by Craig Littlefield
I had been in Germany with the Army for about a year. While I was enjoying being there, I, like all the other guys, was looking forward to the day I would go home. I had planned to take home with me a new motorcycle and a new car. I had bought a new Volkswagen and a used NSU motorcycle to use while I was there. I had been real careful with my money, not hoarding it, as I had a good time, but not wasting it either. My monthly income, which started at $76, was now up to over $100. Things were cheap however and if you took it easy on the beer and didn't gamble, saving money was not too difficult.
I had seen the BMWs. There were a fair number of them. The economy in Germany was recovering from the war and while most people still could not afford a new car, a new BMW motorcycle was expensive as well. If they could afford a BMW motorcycle they could afford one of many new mini automobiles. The BMWs I did see where usually quite utilitarian, the single cylinder model or one with racks and children hanging all over them. Now and then you would see one that was owned by a performance minded German that was prepared for fast driving but they were rare and they were not known for their performance. The really fast motorcycles came from England and no one in Germany owned them. I wanted to go home with an English motorcycle
We went to Munich a couple of times a month. During one trip I decided it was time to see what was available in motorcycles. There was one English motorcycle dealer. A Norton sign was displayed among the other signs for several unfamiliar small German brands. It was a very small shop, downtown, in a line with other shops on a main business street. They had two show windows which were full of motorcycle and bicycle accessories and maybe a small German motorcycle. There was no sign of any Nortons or any English parts. While I was interested in an English motorcycle I didn't want a Norton. I wanted a Triumph; which at that time was the fastest motorcycle made in the world.
I entered the shop and using a combination of English and German explained to the man at the parts counter that I wanted to buy a Triumph and if he could help me purchase one. At first he didn't seem interested but after awhile he started to warm to me. He did like motorcycles and the idea appealed to him. He said he would find out and I should come back in a few days. Over the next several months I was going to get to know him quite well.
I was encouraged. At least I had made contact with someone that might be able to help me. When I returned he said that yes, he could get me one. He gave me a price that I could not believe. At that time a new Triumph in the USA was about $1200. He quoted me a price less than $800. He said that I would have to pay him the whole amount in advance and he would order it. Another trip to Munch, my precious US dollars in hand, and the motorcycle was ordered.
Month after month went by and still no motorcycle. I was to go home now in less than 2 months. Another trip to talk to him. As I approached the shop I noticed a crowd in front of the window. Rather odd. When I was close enough to see what it was it was my motorcycle. He had it in the show window. It was beautiful. One did not see these things in Germany. All German motorcycles were very utilitarian, usually black or some dull color. This was blue and white with many chrome accents. Germans are interested in motorcycles and they are interested in driving fast and this was an unusual sight. I was really excited.
He had not set the motorcycle up at all. He had taken it out of the crate, put it together enough to get it in the window and stopped there. I don't think he had ever seen one and I doubt he had ever seen a Norton either even though he was a dealer. He told me that I had to do the dealer prep.
We rolled the bike out of the window and into an alley behind the shop. He loaned me some tools, and under the watchful eyes of several Germans I got the motorcycle ready for the road. The handlebars needed tightening and the battery had to go in. A few other parts need attaching. It had oil in it and the engine was ready to go.
After I had checked it all over it needed gas. Directly across the street was a large parking garage with some gas pumps. All the buildings were 3 or 4 stories and the gas pumps were set back into the garage front with a low ceiling. Generally we did not buy German gas as it was about $2 a gallon and we got gas for 13 cents a gallon at the PX. I rolled the motorcycle across the crowded street, several people following me. I put in enough gas to get me to the army base. As in all English bikes I had to tickle the carburetor, holding down a small plunger until gas ran out onto my finger. This flooded it for starting. I got on the bike, slowing kicking the engine over with my right leg. It was not easy to kick as it was a 650 cc engine, large for it's day. There was no ignition switch, only a kill button.
I stood up, ready for a large kick. I sung down with everything I had. The motor burst to life. It roared. In the enclosed area it shocked everyone, even me. The spectators all jumped back. Of course I had to gun it a few times to make sure it was running okay before I let it settle down to a slow idle. A few minutes to settle the paperwork with the dealer and I was on my way home, a friend driving my car.
I had had several motorcycles while in Germany but nothing like this. To get home I had to drive through the heavy Munich traffic with a lot of buses and trolley tracks. The English, in their successful attempt to be different, put the brake on the left foot and the shifter on the right, opposite from what I had been riding. This took some getting used to and made emergency maneuvers difficult. Also I had to be real careful, as the bike was so fast that it would jump out from under me with the smallest amount of throttle.
It was fun. The thing roared. At stoplights people would come off the curb into the street just to look at it. As I weaved my way through traffic getting closer to the Army base I slowly got use to the controls and the power.
I got the bike back to the base with no problems. It had a dry sump oil system and the oil pump in the sump was to quit the next morning pumping engine oil out onto the ground. Rather upsetting for a new vehicle but not fully unexpected as it did come from England. I tore it apart and found some metal filings in the pump.
A week later I drove it to Bremmerhauven in freezing rain and shipped it to New York. I then drove it home to Salt Lake City. I would drive it for the next 5 years in all weather. I sold it to buy my first BMW, a new 1965 R69S.