Flight of the Bumblebee: 1961 DKW Hummel 115

Once derided as “the tin banana,” owner Stewart Ingram describes his DKW Hummel as “Art Deco on an acid trip.”

| July/August 2018

1961 DKW Hummel 115
Engine: 48cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 40mm x 39mm bore and stroke, 2hp @ 4,950rpm
Top speed: 25mph
Carburetion: Single Bing
Transmission: 3-speed, enclosed chain final drive
Electrics: 6v generator, magneto ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Pressed steel frame/49in (1,245mm)
Suspension: Leading-link with dual shocks front, swingarm with dual shocks rear
Brakes: 3.9in (100mm) drum brake front and rear
Tires: 2.75 x 20in front and rear
Weight: 163lb (74kg)
Seat height: 32in (814mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 1.6gal (6.2ltr)/87-98mpg
Price then/now: $395 (est.)/$5,000-$12,000

The 1960s were an era of emerging youth fashion and style. Actor Sean Connery (aka James Bond) was teaching the boys how to drink martinis while designer Mary Quant was teaching the girls how to wear miniskirts and hot pants. Conventional design was being challenged everywhere, and an unlikely German moped, the Hummel, joined the Swinging Sixties party.

It might have been part motorcycle and part moped, but its designers wanted it to be neither. Originally a utilitarian commuter that had been around since 1956, for 1961 the Hummel — German for bumblebee — was reinvented with futuristic body panels and a large cowling over the engine. They were hoping it would reinvent the styling of personal transport for an emerging youth market. In reality, it looked as fantastic as something out of the sci-fi television cartoon The Jetsons.

The new Hummel 115 was launched with a classy advertising push that resembled the "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" campaign. The company's sales brochure read: "Connoisseurs ride DKWs." Sadly, the European motorcycle press wasn't impressed and cruelly described it as "the tin banana." The Hummel faded from the market.

Art Deco on an acid trip

Collector Stewart Ingram is undeterred by period comments about his Hummel. He can see the humor of it all and describes his 1961 DKW Model 115 Hummel as "Art Deco on an acid trip." The Hummel is part of Stewart's eclectic 16-bike collection that includes a 1969 50cc Itom Astor Super Sport and a 1956 Maserati, which is a replica of a 125 GTS the factory prepared for the 1957 Giro d'Italia. The San Francisco-based real estate agent is proud of his Hummel and has even shown it at the famous Quail Motorcycle Gathering near Monterey, California.

While the Hummel may have been unloved when it first debuted, today the bike has a new status in the world of motorcycle collecting. Good examples are hard to find and can change hands for upwards of $10,000.

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