1961 DKW Hummel | QuickShift

Flight of the Bumblebee 

Europeans have long understood that even inexpensive necessities should reflect a sense of style, and nowhere is that more apparent than in personal transportation. Most German motorcyclists of the late ’50s and early ’60s with 995 deutschmarks to spend—about $1,650 in current greenbacks—desired an eye-catching ride with a distinct style.

Enter the 1956 DKW Hummel ("Bumblebee"). With a sleek, science-fiction shape and well-placed brightwork, it was a definite step up from the humble moped. Its stamped-steel frame was gracefully sculpted, the engine sat concealed under a stylish shroud, and the fuel tank hid beneath the back of the extravagant headlight pod. (Click image to enlarge)

Underneath, the Hummel was all practicality. A 49cc two-stroke single and four-speed transmission sent five small horses to the rear wheel via an enclosed chain. With a little help from a following wind, it might have attained 50 mph.

Owner Stewart Ingram reports that his Hummel (shown here) offers a rather strange riding experience, in part due to the leading-arm front suspension and oversized front fender. But it is, he says, soft-riding and the fan-cooled engine is remarkably quiet.

Sadly, the Hummel—dubbed "Tin Banana" by owners—was not a success for DKW, which retreated from the motorcycle business at the end of the 1950s. Production was taken over for a time by Victoria/Fichtel & Sachs, which sold DKW-branded bikes into 1970s. By then, however, the futuristic Bumblebee had long since buzzed into the past.