Boxer-Engine Motorcycles by Honda, Marusho, and Chang Jiang

. . . and one not produced by BMW.

The boxer layout, with the crankshaft longitudinal and opposed cylinders, was developed by BMW Engineer Max Friz, and resulted in the 1923 BMW R32 — the first BMW motorcycle (yes, Virginia, BMW made motorcycles five years before it produced cars). This engine layout always struck me as being utterly logical. The cylinders project sideways into the wind and have good primary balance, and transmission to a shaft final drive is relatively straight forward (or backward), eliminating any need for a bothersome chain or belt. Other manufacturers, most notably Honda, recognized the singular virtues of the boxer/shaft layout and produced motorcycles so equipped. Examples of Japanese and Chinese boxer-engined motorcycles are shown below.

Not well known is the fact that in the early 1970s BMW, in Germany, was developing several engine designs. The M77 project involved liquid-cooled engines in several configurations. There were several twin-cylinder iterations ranging from 500cc to 750cc. Most interesting, however, is that the M77 project also included a 4-cylinder opposed engine design of 1,000cc! By 1975, that design was just about ready. But the motorcycle world was stunned by Honda when it introduced the motorcycle below. Sadly, that killed BMW's opposed four and we are left wondering how BMW would have designed a motorcycle with such an engine.


Japan's 1975-1979 1000cc Honda GL1000 “Gold Wing”

Honda GL1000

In 1975 Honda stunned BMW and the rest of the world with its shaft-driven, opposed-four GL1000 (photo above). BMW had an boxer-four on its drawing boards at the time, but stopped its development when Munich received word from Tokyo that Honda had beat it to the punch. It was not like BMW to play follow the leader. Curiously, Honda developed its new boxer by installing prototype engines in a BMW slash/5 frame, using the Beemer's transmission and drive shaft.

Honda GL1000

Eventually Honda morphed the 1970s GL1000 into the behemoth GL1500, a six-cylinder leviathan that some call a two-wheeled automobile. The spareness, spirit, and "motorcycleness" of the revolutionary GL1000 was lost, as was the view of the GL's engine, which was encased in plastic.

Today, on the used-motorcycle market, GL1000s can fairly be called cheap. For the rider living on a tight budget, the GL1000 represents a excellent and high-quality entré into motorcycle touring. The "Old Golds," as I call them, are reliable, smooth, powerful, and handle better than the current crop of Gold Wings.

Honda GL1000

An overhead view of the GL1000 shows its water-cooled opposed-four cylinders projecting sideways. Added in 1978 was the "pod" containing three instruments (coolant temperature, fuel, and voltage) located on top of the faux gas tank. Later GL1000s were available in black with gold pinstriping; of course, I would have preferred white pinstripes!


Japan's 1964-1967 500cc Marusho

Marusho Magnum

For information on the Japanese 1966 500cc Marusho boxer twin,click on the photo above.
Photo copyright Greg Holliday.


China's Chang Jiang 750

Chang Jiang SV 750 Chang Jiang OHV 750

Made in China, Hongdu's side-valve 750cc Chang Jiang M1, (left photo above) has been produced since 1957 and is based on the 750cc 1938 BMW R71. Chang Jiang also makes the “M1 Super,” an OHV 750cc motorcycle (right photo above). Both come with pre-1955-style plunger rear suspensions, exposed generators, and optional sidecars. This is as close as you can come to owning a brand-new BMW R71! Click on a photo for more information.