The world’s first four-cylinder street machine was not a Honda. Alan Cathcart recounts the unusual tale of a Mammoth, a European monster of myth…
The world’s first four-cylinder street machine was not a Honda. Alan Cathcart recounts the unusual tale of a Mammoth, a European monster of myth…
Of the many small-volume motorcycle manufacturers in two-wheeled history, Germany’s Friedel Münch was actually one of the most far-sighted. He foresaw the modern-day Superbike era in a dead-heat with Count Domenico Agusta by commencing production in 1966 of the world’s first four-cylinder performance streetbike to reach the marketplace, three years before the showroom debut of the Honda CB750. Except, the Count’s aesthetically challenged (I mean, a rectangular headlamp?) MV Agusta 600 Quattro was a practically apologetic example of multi-cylinder motorcycling, of which the 136 examples built had exactly half the capacity but somewhat more than half the weight of the aptly named Münch-4 1200TTS Mammut, as it was formally known before a German bicycle manufacturer who’d registered the name stepped in to prevent that.
Münch Motorcycles constructed 478 such bikes in various capacities up until 1980, before the actions of others brought Friedel’s firm to its knees. All of the machines found ready buyers – more than 150 of them in the USA alone, where they continued being called the Mammoth – through being surely bigger, certainly costlier and arguably more exclusive than any other catalogued road bike built anywhere else for some time. Big, loud and extremely Teutonic, they epitomised engineering excess on two wheels.
Friedel Münch was born in 1927 in a village 30km north of Frankfurt, in the Hesse region of Germany where he lived all his life. His father’s business repairing cars and motorcycles meant he grew up around bikes, and by the age of six he could already ride one. Friedel served as a Luftwaffe mechanic during WW2, and in the austere post-war years joined the family business to display a remarkable talent for improvisation and lateral thinking in keeping customers’ bikes running at a time when spare parts were in short supply. He began tuning Horex motorcycles for racing, at which he turned out to be a dab hand, winning several races on his home-brewed 500cc Münch Spezial until a serious accident at the Schottenring circuit in 1951 resulting in a damaged liver encouraged him to hang up his helmet and focus on the engineering. Such were his tuning skills that in 1954 he was asked to join the factory Horex R&D/competition department, but as sales declined he rejoined his dad a year later, and when the Horex factory closed in 1958 he bought up a huge quantity of parts, plus the entire tooling for the twin-cylinder Imperator motor.
However, Friedel’s intention to make his own complete four-cylinder motorcycle, using a pair of Imperator top ends on an allnew crankcase, was aborted when his school friend Karl Bohn visited him in the spring of 1965, driving his brand new NSU Prinz 1000 TT car, powered by an air-cooled 1085cc inline-four motor with its single overhead camshaft chain-driven up the left side of the engine. In preparation for his own such motor, Friedel had already built a rolling chassis similar to a Norton Featherbed frame, and he soon worked out that with a few mods the new NSU one-litre four would fit right in.
Remember; NSU had formerly been one of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers – annual production numbered 350,000 bikes in 1955 alone, before they stopped making two-wheelers altogether in 1963. So its management confirmed they’d supply him with parts for any future production version. They later had to furiously deny being responsible for the prototype Prinz-engined Münch-4, after this was spotted on the
autobahn by a zealous journalist, and outran his Mercedes-Benz car until stopping for fuel at the next services! Friedel had completed this in February 1966, and it duly formed the basis of all other 477 future such bikes.
From the original donor 1085cc NSU motor measuring 72 x 66.6mm, Münch used only the crankcase, crankshaft, cylinder block and cylinder head. He employed new dedicated internals on his Münch-4 motor, and cast a special new oil sump in electron magnesium alloy to contain the 5.5 litres of lubricant, as well as a new cast aluminium primary case to house the specially designed four-speed Hurth transmission’s helical gear primary drive. The large-diameter Ortlinghaus dry clutch was housed in a separate electron casing, with duplex chain final drive contained in a massive oil-bath chaincase comprising one half of the swinging arm, which was also cast in electron.
In this form the initial 30 first-generation Münch-4 motorcycles developed 56bhp at 5800rpm, but after NSU had manufactured 14,292 examples of the Prinz 1000 TT between 1965 and 1967, it was then replaced by the bigger engined 1200 TT. The new model’s 1177cc motor with a 3mm overbore was adopted by Münch from November 1967 to create the 1200TTS, raising the price to DM 10,000, output to 88bhp at 6500rpm, and torque to a then-substantial 75.97ft-lb at 6000rpm.
NSU paralleled Münch production by building the larger-engined Prinz until July 1972, making a total of 49,327 cars before it was taken over by VW, and merged with Auto Union to form the revived Audi marque.
Friedel had unveiled the Münch-4 at the IFMA Cologne Show in September 1966, where it was a huge hit thanks to boasting an electric start, twin headlights, and providing all-day cruising at 180km/h. This resulted in cash deposits for 18 bikes at a then steep price of DM 8200 – although canny French dealer Jean Murit had already purchased the prototype bike sight unseen for DM 6500. This was a useful piece of up-front cashflow to subsidise such a costly endeavour, since Friedel lacked the financial means to set up any kind of series production.
More substantial backing came from colourful American two-wheeled entrepreneur Floyd Clymer, a former racer (he was a works rider for both Indian and HarleyDavidson), race promoter, motorcycle dealer/ distributor, and magazine publisher and author. The 71-year old Clymer met Münch at that Cologne show and fastened on to him, partly as a means of promoting the return of his beloved Indian brand, whose trademark he held the rights to, and also because he could foresee a significant demand in his home country for the fast and imposing four-cylinder German bike. He wasn’t wrong: in that pre-digital era Münch received over 700 written requests from the USA alone for more info about the Mammoth after its IFMA debut.
Nowadays when 200bhp streetbikes have become the Superbike norm, it’s hard to grasp just what a huge impact the Münch-4 had on its debut. It was a game-changer – there had literally been nothing like it ever built before with that many cylinders, or that much horsepower.
Clymer formed a business partnership with Münch, whereby he acquired the US distribution rights of the Mammoth and oversaw the financial side of the business. He bankrolled the establishment of a proper Münch factory in Ossenheim with a 20-strong workforce. Manufacture began of the bikes selling for $3995 in the USA (when a BMW R69S Boxer twin cost less than half that, at $1695) under the Clymer-Münch Mammoth title, using the slogan ‘Built up to a standard, not down to a price.’
All initially went well, with a total of 30 Münchs delivered in 1967, many to the USA – although Friedel’s focus on meeting the significant demand for the bike was distracted by Clymer’s insistence on producing various prototype Indian twins, none of which actually revived his beloved brand. But then without telling his German partner, in May 1969 the elderly and now seriously ill Clymer (who passed away in January 1970) secretly sold his majority shareholding in the company to the Miami- based Bell family, whose patriarch Arthur signed it over to his youngest son, 30 year-old George. He flew to Germany to take over the business, armed with a fistful of dollars from his dad aimed at allowing Münch to build racebikes and record breakers to promote the brand – and to manufacture twice as many Mammoths a month than he’d been doing so far, to pay for it all.
Münch had thus far built 137 bikes in the first three years of production, all of them crafted by hand to his own high standards, but to accelerate the production volume Bell moved the firm to a new, larger, lavishly equipped factory 10km away in Altenstadt, with the workforce now numbering 38 employees working on an assembly line basis, with brand-new machine tools. This also housed the URS 500 GP racing project, which Bell had purchased from Helmut Fath, and renamed the Münch-URS team.
