Have you heard of the Münch Mammoth? Was it just some kind of weird aberration, a grotesque one-off that raised a few eyebrows and then faded from the radar screens?
Hardly. For four decades, Friedl Münch built these powerful, beautifully crafted motorcycles. He never got wealthy, or particularly famous, but his dedication to building the fastest, most comfortable superbikes you could buy inspired loyal fans and is a fascinating story.
The Münch “Mammoth” was first shown to the motoring public at the international two-wheel show in Cologne in the fall of 1966, years before Honda would initiate a new generation of mass-produced superbikes. The Münch “Mammoth” combined an air-cooled high-performance inline four-cylinder engine and a modern, double-loop tubular frame a la Norton, with superb brakes (the famous Münch brakes had been used by many racers for a number of years) and many other interesting features. The rear chain case acted as the left side of the swingarm and permitted the chain to be completely enclosed and to run in an oil bath. It also incorporated a chain tensioner, which allowed drive chain slack to be adjusted within seconds, without touching the axle and disturbing the alignment. The rear wheel was an alloy casting, with an integrated duplex drum brake, fitted after initial tests had shown that no spoke wheel would take the brute power of the engine. A bolt-on casting incorporated the rear fender and provided the seat mounting as well as the housing for all electrical components.
From its appearance, the machine looked powerful and certainly deserved the name “Mammoth.” At its first showing, however, a bicycle manufacturer claimed his older rights to the name. Officially, the name had to be dropped and the machine would simply be called “Münch 4,” but enthusiasts in Europe and America would still continue to call it “Mammoth.”
This courageous introduction took place in a period when most of the German motorcycle industry was in a steep decline. Out of the 40 manufacturers operating in the mid-‘50s, only a handful remained. NSU, which in the mid-‘50s had been the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, had seen the handwriting on the wall. With several consecutive summers of bad weather, motorcycles as transportation fell into disfavor. Instead people were reaching for small cars like Isettas, Messerschmitts, Goggomobiles and Loyds, or stepping up to VWs and NSUs. At the right time, NSU developed some excellent small cars, originally with 600cc two-cylinder engines, using the famous Ultramax overhead camshaft. Four successive versions were built, Prinz models One to Four.
“Motormeister” Friedel Münch was born in 1927 and was riding motorcycles at age six. He served apprenticeships in automotive and electrical shops during WWII and started motorcycle racing when the war ended. A serious racing accident at Schotten, the most dangerous of the German tracks, ended his racing career. From then on, he tuned racing machines for other riders, initially concentrating on Horex. Münch later joined the Horex factory, working in the racing and experimental departments.
When Horex closed forever in1958, he purchased much of the parts inventory and equipment. He continued to provide assistance to Horex riders and gained a reputation as an engine builder. He developed the “Münch” brakes, used by many racers, and dreamed of developing a Superbike without regard to cost, which would surpass anything produced in the world in sheer power and speed as well as in the level of comfort and quality. Initially he designed such a motorcycle around a Horex 500cc 2-cylinder engine. When a friend visited him, driving a new NSU 1000TT with the air-cooled Four, he knew that this was his engine.
He built a chassis for it and had well-known journalist/tester Ernst Leverkus ride the machine. Leverkus was very enthusiastic about it and, together with Friedel, showed it to the NSU management. They liked what they saw, but were not interested in reviving NSU motorcycle production. They agreed, however, to supply Friedel Münch with engines. This first machine was then sold to a French enthusiast, so the machine shown in Cologne was actually his second, already improved, version.
Now Friedel Münch had the machine, much heralded in the motorcycle press all over the world. He had received 18 firm orders within two months, but certainly did not have the financial means to set up any kind of series production, even for small numbers. Just at the right time, the American publisher and former Indian factory racer Floyd Clymer came along. Clymer acquired the U.S. distribution rights and became not only a business partner to Friedel Münch but a great friend. He assumed command of the business and financial operation, so that Friedel could concentrate on the development. With each new example built, things actually improved, so that no two were ever alike.
With Clymer’s financial assistance, a new factory was opened in 1967 in Ossenheim, employing about 20 people. Clymer also owned the production and brand rights of the defunct Indian factory and, together with Friedel, wanted to revive this famous make. A rebuilt 750cc “Scout” side-valve engine was flown to Germany and Friedel built a modern motorcycle, complete with electric starter and other improvements. It was shipped to Los Angeles for testing and shown at the Motorcycle Expo in November of 1967, where it created much excitement. This prototype is still in existence and was shown at the “Legend of the Motorcycle” in Half Moon Bay in 2006 by David Manthey
In 1967, a total of 30 Münchs were built, with a good share going to the United States. Reports describe it as “the biggest, strongest and fastest production bike in the world” and “the motorcycle is as reliable as a car, as fast as a Porsche and as exclusive as a Rolls-Royce.”
