- 1972 2. Customizing Stage (Tank “Hoske”, instruments, fenders hi / vo, taillight, saddle, exhaust)
- 1975 3. Customizing Stage (Installation of revised engine from R69S)
- 1976 4. Customizing Stage (Fork, front brake, headlight, shuttering, tank, saddle, exhaust, mudguard, oil sump)
- 2014 5. Customizing Stage (Total revision including frame measurement, engine revision, repainting attachments, saddle cover, etc.)
As it stands in 2019
– Frame in the original paint of 1960
– Chrome-plated rear swingarm (1964)
– Racing valve springs “Helmut Fath” (1965)
– Special footrests and shift linkage set back (1972)
– Speedometer and tachometer from VDO (1972)
– Special solo seat by LAVERDA 750 SF 1 (1973), rebuilt 2013
– Ceriani front fork 35 mm (1976)
– Front brake “Fontana” double duplex 280mm (1976)
– Special headlights from HONDA CB 750 ccm (1976)
– Half shell from “Rickman” (1976)
– Clip-ons “Tommaselli” (1977)
– Petroltank from “MOTO GUZZI” S7 (1978), including new petrol valves (2012)
– Front fender from “YAMAHA” XS 400 (1981)
– Rearview mirror from “DUCATI” 900 SS (2001)
– Suspension struts at the back from “KONI” (2013)
– Special muffler “Phonos”, made to order, chrome (2013)
– Cardan drive with reinforced shaft, 16 mm (2013)
– New 12 volt alternator and lithium battery (2014)
– Total weight adjusted, 198 kg