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ENGINE and FRAME NUMBERS and other identifications

Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer

IDnumbrs.htm-67A



This is a fairly long article.  This article contains just about everything regarding vehicle numbering.  Information generally applies to your automobile and truck, etc., besides your motorcycle(s).    Information may seem confusing at first.  You are advised to slowly read the entire article, and then re-begin; and look at your own bike(s), car, truck, etc.     One of the reasons this article is so complete (verbose?) is that I wanted to avoid incessant questions on vehicle ID numbering and systems.  I still see questions on the several LISTS on the internet, so I refer folks to this article.


 

(1)  NON-USA-SHIPPED-BIKES:

BMW has, at times, used a different frame and motorcycle identification system for NON-U.S.A. motorcycles.  There may be a letter or two letters, followed by a serial number.  There may be a serial number followed by one extra number, and then the TYPE of motorcycle.   The first 7 digits for all types of these numberings, that I know of, are the serial number, and you can enter them into any serial number search. This means that if you have 8 digits at the beginning, 7 are used for the serial number.  I do NOT know what the letters nor the 8th digit means.    

(2) The following article applies to USA North American shipments, and will also apply to wherever the 17 character VIN is in use, as far as I know:


In the OLD days, BMW used only a serial number. Simple.  Find the number on the engine, find the frame number.  They may even have been the same number....usually were, actually....except a very long time ago.  For more information on the really old models, see Duane Ausherman's website:  http://w6rec.com/duane/bmw/slash.htm    Duane has some information on how the early model numbers were assigned.

For detailed information, and actual lists of pre-1970 serial numbers and models they are associated with, and even information on some shipments and owners, see  http://bmwmoa.org   Click on FORUM, and then go to the VINTAGE section.  BMWMOA forums are limited to BMWMOA members.
Similar information is available on the Yahoo Groups  /2 group

In 1980, the VIN system was begun. This was, and remains, a 17 character Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is a combination of letters and numbers.
At first, BMW continued to match the 7 digit serial numbers of frame and engine. 1980 was the transition year, and some anomalies for 1980-1982 production are around, so if you have a production year 1980-1982, do not be upset if things seem strange or a bit different. At the end of 1983, with the introduction of the 1984 model year bikes, BMW decided not to match up these numbers. They said so officially, but, contrary to this, you may well see bikes of this vintage where the numbers DO match.  BMW also NO LONGER was stamping the engine 7 digit serial number next to the dipstick.  You can see that on 1984 and later.    BMW also re-incorporated stamping the full VIN into the lower right frame tube.

Frame numbers were stamped at the right side of the steering head (or on a tag there)  from 1970-1982. There were some that were not stamped.  Dates on the tag, if present, signify final assembly of the bike.  Just what was stamped, tag or metal, if there, can vary.  If you have a stamping into the side support for the steering head, it may be only the serial number, not a full 17 character VIN.


Some 1981 and 1982 bikes did NOT have the full VIN stamped onto the frame below the right cylinder. The Serial Number WAS there on most.   There may be a silver sticker there, the serial number being just forward.  You may see bikes of this vintage with a rather large silver-colored mettalic label located on the top of the driveshaft housing.  These labels had machine-punched letters/numbers to identify the VIN number.  A FEW bikes, mostly those shipped to California, for the "1983" model year, were stamped for either 1983 or 1984 by the single letter ID in the VIN for the year.  More on this a bit later in this article.

On MOST bikes, shipped to MOST areas, from ~1983 (possibly of a bit earlier), there is a milled area with stamped-into-the-metal information that typically does NOT include the actual bike serial number.  This milled flat engine pad area is approximately 3 inches wide and 1-1/2 inches tall, and is located approximately below the left cylinder forward studs, nearly at the edge of the oil pan.  Not all engines had the milled flat area from 1984 onwards, and I don't have all the information on this, so have not published much about that.  Where the milled-area engine pad exists (which it does on the vast majority of 1980's+ engines)...were lots more characters identifying a few things, some not revealed to me nor anyone outside the factory.  I have BMW's internal factory information on that milled area, and in some instances BMW did NOT put information in the same format as BMW said in the factory information.   So, some bikes don't conform to BMW-published standards.  There are two lines of characters, and I cannot properly interpret the LOWER line for you.

On some models equipped with emission controls, there is a label on the top of the rear fender.


