Silver Ghost Restoration-Epilog

Here’s a short video of the startup of the Silver Ghost on Halloween night 2010.

And, you can look at a summary of before, during and after photos of the build here and see the entire set of photos here.

Lessons Learned

Before I started, a blog I read said “Start from the inside and work your way out.” .  The logic made sense to me in developing the budget.  I estimated the cost for the frame straightening and fork tube replacement I knew were required.  This was the most expensive work I had done, and ended up costing about 50% more than the estimate.

After that was done, I prioritized the other “must do” work. I had the top end inspected and got cost estimates for repairing the broken fin on one head.  The estimates ranged from over $100 to about $15.  I took the $15 bid from Randy Long even though shipping to Pennsylvania and back cost me $25.  When he got the head, we talked and he pointed out the valves were past their service life.  So he got both heads and I had him replace the seats, valve guides, springs and exhaust valves.  Randy does great work and is willing to share his knowledge.

I priced out the carburetor repair and rebuilding, replacing the rear sub-frame since I knew it was cracked, and a new exhaust system as the original I had held on to was in bad shape.

I developed an estimating spreadsheet to forecast the costs and updated the total with actual cost when I bought parts.  Its a good idea to identify “must” from “nice” to have parts.  Get all the must have parts priced and paid for and then work on the nice to have sourcing new and used parts (eBay, BMW MOA forum, Craig’s List, Vintage BMW Motorcycle Owners group, and the BMW Internet Riders forum).

Optional parts included a used cast “snowflake” rear wheel to match the front one I bought in 1982, a used R90/S fairing, new electronic ignition, used bar end mirrors, and used battery tray.  Checking the on-line used markets and eBay for about a month turned up deals on many of these parts, so I spent the money.  With eBay, I only had one part with some disapointment, the cast snowflake wheel which had a dig in the rim.  But, I found a local company, Woody’s Wheel Works, who could pound it out.

Painting was the shock as I originally planned to have it professionally painted.  But, after multiple bids over $2,000, I called a friend who rebuilds classic British bikes for some advice.  He talked me into the “growth experience” of painting the bike myself.  He had the equipment, advice and encouragement.  I had to do the rest.  It took me 3 times as long to complete the painting as I had estimated.  The material cost doubled when I had paint failures and had to buy another paint kit from Holt BMW.  But, the education and satisfaction were priceless.  It was the memorable experience of the project and even though I got very frustrated and discouraged more than once.  As Brian says, “Endeavor to Persevere”.  And, “There’s nothing about painting you can’t fix with sand paper and more paint.  You can’t break anything.”

My original budget was more than the blue book value of the bike, and that is typical for a rebuild, or in my case, a build of an R90S cafe racer replica.  I kept detailed records of all costs.  The paint preparation (primer, sand paper), solvents, cleaners, shop supplies cost much more than I had estimated.  Don’t over look that in your budget.  In the future, I’d put in a 5% shop supplies budget and estimate primer cost at 30% of the paint cost.  The final cost exceeded the budget by 60%.  Plan accordingly.

Finally, there is practical value in figuring out how to overcome the “cussedness of inanimate objects”, not at the time, of course, but in retrospect  :-).   I’m reminded of Robert Pirseg’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  “The real motorcycle you are working on is yourself”.  If that is true doing routine maintenance, then doing a rebuild of a bike means you are rebuilding yourself.


The web is a great resource for advice, parts, options and ideas.  I found a large amount of information, resources and “How To” advice for rebuilding bikes in general and BMW in particular.  I  asked questions on various forums and always seemed to find someone who had the tid bit I was looking for.  The available knowledge and willingness of folks to share what they know make taking on a project of this scale doable.  All you have to do is search and ask, and you can learn just about anything you don’t know.  I compiled a list of resources I found here.

I found Max BMW’s on-line parts fiche a reliable tool for cost estimating as well as other on-line suppliers of parts for classic BMWs (Benchmark, Rephyche, and Hucky’s).  My local dealer, BMW of Denver met or beat most of those prices but I did some business with internet sellers as well.

In particular, Clem Cykowski at BMW of Denver, Kent at Holt BMW and the kind folks at The Bing Agency were particularly helpful and supportive.  And of course, my friend Brian House, who encouraged me to learn how to paint motorcycles and lent me his equipment was a great resource of tips, advice and wisdom.

Tips for Those Who Follow After Me

In no particular order, here is my list of tips when doing a project like this.

  • You can do this work with simple tools in your own garage.
  • Clean out a work area and keep it clean
  • