I bought this bike from a pal of mine who’s owned her since the early 1980s. I have a rule with the pre-war BMWs. I don’t buy bikes if I don’t know the ownership history prior to the 1990s. Why? There are way too many eastern-block reproduction frames, and that makes for lots of bikes with questionable origins out there. If I’m going to have a pre-war BMW, I’m going to be sure it’s original.

Why original? Because I’m a sucker for original unrestored bikes. Although this 1937 BMW R12 isn’t exactly original, at least not in the sense of how she rolled off the factory floor. This bike is a “cowboy custom” that was done in the early 1950’s by the gentleman who bought her in Germany and shipped her home to Southern California.

Cowboy Custom 041

To my knowledge, I am the 4th American owner of this particular motorcycle. While other people have urged me to restore this bike just because of its vintage, I haven’t. I just love the fact that it’s a 60 year old custom job. In my mind, she’s “original” to what that guy back in the ’50s wanted her to be. I can just imagine the old girl cruising the Southern California canyons, gassing up at the Rock Store back when they still sold fuel, and riding in a pack of Indians and Harleys. I like that vision. It’s a different kind of heritage to the fully period-correct restoration that this bike could easily turn into, and one that just seems to fit this machine better.

When I bought her, we had to cobble the left head together a bit. The brakes weren’t functional, for example. She also needed a new magneto, but that was it. At 77 years old, she’ll still start on the first kick. Hell, you could just about start this bike by blowing on the kick pedal. I love her, and am leaving her the way she sits.