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A Rare BMW R68 ISDT Special


This is a rare BMW R68 ISDT Special, in many respects its one of the early progenitors of modern enduro and adventure motorcycles, and it’s certainly the godfather of the iconic BMW GS series.

The “ISDT” in the name stands for the “International Six Days Trial,” the oldest and one of the toughest off-road motorcycle events in the world. The R68 ISDT Special was given a higher performance engine and upswept pipes for use off-road – BMW would establish a long history of competing in the ISDT.

Fast Facts – The BMW R68 ISDT Special

  • The BMW R68 ISDT Special was one of two variants of the R68 that were offered from 1952 to 1954. There was a road-oriented model with standard low-slung exhaust pipes and the ISDT Special which had upswept pipes and was intended for off-road use.
  • The R68 was closely based on the earlier R67 however it had a more powerful engine, with 35 bhp it was the most powerful BMW production motorcycle ever made up until that point, and the company’s first bike to exceed 100 mph.
  • BMW entered three official works R68 ISDT Specials in the 1952 ISDT that was held in Austria. Hans Roth on the Silver Vase Team had a perfect score card and nearly won the event, alas on the final day he suffered a mechanical failure during the speed trials – after reaching 104 mph.
  • The BMW R68 ISDT Special you see here has had a concours restoration, it’s triple matching numbers, it has the manufacturer’s ID plate on the frame and engine, and it’s a Best of Show winner.

The BMW R68 ISDT Special

The BMW R68 ISDT Special is an exceptionally rare motorcycle, so rare in fact that it’s difficult to source reliable information on its history. For this article we mostly used two books, The Art Of BMW by Peter Gantris and BMW Motorcycles: the Complete Story by Bruce Preston.

BMW R68 ISDT 2

Image DescriptionThe BMW R68 ISDT Special includes a slew of changes to make it more suitable for off-road use, the most noticeable of which is probably the high-exit exhaust designed to keep it up and well out of the way.

The BMW R68 was released in 1952 as the German marque’s fastest and most expensive model. It was essentially an upgraded version of the earlier 594cc BMW R67, with higher compression pistons, a higher performance camshaft, improved twin leading-shoe front brakes, and larger 26mm Bing carburetors.

Power was increased to 35 bhp at 7,000 rpm from 26 bhp, and the R68 was capable of 100+ mph.

Two key versions of the BMW R68 were offered, the most common by far was the standard model for road use, characterized by its dual exhausts which were routed under the horizontally opposed twin engine’s heads.

The cross-country or “Gelandesporte” version is far rarer, it’s recognizable by its two-into-one exhaust that is routed up over the right hand cylinder with a high exit muffler.

BMW R68 ISDT 5

Image DescriptionThe horizontally-opposed twin was designed with the barrels and heads out in the clean airflow for optimal cooling – a signature feature of BMW “Airheads”.

The exhaust header from the left cylinder is routed between the bottom of the fuel tank and the top of the engine to keep it out of the way.

It was this Gelandesporte variant that was used by the International Six Days Trial competitors on the Silver Vase Team in 1952, with rider Hans Roth riding flawlessly and coming within reach of winning the event before a technical failure on day six.

BMW marketed the R68 as “The 100 mph Motorcycle” but sales volume was somewhat limited by the price, at 4,000 DM it was one of the most expensive motorcycles in post-WWII Germany.

They sold just 1,452 examples between 1952 and 1954 before it was replaced with the BMW R69.

BMW R68 ISDT 14

Image DescriptionThe motorcycle does have simple plunger-style rear suspension but an additional spring was added for the rider’s saddle to help soak up serious bumps.

The 1952 R68 ISDT Special Shown Here

The bike you see here is listed as having had a professional, concours-level restoration by a BMW expert and pilot racer. It has triple matching numbers and the original manufacturer’s ID plate on the frame and engine.

This R68 has previous been awarded Best of Show and it’s now due to roll across the auction block with Mecum in late January in Las Vegas.

If you’d like to read more or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

BMW R68 ISDT 14 BMW R68 ISDT 12 BMW R68 ISDT 11 BMW R68 ISDT 10 BMW R68 ISDT 9 BMW R68 ISDT 8 BMW R68 ISDT 7 BMW R68 ISDT 6 BMW R68 ISDT 4 BMW R68 ISDT 1

Images courtesy of Mecum



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