On models with a VIN, that number is probably; but may not be, entirely present, or, is on the steering head, or partially there, on some 1980-1982 calendar models.  Where they are FULLY there, you will find all 17 characters (ALWAYS 17), on your lower right side frame tubing, roughly in line with the right side carburetor. Again, the "transition period" was mostly ended by 1982, after which the frame fully complied, always (AFAIK!) (except in some foreign-shipped bikes that had serial numbers or other weirdness type numbers)...and you may even find yours on the steering head area plate/tag as was done on earlier bikes.  

As noted, you may also find it on a metalized tag on top of the driveshaft housing...but note that in some rare instances it might not agree in ONE letter ID (year identification, could be off by ONE year). The production year, not necessarily same as calendar year, is identified by the 10th position in the VIN...which I explain later in this article.   In general, the VIN on the metalized tag on the driveshaft housing will agree exactly with the VIN on the steering head or lower right frame.  So, you may or may not have the 17 character VIN number MAY be stamped (actually sort of cut-into with a dot matrix) into a metalized label, found on the top of the swing arm tube.  You probably will find it on 1981-1982 bikes, and some in 1983.

As I noted above, in a FEW cases, there may be a single LETTER difference. That letter is the YEAR identification letter. An example might be a late 1983-built bike. The UNofficial information ... is that BMW did not submit this end of 1983 calendar production early enough for California smog testing.   Some bikes were not quickly sold.  BMW cleverly added this metalized tag and put a letter (E) in the VIN number on that driveshaft label showing it as a 1984, so it passes the smog requirements, yet the FRAME number, the number that is "official" for registration, has the letter (D) showing a 1983 model.  Being a 1983 and not a 1984,  the dipstick area DOES have the 7 digit serial number.  In every instance I personally know about, for this particular weirdness, the dipstick serial number is the SAME as on frame and tag.  The actual facts on this discrepancy are not known 100% for sure by me.  But, it does lend itself to folks possibly registering/titling a bike for either year. 

The actual month and year of production are easy to find out from the last 7 digits on these (or any) models.  In fact, the last 8 characters will identify any vehicle for date of manufacture...and often, as in our Airheads, one needs only the last 7 digits.   There isn't any real difference to speak of between the 1983 and the 1984 anyway....but, from the 7 digit serial number, one can determine the month and year of official manufacture, easily.  I can do that for you easily.

On many models you may find a set of characters stamped on that mentioned flat boss area of the crankcase, left front side above the frame tubing. NOTE that I have also seen engines with that flat milled area that are BLANK.

The flat milled area, when it does have stamped characters, generally has a combination of letters and numbers that signify the model year, the week of (engine??) production, a sequencing number, and some Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] identification coding on the bottom line. If you have this set of characters and they match an engine serial number (which may or may not be at the old place, next to the oil dipstick...THAT was dropped too), hey, you have a strange one. 


The top line on that flat milled boss area below the left cylinder will have something like (yes, this is from an actual bike):
83 23 2175
That is supposed to mean that the engine is an 1983 model, produced in the 23rd week, and has a sequence code of 2175.  BMW issued a SI,  November of 1983, Bulletin No.:  11 025 83 (2088)... implying, but not specifically stating, that these milled block area things will identify the bike, for police/authorities use, or other reasons.   BMW stated that the machined surface on the crankcase will be located on the forward lower left side of the engine, below the exhaust pipe and frame tubing, and are two levels of stampings...that means two lines.   Do not count on that 23rd week as being when your bike was actually produced. Chances are pretty good your bike was assembled later. Also do not try to apply mathematics to the serial number range of total production you may find posted here and there for your year and model, you will probably get more confused, it probably will not correlate.

The Elves at BMW know, and they don't talk much. To me.

Under the above may be a line, perhaps something like:
DBM098042A3
That is some sort of certification coding. If you find out how to decode it reliably, let me know.  Supposedly it identifies the engine FAMILY, for certification purposes.
The first three letters can vary; by Country, I think, but this is not definitely always the case.

BMW has an SI Bulletin on these things...well some of these things...and that SI seems NOT to be entirely accurate. For example, the SI says that the week is listed first, and I am hard pressed to remember any year with 83 weeks.

SO....the position of weeks and year may be seen reversed from what BMW's official literature states!  It is usually easy to decode, one way or the other.  I have seen both styles in actual use!

The SI also says that the certification coding is the same for all engines...it is supposed to be...meaning all R100 engines are one family code....... Suuuurrre it is! 
BMW specifically said that the second line (second level) is a requirement of the E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency), 'designated as required'.   I can't find out what that designation really is.  Perhaps YOU would like to research the EPA rules and find out for me!  riiiight!!!  

