While many reckon the boxer configuration is an ugly setup, the fact is the horizontally-opposed layout has been pivotal in making BMW the global powerhouse it is today, and offered the brand a massive dose of individuality into the bargain.
The boxer is so-called because the pistons move simultaneously in and out rather than alternately, said to resemble a boxer throwing a jab.
Reluctantly Max Friz, BMW’s head designer, turned to motorcycle and automobile engines in the 1920s to sustain the company, with the core production prior to this being used in aircraft applications.
This is clearly indicated in the design of the BMW logo. The circular blue and white BMW logo or roundel is portrayed as the movement of an aircraft propeller, to signify the white blades cutting through the blue sky.
Anyhow, an industrious cove our Friz, once he got going, it only took him four weeks to come up with the now legendary horizontally-opposed twin cylinder boxer.
The first boxer engine, M2B15, was based on a British Douglas design. The M2B15 proved to be pretty successful, but with the development of the first light alloy cylinder head, a second more successful version of the boxer engine evolved. In 1923, the first BMW motorcycle, the R32, hit the Bavarian boulevards.
Using the new aluminium alloy cylinder heads, Friz designed a 486cc engine with 8.5 horsepower and a top speed of a very handy 100km/h. The engine and gearbox formed a single unit, and the new engine featured a recirculating wet-sump oiling system which was cutting-edge technology in 1923 – most motorcycle manufacturers were still using less-than-efficient, total-loss oiling arrangements. BMW used this type of recirculating oiling system until 1969, showing the advanced design of the times.
The Boxer is still the bread-and-butter layout for BMW, although the donk is much more sophisticated since the introduction of the four-valve incarnations. Yes, it would be brave indeed for BMW to abandon that setup, and we don’t see that happening anytime soon.
In fact, for proof of BMW’s commitment to the Boxer setup look no further than the brand’s hero, heritage-styled R 18, and the stir it has caused on a global basis.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.