By the end of 1967, NSU was supplying 1200cc engines; they were very suitable for further tuning, so Friedel brought them up to 85 horsepower. The machines now accelerated like a Formula 1 car; 100 mph could be reached in less than 11 seconds. They were completely vibration free, and there was no motorcycle which could keep up with them—the solid NSU engine did not get tired, and the chassis was able to handle the power. The only drawback was the rear tire; if the rider used the machine’s potential, it was gone after 1000 miles.
Things were running smoothly until Floyd Clymer became gravely ill and could no longer participate in the business. His company then sold his share of the business to U.S. millionaire Arthur Bell, who looked for business opportunities for his son George. George went in full speed ahead, with many new and expensive ideas. A new factory was built in Altenstadt, near Frankfurt, in 1970 and he acquired URS, Helmuth Fath’s world-championship winning sidecar team. Horst Owesle went on the win the 1971 sidecar world championship on the “Münch-URS.”
Developments during the period included the Sport-Münch with 115 hp and the Daytona Bomb with 125 hp. The latter machine was intended for a record-breaking attempt in Daytona on the one-hour world speed record in connection with the Daytona races in 1970. The official one-hour world record—145 mph—had been set by Mike Hailwood on an MV Agusta in 1965. At Daytona, the Münch was averaging 178 mph, but the team could not find a rear tire that would last more than four laps.
All of George Bell’s ideas required large sums of money, which overtaxed the Münch factory’s financial means. After two years as CEO, Bell simply took off and returned to the States, leaving Münch with gigantic debts and forcing the company into bankruptcy.
Friedel did not give up, however. He found a new partner in Hassia, a packaging manufacturer. A new 3-cylinder two-stroke machine with 90 hp was also being developed and was shown at the Cologne show in 1972. It did not, however, see production.
The Otto Connection
Friedel’s factory in Altenstadt was quite close to my hometown, Buedingen, the county seat. I was working as a representative for a German car manufacturer in the U.S. and had to go to Germany quite often. Whenever possible I would add a few days vacation, during which, since my main hobby had always been motorcycles, I would also visit Friedel. He would show me, and sometimes let me try, his latest creations. During these visits I could observe first-hand the unbelievable care given to each machine in the manufacturing process and how the “Motormeister” tested each machine and made final adjustments before delivering it to the customer.
In early 1973, production of the 1200 TTS-E model began, the world’s first production bike with fuel injection (only 130 machines were produced). But by that time, the big Japanese machines, at much lower prices, had made great inroads into the superbike market. Business slowed, and by the end of 1973 the company was again in financial trouble, with Friedel even losing his personal assets. A new partner had to be found. Münch enthusiast and business man H.W. Henke took over the business but the friendly cooperation lasted only two years. Friedel Münch, the ingenious technician and engineer but not-so-great businessman, left his own company in 1975, while the company still continued to produce motorcycles until 1980. Parts and equipment were eventually taken over by a group of enthusiasts in Lueneburg, who tried to keep the parts supply and service going. A total of 478 machines had been built, of which approximately 100 came to the U.S. Best estimates are that about 220 are still in existence worldwide, demanding often several times the original purchase price when they change hands (the base price of a 1970 Münch was $5135, excluding options and shipping to the U.S… for comparison, a BMW could be had at that time for less than $2000).
Of course, it was not the end for Friedel. In 1976, with his son Rainer, he started a new company on a very small scale repairing and restoring motorcycles. He had lost the use of the Münch brand name, but decided to build individual machines under the Horex brand. His first two new bikes were 125 hp Horex 1400 TI Turbos, with fuel injection and turbocharging. He also modified existing machines to the latest specifications.
This is where American motorcycle enthusiast Paul Watts enters the picture. He had studied all available literature and road-tests thoroughly before he decided to purchase his first Münch in 1969, a model TT 00. Personal visits to the “Motormeister” in Germany also boosted his admiration and attachment to anything “Münch” and, no wonder, he became the first and only president of the U.S. Münch Club. He became a close personal friend to Friedel. He also then acquired the “Indian-Münch” prototype from Clymer’s estate, after Floyd Clymer had passed away. Even if this machine never achieved the “perfect” status, it remains an interesting study and valuable collector’s item and it became the foundation of Paul Watts’ Münch Museum. He collected literature, souvenirs, memorabilia, posters and pictures and even a cut-away engine from Germany. But this was not yet the end.