Further, BMW stated:   "All  identification numbers on the motorcycle, i.e., numbers for each motorcycle produced are recorded in our data processing equipment in our Factory.  Therefore, it is possible to assist law enforcement agencies or the National Automobile Theft Bureau for theft inquiries only.   This SI was for U.S.A. and Canada, ONLY.


You will find stamped serial numbers or sequence numbers on the transmission housing, inside area to the left just barely below the air-cleaner housing on 1984 and later transmissions.   Transmissions from 1984 have the transmission serial number stamped into the top left outside of the transmission, which you can see if you look just under the carburetor air duct.

If the flywheel is removed, the rear face of the engine is exposed, and you can see casting information stamped (cast-into) the area.  Typically there is a two digit number signifying the year of manufacture; and that number is surrounded by 1 to 12 raised dots.  These signify the production month of the CASTING.

Some engine blocks for replacement purposes were made without any serial number of the type normally seen on the pre-1984 models, that is, at the dipstick area.  The dealer was supposed to transfer (stamp into the metal) the old engine's number, and destroy the old engine and/or ship it to BMW (or Butler and Smith....which was the importer/distributor before BMWNA).  Some dealers did not apparently have metal punches and there are no serial numbers on those replacement engines.
 


There were changes made to the oiling system passageways at the front bearing carrier, and engine blocks are coded for this too. Yes, BMW has an SI on this.  There is an article on this website with the two types of oiling systems sketches, and descriptions.   It is article 50B  oilsketch.htm
 


Interpreting the 17 character VIN numbers:

I have BMW's own bulletin on this, so let's use it. It happens to correspond to what I know about all motor vehicles, having been a paid part-time registration person for vehicles for a few years.   It needs some interpretation, as BMW had their own anomalies, and did not explain things all that well in some areas.  You could, if interested enough, find a copy of FMVSS, perhaps on-line, and read to your heart's content.

 

BMW's bulletin is entitled:  Decipherment of BMW VIN's According to FMVSS 115.   The bulletin is seemingly clear enough, except for ONE THING!  There is an asterisk at the bottom of the bulletin. This is how that line reads:

*  Motorcycles produced before April 1/1981 have the letter "M".
 

The bulletin does not show another asterisk to show WHAT part of the VIN that applies to!  

Another dealership bulletin said that for 1981 the number near the oil filler plug and for steering head is NOT the OFFICIAL ID.    You might as well forget all that....appears to me that no one paid the slightest attention....at least not if there was a 17 character VIN.
 

During the 1980-1981 period, as the 17 character VIN was being introduced, BMW manufactured some motorcycles with anomalies in the VIN.   Here is an example:
WBM 0 43503 A 6175002 (note that the ACTUAL VIN would not have spaces).
This motorcycle was actually built in September of 1980.  NOTE the M in the VIN.  That M apparently stands for MOTORCYCLE; while after April of 1981, BMW dropped the M, and used instead a digit 1, for motorcycles.  The 0 indicates a two-wheel vehicle, and that and the rest conforms to the standards shown below on how things SHOULD BE.  Astute observers (you are one?) will note the Annual Vacation period for BMW and that DATE of 9/80.

This dating has created problems at times with various Departments of Motor Vehicles.   It is necessary for them to understand that BMW's MODEL YEAR motorcycles COULD have been produced in Sept-Oct-Nov-Dec of the prior year!   In most instances, not September.

Here is how things SHOULD BE, excepting any anomalies:

 (1) Here is a sample, for a R65:

The R65: WB10 364 0 4 B 6 385 003 
{the actual VIN would not have spaces}
 

 (2) Here was my own 1983 R100RT:

The R100RT: WB10 449 0 9 D 6 243 160
{the actual VIN would not have spaces}


Now, let us take those VIN codes in order starting from the left:

W means that the manufacturer was In Europe.
    Combined with the B, it means BMW-AG, Munich, West Germany.

1 means motorcycle. (remember the anomaly, if that is an M).
0 means a two wheel motorcycle (yeah, yeah, I know...).

((so you think your Harley was shipped by the factory as a trike or sidecar unit....better LOOK))

NOTE: BMW may, in parts list and other places, show a MODEL CODE as 364 (that  is R65) and 449 (that is R100RT).  They MIGHT have a zero in front of that number.  Confused about just that maybe zero?  

Going onwards with the decoding, after the 0 meaning a two wheel motorcycle:
the 3...or the 4 as shown for the two bikes above, identifies the LINE type. 
In the case of the R65, the line type for a 3 is 248/1. 
In the case of the R100RT, the line type for a 4 is 449 ??...naw, it is 247.  Confused?
Basically, just forget these particular Identifications.   For the nerdy, the R45/R65 bikes have a different line number, and all the big bore bikes have the same other number.  Are you confused more?

