From its start as a bicycle manufacturer near Chemnitz, Germany in 1885, Wanderer grew to become one of the most innovative European motorcycle manufacturers of its day. From 1914-’18, the German army was its largest customer, with Wanderer suppling roughly half the motorcycles used by the country in the Great War. Few survive today, but one well-preserved 1914 Wanderer Army model was recently awarded the Best-Preserved Vehicle award by the Federation Internationale Vehicules Anciens (FIVA) at the 38th Ibbenbuerener Motorrad-Veteranen-Rallye.
Founded by avid cyclists Johann Baptist Winklhofer and Richard Adolf Jaenicke, the firm was originally called the Chemnitzer Velociped-Depot, and by the dawn of the 20th century had become Germany’s largest bicycle manufacturer. Looking to diversify into motor vehicle production, the company began producing “motor bicycles” under the Wanderer name as early as 1902. In 1903, Wanderer began producing automobiles as well.
An early Wanderer single, circa 1902. Photo courtesy Audi AG.
Wanderer’s early motorcycle models reflected their bicycle origins. Frames resembled those used on bicycles of the day, reinforced with an added center tube that joined the down tube and seat tube. Neither the front wheel nor the rear wheel were suspended (though Wanderer would introduce front and rear suspension by 1915), but thankfully for the rider, the saddle used a trio of springs for a more comfortable ride.
Power initially came from a vertical, single-cylinder air-cooled 217cc engine, rated at 1.5 horsepower and linked via drive belt – without a transmission – to the rear wheel. Top speed was said to be roughly 30 mph, but the Wanderer of 1902 could travel roughly 94 miles on a gallon of gasoline. Circa 1906, the brand introduced its first two-cylinder model, which used a 408cc, 45-degree v-twin, good for 3 hp (and 42 mph) and mounted in a significantly stouter frame. One bicycle feature carried over, however, remaining with some Wanderer models into 1915 (and possibly beyond): Crank arms and pedals, which served as a starter mechanism and could, presumably, provide propulsion if the bike ran out of gas.
A circa-1906 Wanderer Twin.
In 1924, Wanderer introduced two new models, including a 200cc horizontal cylinder single and a 708cc v-twin. According to Motoclub.de, both used four overhead valves per cylinder, believed to be a first for a production motorcycle. As before the emphasis was on quality, not price, so to broaden the brand’s appeal, a low-cost 500cc single-cylinder model, which employed a stamped steel frame, was added to the lineup in 1927.
It proved to be too little, too late. In 1929, the Wanderer motorcycle business was sold off by owner Dresdner Bank, with some of its production facilities acquired by rival brand NSU. The tooling for the low-cost 500cc Wanderer was purchased by Frantisek Janecek, who moved production of the motorcycle to Prague, Czechoslovakia. There, the model was reintroduced as the Janecek Wanderer, shortened to JAWA, which soon after became the company’s name. As for the Wanderer automobile business, in 1932 this was merged with Horch, Audi and DKW to become Auto Union.
1914 Wanderer single. Photo by Lothar Spurzem.
Roughly 300 vintage motorcycles attended the 2018 Ibbenbuerener Motorrad-Veteranen-Rallye, which focuses on prewar iron. From this pool, a group of five judges (including FIVA vice-president Jos Theuns; president of the Veteran Vehicle Association Martin Schenker; ADAC Nordrhein classic car expert Jürgen Cüpper; former ADAC vintage authority Wolf-Otto Weitekamp; and Dekra test engineer Burkhard Wilhelm) picked three finalists for the FIVA Best Preserved Vehicle Award. Ultimately, the originality of the 1914 Wanderer Army, owned by Hans-Dieter Springer of Bielefeld, Germany, won out. Despite its century-plus age, the 500cc V-twin still carried its factory-mounted leather saddle and two-speed rear hub transmission, prompting the jury to declare it, “a beautifully preserved specimen of the marque.”
The award-winning Wanderer, which retains its original leather saddle. Photo courtesy FIVA.
Other motorcycles in contention for the FIVA Best Preserved Vehicle Award included a 1929 BMW R52 owned by Gerd Hindriks, stored for all but five years of its life and equipped with original documentation, toolkit, and spare Siemens spark plugs; and a 1935 DKW SB200 owned by Kay Jäger. Prewar DKWs have long been considered the “Volkswagens” of vintage motorcycles, meaning that unmodified and carefully preserved examples are a rare find.
For more information on FIVA activities and upcoming events worldwide, visit FIVA.org.