But within 18 months all too suddenly the flow of cash halted, and Bell disappeared,
only later to resurface in Florida, having left a pile of unpaid debts in simply walking away from the company which, at the end of 1971, forced Münch Motorcycles KG into bankruptcy. This despite production having indeed been stepped up, as orders continued to flow in for what was now a wellestablished bike in the marketplace, demand for which the 1969 showroom debut of the smaller, slower Honda CB750 had in no way dented.
Even though the bikes could no longer be sold in the USA, Friedel succeeded in finding a new partner in the form of the nearby Hassia packaging company, and with the help of Spiess, tuning specialist for NSU Prinz cars, he enlarged the engine to 1287cc with a further overbore to 78.5mm, also fitting Kugelfischer EFI to create the world’s first fuelinjected production motorcycle.
Sadly, the collapse of his North American distribution saw sales decline, and at the end of 1973 the company went under once again, this time costing Friedel Münch his home and personal assets, including the rights to the Münch name. A 1200TTS owner from nearby Frankfurt, wealthy businessman Heinz Henke, acquired the business from the liquidator for DM 1.2 million, but Friedel found it impossible to work with him as an employee, so the two separated two years later, and early in 1980 Henke ceased production of Münch motorcycles for good.
Friedel continued to build four-cylinder bikes under the Titan name, lifting capacity from 1287cc to 1370cc to 1527cc to 1786cc to the one and only 1996cc turbocharged Münch 2000 four he built for a German count. Sadly, in 1991 Friedel suffered a stroke, sending him finally into retirement before he passed away in April 2014 at the age of 87.
Münch motorcycles have become
increasingly sought after in recent years, so the appearance of a mint, freshly restored example carrying matching engine/frame no.114 in the Bonhams sale at this April’s Stafford Show, as part of the magnificent collection of bikes assembled by the late Miklos Salamon, brought buyers out in force. It eventually sold for a record price of £154,940 inc. buyer’s premium, 50% above the guide price quoted in the catalogue. One week later it was on display in the Sammy Miller Museum, where according to the indefatigable Ulsterman the new owner – who prefers to remain anonymous – has consigned it on semi-permanent loan.
‘He’s kindly arranged with us to look after it for him, and to take it to events so that people can see and hear it in action, as well as leaving it on display in the Museum,’ said Sammy – shortly before throwing me the keys to go and make sure it was running OK! Which I duly did via an afternoon ramble around the gorgeous New Forest roads surrounding the Museum.
In fact, doing so wasn’t the first time I’d ridden a Münch. More than 30 years ago I made the first of a handful of trips to Germany to meet Friedel, each time to sample his latest and greatest as his creations climbed inexorably up the capacity scale, culminating in a ride on an 1800TTS-E. But riding the Miller Museum bike was the first time I’d tried out an original 1200TTS, which was delivered new to the USA in 1969, rather than 1970 as shown in the sale catalogue. That’s because after frame no.138, built in January 1970, Münch made detail changes to the frame and bodywork, as well as some minor improvements to the engine. That makes this bike – no.114 delivered brand new to a customer in New Jersey – a true first-generation Münch 1200TTS, albeit fitted with the uprated 1177cc version of the NSU engine.
Friedel Münch ‘improved’ the standard NSU engine still more, fitting Hoeckle con rods and Mahle pistons to the stock five-bearing crankshaft, with an NSU oil pump gear-driven off the crank to deliver hot lubricant at 40psi to the plain bearings. While retaining the low 9.2:1 compression ratio, he ported and polished the cylinder head, and fitted a hot camshaft off the NSU Sport, while retaining the stock valves (two per cylinder, of course). He carefully balanced the two twin-choke 40mm Weber carbs on his Schenk dyno, and fitted a 4-2 Lafranconi exhaust system with twin silencers running low down either side of the bike. This 88bhp engine was very potent by the standards of the day, when a Norton Commando delivered just 50bhp, and even a Honda CB750 four just 67bhp, but at over 100kg the NSU-derived motor was also very heavy.
