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Autobahn Craftwerks Heading to Bonneville

by Richard Backus

Tags: Bonneville Salt Flats, Autobahn Craftwerks, Vintage BMW racing,

Bonneville BMW 

Long time BMW enthusiast and restorer Len Kerkhoff tells us he’s going to make a bid for the record books at the Bonneville Salt Flats this September. Running in the vintage 500cc pushrod class, Kerkhoff is preparing a circa 1954 BMW 500cc engine in a period R50/2 frame. Kerkhoff, who used to road and drag race Triumphs, turned to BMWs almost two decades ago when he decided to go fulltime into motorcycle restoration at his Cincinnati, Ohio-based shop, Autobahn Craftwerks.

Len says he’s hoping for a 125mph run to seal his entry into the Bonneville record books. The record in the vintage 500cc class currently stands at 122mph and is held by a mid-1930s Indian Scout. The class allows for flatheads up to 750cc capacity. Len and crew plan trial runs in North Carolina starting June 28, and he figures he’ll have the bike sorted and ready for his planned run at Bonneville Sept. 2-6. Aside from some lightening, Len says the R50/2 frame is mostly stock, with no changes in geometry or wheelbase. Class rules mean the engine has to keep its stock displacement, but don’t limit other modifications. Len says the engine’s been treated to extensive head and crank work to make it breathe freely and spin reliably. All in, he figures the bike will weigh around 300lb when it hits the flats.

Besides the obvious appeal of running at Bonneville, Len's clearly excited about stretching his competitive legs again. “I was more of a road race guy and a lot of drag racing,” Lens says of his earlier days. “But as I got older, I figured I’d leave that kind of stuff to the boys. But I can still go fast straight!” Len says he’s been getting help from BMW and race enthusiasts around the country. “I’m getting everybody on board I can. It costs a lot of money to play, but it’s a lot of fun.”

And help is coming from some unlikely corners: According to Len, the local cops are letting him make a trial run this weekend on a deserted strip of road behind the Proctor and Gamble facility in Cincinnati. Now that sounds like fun. Stay tuned, because we’ll be following Len’s progress as he gets ready for Bonneville, and we’re planning on being there when he gets his chance to make a run for the record. For more pics of Len’s bike, go here. – Richard Backus