URS Racing Sidecar

Motorcycle sidecar racing
One of the greatest sidecar racers of all time was the German Helmut Fath. And this machine carried him to the sweetest victory of all. It’s called a URS, and it was sold by the Bonhams auction house last weekend for an extraordinary £102,700—a cool US$160,000. The price was high because there’s an action-packed story behind this bike (if you can call it a ‘bike’).

In 1961, while heading for his second consecutive World Championship, Fath crashed his BMW heavily at the Nürburgring. His passenger Alfred Wohlgemuth died in the accident, and Fath himself spent a year in hospital recovering. When he came out of hospital, he recuperated by preparing BMW Rennsport engines for other motorcycle racers—and regularly outperformed BMW’s own factory efforts.

Not surprisingly, BMW rejected Fath’s request for a factory ride when he was finally fit enough to get back on a bike. So he created a low-budget race team and built his own bike—the bike you see here—and named it after his hometown of Ursenbach. Power comes from a 498cc four, with eight valves, two camshafts and twin-plug ignition. The engine revved to an amazing 15,000rpm and developed 88bhp, almost 20bhp more than BMW’s factory engines.

Motorcycle sidecar racing
In 1968, Fath used this machine to beat BMW factory rider Johann Attenberger and take the sidecar World Championship for a second time. An accident the following year knocked Fath out of the Championship once again, but the URS sidecar returned to action in 1971 at the hands of Fath’s race engineer Horst Owesle. Remarkably, BMW was again relegated to second and Owesle won the Championship.

As the Bonhams auction notes say, “World Championship-winning racing motorcycles are rare enough but the URS’ achievement—winning this most prestigious title on two separate occasions, with three years between them and two different riders—surely will never be repeated. This is a possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the discerning collector to own this legendary racing motorcycle, which is unique in so many ways.”

[Static images courtesy of Bonhams. The next motorcycle sale will be the Classic California: Important Motorcycles, Motorcars, and Related Memorabilia auction, featuring property from the Bud Ekins Collection, on November 13th at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA.]

Motorcycle sidecar racing
Motorcycle sidecar racing

  • G$

    Umm, a 498cc what? A not-a-BMW but it is a ____________.

  • joe momma

    …i agree……..WTFII……??……screw the aution house……what aboooot the motocycle?????????????…….

  • Tim Hanna

    The beautiful and totally original Fath engine also ended up in a solo that had real promise. It all came unglued when the collaboration between Fath and Munch (maker of the Mammuth) came unglued.
    It would be nice to see photos and a story of that bike which I believe was auctioned recently. It’s a real honey.
    Fath had a second go at beating BMW with his own horizontally opposed four cylinder two stroke – very similar to the Konig which was the next engine off the block to win world sidecar championships.

  • G$ and Jo Momma, the engine is a URS.

    Tim, there’s a good overview of the Münch-URS here: http://www.realclassic.co.uk/munch06090700.html

  • tim hanna

    Thanks Chris, that site was well worth the visit and the machine on offer is stunning. Rickman frame, Fath engine – for me it just does not get any better.
    I wonder what happened to the other one.
    Also do you know if the Beast still exists. On modern tires that would be one interesting post classic racer!

  • David Enfield

    Thanks for for clearing that up , we used to say ” Wots a Urzzz then ?” ” Urs ? dunno” “German s’pose” Now we know . :-)

  • harry stanley

    as passenger to bill boddice in 1967,we raced against the great URS many times.it was so noisy i had to put cotton wool in my hears because it hurt.at mallory park we would be on a par with fath and would pass him on gerards but he would pass us at the elbow every time,chair on the wrong side see.great times great bike. harry(h)stanley