Technical problems and the oil-crisis of 1973 still working through forced the management of Citroën and NSU to give up the Wankel-project. They had invested too much money, and were both taken over, one by Peugeot, the other by Audi. At that moment, the Van Veen factory in Duderstadt (Germany) had just opened doors. No more than 50 Comotor engines had been delivered. Apart from that, one can ask himself if Van Veen would have survived if Comotor hadn ’t been in problems. Having underestimated the developing costs, a Van Veen OCR 1000 was in 1976 as double as expensive as the most expensive bike of that moment. Just this alone would have made it hard to reach the goal of selling 2000 bikes in the second year. As the factory closed down soon after it had jiust really begun, only 38 bikes had been produced. In that sense, it had in fact become the really most exclusive bike in the world. When a Dutch rotary-engine enthusiast, Ger Van Rootselaar, managed to buy the stocks of the Van Veen factory, the curtain had fallen definitely.
But now, it opens again. Van Rootselaar is fascinated by the Wankel-concept since he was twelve years old, and collects everything that has a link with it. Out of the Van Veen stocks, he built a Van Veen OCR 1000 for himself, number 39. But he had no further ambitions. A few years ago however, Van Rootselaar got in touch with Andries Wielinga. They shared a common passion: classic Citroën cars, included of course the very rare GS Birotor. The chemistry led to an audacious plan: building the last ten OCR 1000 bikes out of the factory spares stock.
Andries took over everything, inclusive Van Veen n° 39, and the original factory moulds and drawings, wich have been digitalised in the meantime. And of course the 12 remaining Comotor-engines. Andries Wielinga will build the bikes together.
Andries Wielinga takes us to the place where the Van Veens will be built, in the North of Holland. The workshop is small, but fascinating. Here lies the dream of Henk Van Veen, neatly ranged in plastic containers on the shelves. More than 10 Van Veen ’s will not be build, as there are only 12 engines, and they will keep a stock of spares. In fact, the Comotor-engine was intended for use in cars, so it had to be adapted, technically and visually. ‘A very nice job they did’ says Wielinga, showing us a cover for the left side of the engine. ‘And on the right the cover is one with the gearbox. Developed by Porsche, wasn ’t especially cheap, I guess,’ he smiles. Wielinga knows the Van Veen by heart in the meantime. He shows us everything, up to the letters to form the words Van Veen on the tank, kept in a plastic bag like soup-letters. ‘We will be able to build both versions, with and without fairing,’ he says, showing us some Schurgers-designed full fairings. But the paintjob has to be redone. Also most of the spares get a new coating & cleaning, and new frames following the original specifications are built by famous Dutch framebuilder Nico Bakker, wich garantees superb quality.
However the news didn ’t spread so far, there is a lot of intrest in insider ’s circles. ‘We already got intrest from Holland, Germany, Australia and England,’ Wielinga says. More then one year after the start the first Van Veen OCR 1000 is ready to run. Only ten more Van Veen OCR 1000 ’s will be on the road worldwide.
Every Motorcycle Journalist has heard about teh Van Veen OCR 1000. The glamourous Superbike project that ended in a fiasco, but just therefore gave a legendary glance to the most exclusive Superbike ever built. As many had heard and read about the Van Veen OCR 1000, not many Motorcycle Journalists have ever seen one in reality, and you can count the number of motorcycle journalists that had the occasion to ride one on the fingers of one hand. Just 38 were build till now, and apart from Ger Van Rootselaar’s bike another one seems to have been build. So the first production bike of the smal producton of ten additional bikes is officially called N° 41. And it ’s waiting here for us to have a ride. A magic moment, even for a motorcycle journalist. I never could have dreamt to ride a Van Veen ever…
Andries Wielinga starts the bike with a push on the start button. We ‘re trying to define the noise of the Wankel engine, but it ’s not comparable to whatever. No vroom-vroom four-stroke, no rengdengdeng two-stroke also. Something in the middle, so it seems. “It ‘s a three-sided rotor that turns. At low revs it ’s not really impressive. But that changes when the throttle is touched the right way.