In 1981 Watts approached Friedel with a request for a special project: He wanted Friedel to build him a motorcycle of superlatives, one which would remain a unique specimen. The two got together and outlined the features of this, the “most exotic, highest-quality motorcycle ever built,” as Paul called it. He visited Friedel on a yearly basis to check on the progress and finally, in 1986, the bike was completed and he took delivery. Friedel named it the Horex Titan 1800.
“Completed” does not mean that it didn’t have teething problems, which could be expected on a motorcycle of such complexity. With a follow-up visit by Friedel to the motorcycle here in America, things were eventually whipped into shape. It was never Paul’s intention to wear it out with everyday use, and it would not have been a very practical machine for this purpose, anyway! It was to be a monument to a new high point in motorcycle design.
Some of the machine’s technical highlights include an 1800cc engine with Kugelfischer fuel-injection and a supercharger based on the Wankel principle, running at 1.8 times the engine speed. Maximum boost was already available at 1800 rpm, and engine output was 160 hp at 7800 rpm. The supercharger had been built by Felix Wankel himself specifically for this application. Also, the cylinder block was built just for this engine, and a SOHC VW in-line four-cylinder head was converted from water cooling to oil cooling. No other motorcycle could boast such a unique engine at that time, nor is there such an engine anywhere else.
Friedel himself had suffered a stroke in 1991 and it took him quite some time to recover. He came to the United States once more in 1994 when a German collector repurchased the Daytona Bomb and asked Friedel to come along to Daytona to see and hear it run. Those who heard the machine running said it was the most beautiful sound ever to be heard at Daytona Speedway, a great tribute to a man who often said, “motorcycles are my life.”
This was the scene when I visited Paul Watts in 1997, after Friedel had given me his name and address. Paul was proud to show me his collection of memorabilia and motorcycles. Yes, besides the Horex Titan 1800, there was a 1969 Münch and a whole bunch of other makes represented, including a number of Chinese sidecar outfits. It seemed at the same time to me that Paul was actually no longer actively riding motorcycles. Part of this is that we all, as the years creep up on us, gain a little weight and the joints protest, especially when it comes to managing heavy motorcycles!
I continued to stay in touch with Paul, stopping by and passing on occasional greetings between Paul and Friedel, but was not surprised when he eventually mentioned that he was selling the motorcycles off and wanted to devote his interests to collecting old-time cars. Most of the machines he really did not have a problem disposing of, but the Münchs, especially the Horex Titan 1800, were another story, considering the great financial investment, not to mention his time and the emotional involvement he had put into this machine.
I heard him mention the name of another Münch collector I knew and was relieved to hear eventually, that David Manthey had acquired not only the Horex Titan 1800 but the entire Münch collection of memorabilia, and parts, including the Floyd-Clymer Indian Münch.
A while after this had happened, I started talking to David on the phone. By now he owned 10 Münchs and I found that he was not just an enthusiast but a Münch fanatic. “Bitten by the Münch Bug”, as he called it. He was thinking “Münch” from morning to bedtime, had visited Friedel several times in Germany, attended Münch Club meetings and had traveled all over Germany on Münch motorcycles, at times with his friend and partner May Johnson. All of this, starting with his boyhood dreams and early motorcycle experience up to his latest acquisition, he had woven into a wonderful book: Beyond My Wildest Dreams, written with the help of May Johnson and her daughter Amy Johnson.
Friedel designed one more motorcycle, the Münch 2000. It was based on a completely new engine design and it was planned to be manufactured in Poland, to keep the manufacturing cost under reasonable control. Fifteen of these 260 hp machines were actually produced, but the market for such an extremely high-priced motorcycle simply was not there.
As Friedel, now in a wheelchair, tried to wind up his affairs, he offered to transfer ownership of his big-engine museum to the city of Laubach; it certainly would have been a major tourist attraction. Laubach, like other cities, however, was caught in the money crunch and could not accept the museum, even as a gift. In 2008, in a wonderful gala-celebration, with the attendance of the international Münch Club and numerous friends, the museum was permanently closed. I was fortunate enough to attend this celebration on the invitation of Friedel and his son Manfred. The sound of some 80 Münch motorcycles starting up and running together was unforgettable. Paul Watts, his old friend, had prepared a presentation as a tribute to Friedel. I translated it into German and presented it to this sizable group. A wonderful celebration and a great farewell party.
With this celebration, a major chapter in the proud tradition of German motorcycles came to its conclusion.
Since Otto wrote this article, the Speyer Technical Museum (not far from Hockenheim, south of Frankfurt) has acquired the Münch collection and has 26 bikes on display, including the Daytona Bomb and a Münch 2000. You can contact May Johnson for a copy of David Manthey’s account of his Munch obssesion, Beyond my Wildest Dreams.