Although the very tall motor, surmounted by that pregnant-looking handmade steel fuel tank, only accentuates the impression, the Münch is indeed a very short bike for such a mammoth megalump, with a wheelbase for its Norton Featherbed-inspired duplex frame of just 1410mm – the same as today’s Honda CBR600! Steering geometry is quite conservative, as always back then, with the 41.3mm Rickman fork set at 28 degrees with 108mm of trail, giving 120mm
of wheel travel. Every Münch ever built was a twin-shocker, with a pair of Koni units on the Miller Museum bike, and the cast electron 18-inch rear wheel matched to a 19-inch Borrani alloy rim up front, laced to a massive 250mm double-sided 2LS front brake, with a single such stopper at the rear. Friedel had been making these for some years before starting manufacture of the Münch-4, and they were a popular if costly yet remarkably light way for German riders to keep up with the increased performance of their twincylinder roadburners (mostly of the Boxer twin persuasion).
Electron castings are extensively used on the bike in an effort to put it on a diet – seat, rear mudguard, enclosed chain guard, brake plates, etc – but there’s no disguising that this is a bike that Luciano Pavarotti, let alone former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, could have identified with, especially as it has a similar problem of weight distribution. The Münch scales no less than 260kg half-dry, so with oil but no fuel, with a massive 40/60% rearwards weight bias – most other roadsters are around the 50/50 mark, to give you an idea how exceptional this is.
Friedel always claimed he had to fit cast rear wheels to all his bikes because of all the torque their engines produced – the Münch was the first production bike to feature a cast wheel. But having met many Münch owners down the years, most of them XXL and upwards, I have a rather different idea of why the wire rear wheels he originally equipped them with collapsed! Indeed, after attending a couple of Münch owners’ get-togethers at Friedel’s workshop, I have to report that the cliché of dogs looking like their owners has now been extended to motorcycles...
Being very definitely not of Teutonic build, I was rather surprised to find the mammoth Münch 1200TTS a lot more comfy than I expected, for while the riding position is slightly strange, it’s strangely reassuring. You sit almost in the middle of the bike, further forward than on Friedel’s later creations which had a longer wheelbase, with your legs fairly bent because the semi-rear-set footrests are quite high – though even with such a wide engine, there’s little risk of ground clearance problems, because it’s positioned rather high relative to the wheel axles. The fairly flat bars with very Teutonic bar-end indicators set in them deliver a reasonably sporty stance, which back then was probably thought of as quite extreme, leastways at the 133mph top speed the bike was homologated at.
You are however aware at all times that this is a bike which lives up to the name on the tank – it’s tall, wide and porky, with that bulbous fuel tank stopping you seeing much of the engine beneath it, even though it is rather wide.
Thumb the electric starter button – then a definite two-wheeled rarity: was it the first on a motorcycle? – on what strictly speaking is called the 1200TTS-E (E standing for einsitzer, or the single rather than dual seat, with heaps of storage space in the bulbous rear section), and it cranks instantly into life before settling to a 1200rpm idle with quite a lot of mechanical noise from the offset camchain, but just a muted crackle from the low slung Italian exhausts. The twin clocks set into the top of the NSU Prinz-sourced dual headlamp feature a 250km/h speedo on the left and an 8000rpm tacho on the right.
There’s no steering damper, not even a friction one in the headstock, and the extra weight of that big twin headlamp and the instruments is enough to get the handlebars waving gently in your hands pendulum-style if you turn into a slow bend and aren’t ready to correct that. Nothing gets out of hand, but you do need to be aware of this trait. The twin Bosch spotlights either side of the engine ensure
you’re always going to be able to find your way home in the dark.