You are a Member of a Club that states in its purposes, club membership is for the 247 type...are you confused?   That's because of how the club bylaws were original stated. 
 

Continuing...

6 (R65) identifies the engine type, that is, number of cylinders, whether gasoline or diesel, and the size of the engine, and if 2 or 4 stroke. It is a BMW in-house coding.

The next digit, for the R65, a 4, is the NET horsepower.  In this instance, the 4 stands for 45 BHP. Astute observers may notice that in the R100RT the claimed horsepower by this coding is 90 or more. yeah, riiiight!

The following 0 had no meaning, that is, it was there and had no special meaning on my version of the BMW SI.

Next comes the 9th character, a check digit, the 4 in the case of the R65, the 9 in the case of the R100RT. Check digits have many uses, primarily it is a digit to tell a computer if things are possibly wrong in the rest of the sequence of characters.  If you REALLY are nerdy enough to want to know how to interpret check digits...or how they are determined, see http://www.vinguard.org/vin.htm         Warning, that is NERDY!

To save you all that trouble, and simplify the check digit, the check digit is a mathematically calculated value, calculated from the VIN position, an assigned code value, weight, and other things.  Whatever results they get from that, they divide by 11.  That becomes the check digit.  If the result turns out to be a 10, then the check digit is a character:  X                    Don't you feel clever now?

Next in the VIN is the letter identifying the PRODUCTION, NOT NECESSARILY CALENDAR year, and this is always in 10th position:

Notice the B in 10th position for the R65, and D in 10th position for the R100RT.  That letter is a YEAR code. This system is for U.S. production, that began in 1980.   Officially, according to the adopted International Standards for official VIN 17 character numbers, the 11th position, in the examples, this is a "6", it is to identify the assembly plant.   


Here is how the PRODUCTION/MODEL year of any motor vehicle  is identified, and that is from the above mentioned 10th character (reading from the left, of course):

Note!   BMW takes an annual vacation near the end of each year, vehicles produced after that vacation are normally identified with the following year, as far as PRODUCTION/MODEL year is concerned, for official identification.    In some instances, BMW has used the actual manufacturing date for the VIN year identification. This is seen in the late 1980 to April 1981 production, where A may have been used.  The VIN starts with WBM on those particular bikes. 

There have been anomalies.  For instance, the K1100LT was produced as early as in April of 1992; but all bikes produced in 1992 were official 1993 models.
Another weirdo: I have PERSONALLY seen a photo of this ID plate.  It was a R1200GS, produced in January 2004, but the VIN identifies it as a 2005 model, but the factory pages identify it as a 2004.


1980 vehicles used A                    
1981 vehicles used B
1982 vehicles used C
1983 vehicles used D
1984 vehicles used E
1985 vehicles used F
1986 vehicles used G
1987 vehicles used H
1988 vehicles used J
1989 vehicles used K
1990 vehicles used L
1991 vehicles used M
1992 vehicles used N
1993 vehicles used P
1994 vehicles used R
1995 vehicles used S
1996 vehicles used T
1997 vehicles used V
1998 vehicles used W
1999 vehicles used X
2000 vehicles used Y
2001 to 2009 vehicles use digits 1-9; so:
2001 vehicles used 1
2002 vehicles used 2
2003 vehicles used 3
2004 vehicles used 4
2005 vehicles used 5
2006 vehicles used 6
2007 vehicles used 7
2008 vehicles used 8
2009 vehicles used 9
Thereupon the letters of the alphabet were used; so:
2010 vehicles used A
2011 vehicles used B
2012 vehicles used C

etc.


Letters I, O, and Q are NOT used in the VIN 17 character number.
Letters U, Z, and the numeral 0 are NOT used in the YEARS position of the VIN.

 
Lastly, how to explain the official sequence number, which you might as well call the serial number, because that is what it REALLY WAS, a long time ago. You might even find that sequence (serial) number next to your dipstick, and agreeing with the frame number.   BUT, when the dipstick serial number was dropped (in 1984), the only serial, well, sequence serial, and I am NOT totally sure it really is a serial....appears to be more of a series sequencing, with jumps for production changes.
So, only BMW seems to know how to correlate engines-to-frames, AFTER the dipstick serial was eliminated...and there MAY be some other foolery too.


For a quick way of determining, on many models and especially later years, the manufacturing model year (I have seen this return errors once in awhile):
http://www.bmw-z1.com/VIN/VINdecode-e.cgi
When using that, you may see ECE shown, this means the bike is for World Markets.

