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1953 BMW R51/3 Cafe Racer

Posted on November 2, 2010 by Scott in Café Racer, Classic. 15 comments

Steven Whelan is an American living and working in Germany. Over the years he has amassed a motorcycle collection that Jay Leno would be envious of. Some of his bikes include a 1936 BMW R12, 1952 BMW R51/3, 1964 BMW R69S, 1950 Vincent Comet and a 1962 Triumph 6T Thunderbird that was restored as a copy of the Steve McQueen fence jumping German bike from the film “The Great Escape”.
So when he decided it was time for a new project, Steven had his mind set on building a Rocker-styled cafe racer, inspired by the 1939 Supercharged Schorsch Meier BMW Type 255 which won the 1939 Isle of Man TT. “I found a complete 1953 R51/3 and started the project by finding an aluminium specialist in Germany that had already made pre-war racer style aluminium tanks and mudguards” says Steven. The frame was then modified by welding anti-flex reinforcement and adding a pre-war  style 2-spring seat. A replica “Rennbrotchen” seat extention was  added allowing the rider to flatten out while driving. After searching many biker flea markets and through contacts, Steven was able to find several unsual and rare racing parts from the 1950’s and 60’s. I will let Steve tell you about all the specs and mods: “The wheel hubs are original Hoske racing full-width hubs; a Rausch headlight sporting a peaked Hella chromed rim holds both the 3″ speedometer, tach and 700cc Keyser cylinders with modified heads replaced the original BMW 500’s. Added to the engine were two Mikuni VM 28mm carbs with replaceable K&N filters or polished inlet tubes, & replica Hoske racing exhausts. The gearbox had the original air cleaner mount machined off to resemble the pre-war machines and was re-built using 4-speed racing gears. The front fork is a 1960’s Ceriani  that was originally sold in the 60’s as a replacement for the BMW /2 series Earl’s Fork, but was shortened to retain the original R51s wheelbase. Handlebars and mirrors are from a R75/5, tail light is a Miller/Vincent replica and a modern fly screen was fitted. The silver mudguards with black tank & hand pinstriping was used to give a more Rocker look & feel to the bike. Lastly the classic Avon Speedmaster Tires were fitted to the aluminum rims.”

As far as vintage racers go, they don’t get much cleaner than this. The attention to detail is superb and apparently, so is the handling. Steve tells us he is still breaking this beautiful Beemer in, but did “reach 70 MPH in one burst, and on curving roads the bike handles superbly.”

  • Emaychee

    unusual frame, elegant and certainly something I'd hesitate to actually race – it must be cafe! No but really, it's lovely to see something this rare from someone who clearly isn't only a 'showroom' guy.

  • Scott

    @Emaychee Steve does call it a 'cafe racer' so I have added 'cafe' in the title. It is not your classic 'cafe racer', so i found it hard to label it as one. Will be interesting to read the comments.

  • Nice tank, but it is not a Cafe Racer (handlebar, seat/pillion, rear end, mudguards,…). Maybe it's simply a nice custom BMW R51.

  • Davo

    call me petty, but the tramp stamp on the tank kills it for me.

    other than that, its beautiful. I love old beamers.

  • KIK

    looks fun on a long ride

  • KDI Cycles

    Nice clean bike. I love the old air heads. Looks like it would be my dad's cafe racer, still love it.

  • Aaron Burke

    No going to argue over the category of the bike, just say it is a nice ride.
    Would be super fun on the Sunday morning blast up the nearest set of twisties.

  • dfelix

    Looks fun… mas too stock to be considered cafe..

  • KIK

    the frame looks exactly like a royal enfield 350 i just picked up. but in a larger scale..

  • Andrew


    Royal Enfield? Any photos? What are your plans?

  • KIK

    @ ANDREW,. A friend is moving his shop into a smaller location and asked if we would be interested in moving some old parts for him, the old guy has collected around 20 years worth of old parts and a few cool bikes, the royal enfield was the rarest of the bunch so we took pity on her,its a bullet 350 from the 70's its gonna get cleaned up tuned up and hopefully sold., he also had a pair of xs 650s and some cb750s ,if you need any parts from the 80's till now let me know,the guy had parts for triumph and the big 5.reach me @

  • Den

    Gorgeous bike, but as stated above "call me petty but…" the pin striping is a bit much for me but who cares if the owner is happy, the rest of the bike is so lovely, such a minor gripe though (the bike must be really good to only get petty criticisms). I love old R series BMs' and this is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

    My father had a short wheelbase R75/5 with VW internals (pistons, rings etc.) taking it out to 800cc and tried mikuni or dellorto carbs (not sure, the bike has gone and so has my old man) but then flicked back to the old bings and airbox for everyday ease, as well as a lightened flywheel and some R90S bodywork. It looked and went really well. Although in hindsight it does feel a bit sacreligeous now that these bikes are total classics.

  • Steve Loomes

    With the two pots out the sides it is more like an elegant expresso machine racer

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  • Don J Whistance

    Need to contact Steve Whelan about The Great Escape film via please ASAP….on my ‘Existentialism is the word’ page are his emails to me but I have lost his email details –