1938 BMW R71 Outfit

Uber-rare German motorcycle-and-sidecar combo is lovingly restored and in good hands

Published on 31 Dec 2021

In 1938, it’s year of manufacture, this R71 outfit (the term for a motorcycle-and-sidecar combination) from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG was recognized as exceptional. After a number of decades in retirement, this 82-year-old has gone through a nuts and bolts restoration. Interestingly, this combination is in Euro configuration - the bike; the left side element, with the passenger in the sidecar looking into the petrified eyes of oncoming drivers! Was this the sole pattern of R71 combo production at the time? Or was the outfit meant to be repatriated soon?

The bike and sidecar first saw Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1938. A military conflict was brewing in Europe when the R71 arrived in the calm of our shores and was probably - almost a certainty - the first ever product of that prestigious European brand in the country, and - probably - the first ever shaft-driven motorcycle to grace Ceylon’s roads. This is the only known example of the motorcycle-and-sidecar configuration R71 to have landed in the country, and a member of a mere handful of running R71s worldwide!

This outfit is safe in the hands of that lover of classic two and four-wheelers and respecter of originality Kapila Jayawardena, whose cars and bikes have been featured in Motor many times. “The BMW badges on this bike and sidecar are in the original font,” points out Kapila.  “Also, the tail lights on the bike and on the sidecar are matching,” he says, stressing the originality that he painfully strives to maintain on his collection of classic cars and bikes. He further emphasizes that the black paint with white finishes are period-correct for this model.

‘One-kick’ start is a point of pride among motorcyclists, and Kapila assured us that CE 6163 would fire up this way. As if on cue Isuru (who knows this outfit intimately) ‘one-kicked’ the R71 into life, the twin opposing cylinders bursting into a wholesome Bavarian symphony. Isuru is of Jayasuriya fame and this combination rested awhile in the Jayasuriya motorcycle workshop till the youngster dug enthusiastically into the guts of this resto-project, working on it from the crankshaft outward to the very cosmetics of the R71, to revive this pride of Bavaria.

The R71 was originally ridden by a German diplomat posted to Ceylon, and was sold off by the German Embassy in mid-1940.   About two years ago Kapila acquired CE 6163 with many of elements still on the outfit, the others needing refurbishing.  All other parts were either imported - the period-perfect badge one of the most difficult to source - or turned out by skilled local craftspeople. The motorcycle interestingly includes a hand gear lever (low on the right side of the bike) in addition to the standard foot-operated gear lever on the left side.

This outfit recently enjoyed an outing at the BMW Car Club of Ceylon get-together, where CE 6163, was The Star of the Show of course! It is always interesting to see a motorcycle-and-sidecar combination and led many of the younger visitors to wonder just how it would have been to ride in a sidecar!

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and the R71

The BMW Works began in 1916 with airplane engines. And, no, the BMW badge does not depict a stylized aircraft propeller (this was recently debunked by BMW and Motor carried the story). The logo depicts the white and blue colours of Bavaria, Germany. In 1923 the first BMW motorcycle was built and the horizontally-opposed twin cylinder motor and shaft drive continued to be used till 1994.

If you thought that the excellence of the BMW came from cars to bikes, please enter into your little notebook that, with its motorcycle production beginning almost a whole decade ahead of its automobile division, this excellence has actually come from its bikes. BMW names its two-wheelers with alphanumerics, the letter R in the model name denotes the horizontally opposed twin-cylinder, or Boxer as it is commonly known, a signature engine design of BMW motorcycles. 

Of the R71 only 2638 were produced; WW 2 putting an abrupt end to this icon of BMW design.  Sadly, only about one in five is known to survive. 

Following the cessation of R71 production in Munich, it was licensed to the Soviet Union. As the Dnepr M-72 this combination saw military and road use from 1942 to 1960, while from 1957 the M-72, origin BMW R71, was produced in the Peoples Republic of China and today finds homes with motorcycle hobbyists looking for pocket-friendly ‘R71’ copies.

1938 BMW R71 Outfit quick specs

RegistrationCE 6163
OwnerKapila Jayawardena
Engine746cc Two-stroke air-cooled twin, horizontally opposed, overhead-valve, twin carb
GearboxFour speed
BrakesFront and Rear Drums
Drive SystemShaft Drive
Starter SystemKick Start

You Might Also Like...

Card image cap

1928 Citroën AC 4

The Citroën C4 and C6 models were designed to replace the Citroën Type A 10 hp and Citroën Type B

Card image cap

1954 Ford F100 Restomod

The first-generation F-Series pickup (known as the Ford Bonus-Built) was introduced in 1948 as a rep

Card image cap

1984 Hyundai Pony

The rear-wheel-drive Hyundai Pony was produced by the South Korean manufacturer from 1975 until 1990

Card image cap

1936 Railton

Railton was a British automobile marque made by Fairmile Engineering Company in Cobham, Surrey betwe