The Accidental Buyer of a 1973 BMW R75/5

Reader Contribution by Richard Backus

I recently bought another bike, a sweet, unmolested, high-mileage and somewhat dog-eared 1973 BMW R75/5, and it occurred to me that unlike many people, I’ve rarely bought a motorcycle with a predicated plan of action or even a notion of exactly what I wanted to buy.

Regular readers — read, old-timers — might remember that the first few issues of Motorcycle Classics featured me in the photo below with a short wheelbase 1972 BMW R75/5. Bought as a basket case from former boss, wrench wizard and good pal Pat Slimmer of Slimmer’s Automotive, the disassembled R75 came with a set of R90 heads, jugs and pistons for a boost in capacity to make it something of a sleeper. Pat had bought it that way, but a growing family convinced him he wasn’t going to get around to putting it together, so fellow motorcycle and bicycle geek Matt Gilhousen and I decided we’d take up where Pat left off. In one of those rare partnerships that actually worked, Matt did the bodywork and I focused on the mechanicals, and some months later we had a fine-running classic BMW that we shared easily.

A few issues into this magazine, Laverda specialist Scott Potter, learning of my interest in Laverdas in general and the plastic-fantastic RGS in particular, contacted me about an RGS he’d found in Texas. When Scott called and told me “I’ve found your RGS,” I remember telling him, “Nice, but I don’t have any money.” To which he replied, “No, you don’t understand, I’ve found YOUR RGS.” Scott didn’t have any financial interest in the deal, he just knew that if I really wanted an RGS, this was the one to get. I had no intentions of buying a bike at that moment. Hell, I had a growing family myself and spare cash was nothing if not scarce, but I took the plunge and I’ve never looked back. The BMW moved permanently into Matt’s garage, and since the RGS I’ve bought a few other bikes, almost all of them in a similar manner: It was there, I was interested, I bought it.

That’s how I came into possession of the ’73 R75, which belonged to friend John Davis, a good guy to know when you’re interested in old stuff because he has a tendency to go through machines with almost amusing regularity, apparently following the brilliant philosophy I’ve ardently adhered to for decades of “buy high, fix, sell low.”

John’s a member of the Thursday Night Hovel Monkeys, a loose-knit group of fellow wackos and gear heads that gather at my hovel every — you guessed it — Thursday night to throw back a few good beers and work on whomever’s bike is broken. I’d had my eye on John’s R75 ever since he first picked it up awhile back. A local bike with a certain local fame owing to its unique lineage of ownership, it’s currently sporting about 77,000 miles and it’s never been overhauled or restored. A little dirty and dinged, its green paint (what BMW called Green Metallic but now lacking any hint of metallic) has acquired a certain patina, comfortably faded and starting to feather at the edges, as have the instruments, still perfectly functional even if the speedo and tach needles have long since separated from their spindles.

John needed to sell it, but he didn’t want it to go to someone who didn’t appreciate the years it took for the R75 to look as comfortable as it does today and would restore it. It runs brilliantly, firing right up with just a push of the electric starter and settling readily into a steady idle. On the road it runs like an old airhead should: clean and strong, promising miles and miles of effortless two-lane heaven.

I resisted at first. Did I really need another bike? Should I look at the market first to see if this is the R75 to buy? The answer to the first question was clear, and the second point seemed moot. Like many of my bikes, I wasn’t looking for the R75, but I sure am glad it found me.

Richard Backus

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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