First we have to fill up the tank. It is no secret that a Wankel-engine is thirsty, and that was one of the reasons why the concept never really knew a breakthrough, but it ’s not likely that this will be the major problem for the owners and future owners of a Van Veen nowadays. So, ready to run…
When we take place on the comfortable buddyseat of the Van Veen we get a feeling we know, a flash-back. Although in the seventies beïng presented as a true Superbike, the seating position is comfortable and upright, just as the seating position on a Goldwing was back in 1975. It ’s very, very similar. A Goldwing that, by the way, also was presented as a superbike, it were the owners that through the years following defined it as a nearly perfect touring bike. What also is remarkable is that you hardly feel any vibration, wich is also a highlight of the Wankel-concept. Though the Van Veen is very heavy – wich is a pity because low weight was one of the arguments of Felix Wankel in favour of the concept - you hardly feel the weight once you get above 5 mph.
The bike is perfectly well-balanced, up to nowadays standards even, and definitely much better than the superbikes of that time. The Kawasaki Z1300 or the Yamaha XS eleven, for instance. Steering geometry was something that Van Veen, with his GP 50 cc Kreidler-team, was well aware of. That same feeling you get while riding on the perfectly asphalted roads in the north of Holland. Piece of cake, it all just goes with the flow, as if you ‘ve ever been riding this bike. The Van Veen steers neutral and correct, thanks to the modern Michelin Macadam tyres, that were choosen because they could be delivered in the correct original sizes, but also because they have the right classic look. ‘Build the bike up as original as possible.’ Although the Van Veen OCR 1000 has a real big Body Mass Index, the center of gravity is very low, and also that contributes a lot to fine handling characteristics, togheter with the massive and high handlebars. As the bike just had 93 kms (about 60 miles) on the clocks, we couldn ’t nor wouldn ‘t regardless open the throttle to full power, but getting up to 6000 rpm, the engine gives us a good impression of its real potential. It will not beat a modern superbike of course, but for a 35 year old bike it ’s really impressive.
And that sound! Not comparable to any other bike, splendid when you rev up. Brakes are from Brembo and surprisingly good for that motorcycle period and still not bad today, but you have to use some handpower. Also remarkable is how little you feel the reactions of the cardan, especially when you compare it to an BMW boxer of the same age. It is most likely that the new Van Veen, although build with maximum respect for the original, is a far much better bike than the first series. Tyres are better, suspension is better (though a bit soft, escpecially in front, but that can easily be solved), but also the engine is better. ‘We have been building up the engine of n° 41 three times untill it was perfect.’ To be sure that there would not be even the smallest oil-leak, they developped new seals. Also the surfaces of the engine components were redone. And last but not least, oil quality is so much better now than it was back in the late seventies.
An exceptional bike, that ’s for sure. Then. But also now. Not only is there the fact that only 10 wil be built, wich brings us to a total of 50 ever, also the price is as exceptional as it was in 1978. At the moment of it ’s launch in 1978, the Van Veen as double as expensive as the most expensive bike of that time. Costing 85.000 euro ex VAT, the Van Veen of 2010 honours its tradition. Of course, this adventure of bringing back a motorcycle heritage is an expensive and intense one. All of the steps taken will have to be financed out of the sale of 10 bikes only. Wielinga hopes that everyone buying a brand new Van Veen will use the bike what it is intended to: to take a ride. ‘That ’s possible without any problem,’ he says, ‘because we will service the bikes afterwards. We ‘ve got spares enough to solve litterally any problem. And everyone that buys a new Van Veen gets two years of guarantee.’ And, of course, this will give also an new life to the existing Van Veen ‘s. Maybe that is the greatest tribute: to have given a riding life again to all Van Veens ever build. Even if there will be never more than 50.