Here is another website URL, which you may prefer, which uses a different chart format for serial/VIN's:     http://bmbikes.co.uk/enginechassis.htm

 

Lastly, there is this URL:
http://www.bmwarchiv.de/vin/bmw-vin-decoder.html
This one gives a bit different information; including the original COLOR!
 

For vastly more than you wanted to know about VIN numbers, as if this article was not nerdy enough: http://www.vinguard.org/vin.htm
 


Airheads:
It is commonly accepted that Airhead production started in December 1969, and end with the 1995 models.   In truth, some Airheads were produced at the end of 1995, in November and even later, and these were coded to be 1995 models, using "S" in the VIN number.
 


How to go about identifying your BMW:

1.  Does the engine have a serial number located stamped into the boss that the oil dipstick screws into?
      ____________.   That can help determine the transition between 1983-1984; and also if the block was
      a replacement type (LOTS of years).
2.  Does the bike have a rectangular airbox? _____________.  If the answer is YES, then squat down and
     look under the LEFT air tube coming out of the rectangular airbox, just barely under it MAY be a
     stamped number, possibly prefixed by one or two alphabetical  letters.  If so, what is that number?
     ______________.  That can help identify the transmission.
3.  The RIGHT lower frame tube may have a STAMPED 17 character VIN number in it.  That stamping is
     usually located on the frame tube directly below the right carburetor. It is on the frame right at the rear
     motor mount. _______________.
     The 17 character VIN will identify the frame, and likely the bike.
     Some foreign-shipped bikes had a serial, not a 17 character VIN number there, and the serial may be
     'funny'....it could have letters in front, or, nearly anything weird.
4.  You may have a large silver tag on top of the driveshaft tube.  If so, it will probably have the 17
     character VIN number. _________________. 
     It is possible, although rare, for VIN 17 character numbers to disagree SLIGHTLY, but not for the
     last 7 digits.  Discrepancies are usually one letter in the DATE.
5.  Below the LEFT cylinder MAY be a machined boss, with various things stamped into it.   Exactly how is
     this stamped, both top line and lower line.
      _________________________
      _________________________

6.  Does the bike have snowflake wheels? ________ Front wheel size?_______; Rear wheel size?
     _________.  If not snowflakes, then what?  Describe them:___________________________.
     If snowflake wheels, what is the rim width, as stamped into the rim...it is likely to be 2.50 or 2.75,
     which? __________.
7.  What are the numbers stamped into the top front area of the REAR DRIVE___________.  
8.  Is the rear drive a MONO or a Paralever or a twin shock: ____________.
9.  Does the bike have a BMW FACTORY fairing or flyscreen?  RS style? RT style?   S style?  OR? 
     DESCRIBE FULLY: ___________________.
10. If the bike has a factory fairing or flyscreen what type, _____________and what is its COLOR
      ______________.
11. What does the three digit tag under the seat (typically on top of the rear fender) have printed on it?
      __________
12.  Does the seller's title or registration call out "RS" (especially is this a California bike?)
       _____________________.  In California, and likely elsewhere's, the "RS" does NOT mean BMW RS
       model.
13.  ANYthing you can think of that might help determine what this bike REALLY is:________________.
12.  Anything strange about the bike you have not yet noted:__________________.

 


 

Revisions:
02/13/2006:  minor updates, and also changed the BMBIKES.co.uk URL.
11/27/2007:  change to 67A from 67
01/10/2009:  Update with information to cover all vehicles; extend years/chart information; clarify a number
                    of items.  Incorporate finer details.  There were NO errors previously.
04/19/2011:  Add information (from my MODELS article) on engine casting numbers as seen near the
                   crankshaft output; and on replacement blocks.
06/11/2011:  Clean up article.  Then mess it up by incorporating every anomaly I know about, then clean it
                    a bit more.  All done at various times today.  Final release was 1015 hours Pcst.
06/11/2011:  Another small change. 
08/26/2011:  Add section Addendum #1
03/26/2012:  Go through article completely and clarify some confusing items.
09/18/2012:  Clean up article.  Clear up an ambiguity.  Add QR code; change Google coding
09/19/2012:  Edit to show what BMW meant by the M in the 1980-1981 period....and give example....and
                    further information, several place in this article.
10/17/2012:  Update for anomaly for a 2004/5 R1200GS
11/29/2012:  Clean up
12/21/2012:  Add URL for .de archives
11/19/2013:  Add reference note regarding pre-Airhead bikes
 

 

Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer

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