It’s hard to find neutral on the one-up fourspeed gearshift – all Münches had a racepattern gearshift. The engine is very smooth at low rpm, and pulls practically off idle, with lots of punch from 1500 revs up, and unlike the bigger such bikes I’ve ridden which started vibrating at around 3500rpm and got progressively worse as the revs mounted, this one is as well-balanced as a Japanese four, making relatively untiring high speed motorway cruising this bike’s forte on the wide-open autobahnen. Friedel used to claim that this bike would smoothly drive from 40km/h to 200km/h in top gear with seamless purpose.
I didn’t have the chance to try that out on the New Forest roads, but the Münch had a lovely, relaxing power delivery all through the rev scale – though in deference to its new owner’s chequebook I didn’t take it over 5500rpm, a thousand revs shy of its 6500rpm peak. However, acceleration is leisurely, rather than vivid. It does feel heavy both to steer and to get moving from rest, but once you have some momentum it’s very syrupy in its power delivery. And much to my surprise it stopped very well, the trio of big 250mm electron drums doing a great job with heaps of feel. I raced a pair of classic bikes for many years with 250mm Fontana 4LS drum brakes which give equivalent stopping power to midsize discs, especially early Japanese ones made before 1980 or so, and these Münch equivalents are just as good in hauling down such a heavy bike from speed. They’re not over-fierce, just ultra-effective, and above all they don’t grab, just do their job.
Persuading the Münch to change direction in a hurry is something you might want to get in shape for at your local gym, but the upside of all that weight is that it rides rough surfaces pretty well, in spite of the twin-shock rear end. Ground clearance is pretty limited, especially on the left, and you’ll scrape the sidestand all too easily if you start to try too hard. The surprise is that the Münch actually encourages you to do so, for although you’re wedged in place by the seat and meaty tank, it actually steers pretty well for such a big bike, especially one with such a crazy weight bias. I expected it to push the front wheel in turns, especially under power, but it doesn’t, and in fact it handles tight turns pretty well.
The short wheelbase makes it pitch a fair bit over most bumps, which makes for a choppy ride, but against that it feels extremely solid and sturdy, very Teutonic in its build quality and its ability to shrug off the rough stuff. But the 60s time-warp chassis design prevents you from deriving maximum benefit from this, for as it is, the Münch is strictly a point and squirt machine, at home cruising in sporty mode from one bierkeller to another. Café racing? Ach, leave that to the Italians and their bikes – real men drink beer, and ride in straight lines!
The Münch 1200TTS was the fastest, most powerful and most expensive motorcycle of its era – a two-wheeled worshipper at the temple of excess. But it came at a human cost for its creator. ‘All I ever wanted to do was to build motorcycles,’ Friedel Münch once confided to me in an interview, in a tone that was more sad than bitter. ‘But all the different people I got involved with in business ever wanted to do was to take advantage of that, and try to get rich quick on the back of my endeavours. I’ve been cheated, deceived, robbed and lied to – but still today I’m a happy man, because I can hold my head up high, and know I never did any wrong to anyone. And most important of all, the bikes that I built will go on living long after I’m gone, as a reminder to the world of what I achieved. I’m happy with that.’
It may seem unlikely, but this is a remarkably practical machine. Seen here a little loaded at the 1985 Münch Rally
Above: Even the pilot’s view is startling, with that vast headlight, those bar-end mirrors and neat controls
Left: Nothing about the Münch is less than startling. Gaze in awe at the pipework, the carbs, the huge sump beneath the engine
Behold, a car engine fitted into a motorcycle. Does this ever actually work out well?
Right: What it says on the tin: one very large engine, developed from a car engine for motorcycle use
Above: Great mass and great power demand great lights. As seen here. And be seen you certainly will be
Perfect for those country lanes. Actually…
Friedel Münch himself, building and sampling his own work
Right: Engines intended for car use were rarely designed to be compact, space not always being a problem
Above: There was even a Daytona bike!
After 1980’s end of production Friedel Münch continued to build machines under the Titan name The very end. The one and only 1996cc turbocharged Münch 2000 four built for a German count
Even the bike’s key is remarkable!