1938 BMW R 35: Made in Nazi Germany, Now Preserved in a New York Museum

The Glenn H Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, is a warehouse-sized facility full of some of the most stunning classic cars and airplanes that Mr. Curtiss himself helped to design.
BMW R35 Glenn H Curtiss Museum 11 photos
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But in its hallowed halls, aside for his inventions, is a collection of some of the finest classic cars and motorcycles owned in the Finger Lakes region. Couple that with the scenic location at the foot of lake Keuka, where many of the boats and seaplanes on display inside the museum used to use as base of operations, and you have a formula for excitement.

But if you ask for our two cents, the best motorcycle in the entire building was not built by Curtiss, although his early motorbikes were undoubtedly awesome machines. Instead, it sits out on the museum floor among a sea of American and Japanese contemporaries. This is the BMW R 35. It's all original, all-metal, and very, very German. This shaft-driven single-cylinder gentleman's cruising bike was one of the finest motorcycles in the world back in 1938.

BMW R35 Glenn H Curtiss Museum

Hailing from the same line of bikes with 250cc single-cylinder engines, this R 35 sports a larger 350cc four-stroke gasoline unit complete with Bosch magneto ignition mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Back in its day, tires ranged in size from 3.5x19-inches in the rear and 3.0x19-inches in the front, with standard metal wire spokes on cross-ply tires. So then, not exactly a setup for beginners.

Rest assured, this is not the kind of bike you can just pick up and ride on a whim. It requires a deeper connection between the machine and its rider. There's no tool to guide you through the four speeds in this transmission. Much like the clutch in a passenger car, you'll learn to master the art of riding an R 35 (or really any car or bike from this era). Every motion the rider makes while mounted on this bike needs to be deliberate, even somewhat disciplined.

Not the least bit because the measly 180-mm drum brakes on offer in 1938 weren't going to save you if you decided to ride like a maniac. But it must be said, the aesthetic of the R 35 somewhat dissuades you from excessive speed.

BMW R35 Glenn H Curtiss Museum
Nearly 85 years later, BMW Motorrad is the most popular name in German motorcycles, with even a special M-division edition in its midst. It's important to remember this R 35 moniker laid the foundations for the company's contemporary success.

This particular example is on loan to the Glenn H Curtiss Museum and on display right in the middle of the show floor alongside so many American, European, and JDM motorcycles and classic cars. All of whom share considerable real estate with the eclectic inventions of a legendary American inventor.

An iconic mind the likes of which have only been equaled a handful of other times. In all of this illustrious company, the R 35 stands out in a not at all insignificant way. To see an example of what BMW was up to almost nine decades ago was a treat within itself in a museum with more variety per square foot than just about any museum any of us have come across.

Many thanks to Richard Leisenring Jr, lead curator of the the Glenn Curtiss museum for allowing to come photograph what turned out to be an absolute hidden gem nesteled in the scening Finger Lakes region of New York. It was a treat we'll no doubt treasure we'll remmber for a long time to come.

BMW R35 Glenn H Curtiss Museum
Check back for more awesome content from our trip to the Glenn H Curtiss Museum right here on autoevolution.


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