BMW has put a lot of effort into promoting its R18 mega-cruiser. That’s not so surprising really: the firm has also spent an awful lot of money developing the massive 1800cc air-cooled Boxer engine in the bike, as well as the bespoke chassis, while making it all work with 2020s-levels of capability, performance and ecological capacity. The standard bike is an impressive piece of kit: massive, of course, and closer to the likes of Harley-Davidson’s big twins than anything else ever made in Europe (for good and bad).
BMW is in it for the long haul of course: it’s not going to carve out a niche in this sector overnight, so it will be working hard on the R18 for a while yet. Part of that work revolves around commissioning custom-built one-off special R18s, like this one, dubbed ‘Iron Annie’ and built in Switzerland of all places.
The original Iron Annie was a nickname for the Junkers Ju-52, a three-engined transport plane and airliner from the 1930s, also known as ‘Aunt Ju’. Indeed, that plane was powered by one of BMW’s earlier products: the 132 aero-engine, a nine-cylinder radial based on an American Pratt and Whitney engine design. The Ju-52 was a stalwart of the German Luftwaffe in WW2, and continued in service after the war, both as a military and civil craft.
The R18 Iron Annie was inspired by a particular Ju-52 though, a 1936 plane which ended up in the United States. A customer of BMW partner VTR Motorrad AG & VTR Customs in Schmerikon, Switzerland, wanted to create a very special customized version of the BMW R 18, using design cues and inspiration from aircraft construction. Years before, the customer had already had an individual R nineT built entirely according to the same ideas at VTR Customs.
The R18 is a much more impressive machine though, and the resulting special is a wild piece of kit. The engine cowling and side-panels have all been made by hand from aluminium sheeting, carefully moulded round the engine and chassis. The instruments have been integrated into the fuel tank area, and the panels are held in place by aircraft-style quick-release fasteners. The corrugations in the panels echo the corrugated construction of the Ju-52 – it was an early way to add stiffness and strength without weight to planes – and the look is rounded off by design touches like the warning stickers, brown leather saddle, and lines of ‘rivets’.
The suspension is lowered at both ends, thanks to a Wilbers shock and shortened forks, and larger wheels were commissioned from Kineo: a 21” front and 18” rear, shod with Avon Cobra rubber, are designed to help make the bike look smaller. The speedometer is made specially by the Swiss watch maker Zeitzone Zurich, and the whole piece is finished off with a sutble grey paint job, that again echoes the style of the original Iron Annie.
BMW R 18 IRON ANNIE by VTR Customs specifications
– Base: BMW R 18 First Edition.
– Sheet metal parts: Fuel tank, rear, side panels, cockpit,
mudguard, aluminium handmade by VTR Customs.
– Fork: shortened and DLC-coated stanchions.
– Suspension strut: Wilbers, height adjustable.
– Wheels: Kineo front 3.5 x 21″, rear 6 x18″.
– Tyres: Avon Cobra, 120/70-21 and 200/55-18.
– Handlebars: ABM Vario Clip.
– Speedometer: Customized by Zeitzone Zürich.
– Brake / clutch pump: Magura HC3.
– Saddle: VTR Customs & Yves Knobel Saddlery.
– Exhaust system: Walzwerk.
– Number plate holder: Berham Customs.
– Side indicator and rear lights: Kellermann Atto.
– Headlight: HIGHSIDER.
– Paintwork: VTR Customs & Freuler AG, Benken.