History: Munch Motorcycles

Each week RideApart looks back at key milestones in motorcycle history from technical innovations to significant model introductions to racing successes and, of course, some of the disastrous things we’d rather forget. This week we look at arguably Europe’s first superbike manufacturer Munch Motorcycles.

Through the past four decades, Freidl Munch built some of the, fastest, most beautiful and unusual motorcycles that enthusiasts have ever seen. Because Munch was always developing the bikes as he sold them, it’s thought that no two Munch motorcycles are alike.

Based in Altenstadt, Germany, Munch began his long career of motorcycle engineering in the late 1940’s working in the competition department of Horex motorcycles. When the company went bust in 1958, Munch bought up Horex’s stock of motorcycles and spares and set out on his own. Initially, for the first few years he built café racers, but in 1966 Munch took the motorcycle world by surprise.

Some six months previously, he had seen an NSU (Naeh und Strick Union) car with what he though would make a perfect motorcycle engine. Munch built a frame and had a well-known German motorcycle journalist test the first bike when it was completed. The journalist was very enthusiastic and together they took the bike to NSU to show to the company’s management. Prior to the Second World War, NSU had been one of Germany’s largest motorcycle manufacturers. NSU liked what it saw but said it had no interest in reviving motorcycle production. The good news though was that they said they would supply Munch with engines.

Munch Mammut (Mammoth) Munch Mammoth

At the Cologne International Motorcycle Show, the Munch Mammut (Mammoth) was officially unveiled. It featured the NSU 996cc, air-cooled four-cylinder car engine, which developed around 55 hp, and had a double loop frame, similar to a Norton of that era. The Mammut weighed around 480 lbs and was capable of a top speed of 115 mph, which was pretty impressive at the time.

There were also some interesting technical features on Munch’s first motorcycle that would be later adopted by other manufacturers in the future. The rear wheel of the bike was an alloy casting with an integrated duplex drum brake. There was an innovative alloy casting that incorporated the rear fender and provided the seat mounting, as well as the housing for the electrics.

The Mammut’s rear chain case acted as the left side of the swingarm and allowed the chain to be entirely enclosed and to run in an oil bath. It also featured a chain tensioner, which mean the drive chain could be easily adjusted without touching the axle and having to recalibrate the alignment.

Following the Cologne Show, Munch received 18 orders for his new motorcycle. The problem was that Munch did not have the capacity to produce that number of motorcycles. This was a man who designed; engineered and then test rode every bike he made.

Fortunately, he met American publisher and former Indian Motorcycle factory racer Floyd Clymer. Together they agreed on a plan for Munch Motorcycles. Clymer acquired the U.S. distribution rights for the company and took over the business operations of Munch Motorcycles. This was so Freidl Munch could concentrate on what he knew best, developing and engineering motorcycles.

In 1967, a new factory was opened in Ossenheim, Germany employing 20 people. At the time, Clymer owned the rights to Indian Motorcycles, which had gone into liquidation in 1953. He and Munch considered reviving the Indian brand and Munch worked on a 750 Indian Scout with a Munch makeover that was flown to Los Angeles in 1967 for the Motorcycle Expo, but the bike never got the reception Munch and Clymer had hoped for.

Still, by the end of that year, around 30 Munch motorcycles had been produced with nearly all of them sold in the U.S.

NSU then offered Munch a new four-cylinder, 1200cc car engine, which proved suitable for further tuning and was capable of developing 85 hp. This additional performance meant that a Munch Mammut could hit 100 mph in 11 seconds, vibration free and was ultra reliable. The only drawback was the rear tire – due to the increase in power and torque a rider could expect the tire to last no more than 1000 miles.

In the early 1970s, Munch launched the Sport-Munch that had 115 hp and then the Daytona Bomb with 125 hp. The latter was intended for record-breaking and specifically the one-hour world speed record at Daytona in 1970. At the time, the record had been set by Mike Hailwood with an MV Agusta in 1965. Munch’s Daytona Bomb was much, much faster recording average speeds of 178 mph, but the team could not find a rear tire that would last longer than four laps and had to eventually accept defeat.

Munch 1200 TTS-E Munch 1200 TTS-E

In 1973, the Munch 1200 TTS-E became the world’s first production bike with fuel-injection (only 130 were ever produced), but it faced two big challenges. First, it was expensive costing $5,135 in the U.S. (at the time you could buy a similar capacity new BMW motorcycle for under $2000). Secondly, the world of motorcycles was changing and the Japanese manufacturers were catching up.

By the end of that year, Munch Motorcycles was in financial trouble and Munch, the man himself, had to step down from his own company. Munch motorcycles continued to be made until 1980 when the factory finally closed for good.

Today it’s estimated that just fewer than 500 Munch Motorcycles were ever built and that only 320 survive today. It is estimated that about 100 are in the U.S. with the remaining 220 or so still in existence reside elsewhere throughout the world.

Sadly, Freidl Munch suffered a stroke in 1991 but after meeting with president of the U.S. Munch Club, Paul Watts, he agreed to design one more motorcycle – the Munch 2000.

Munch 2000 Munch 2000

Launched in 2000, it was powered by a Cosworth, 1998 cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke, turbocharged transverse engine. Öhlins suspension was used and a high tech carbon fiber fairing. Even today it looks super modern with some great lines.

With its Cosworth cylinder heads and Schwitzer turbocharger, the Munch 200 boasted 260 hp and was capable of a maximum speed of more than 150 mph but was electronically limited. It was priced at $80,000, built in Poland and only 15 of these astonishing-looking motorcycles were produced before the company closed its doors for the final time.

There is now a new company called Munch Motorcycles based in Wurbur, Germany that in the past few years has earned itself a reputation by producing high-quality, fast electric racing motorcycles. More information is available at: http://www.muenchmotorbikes.com

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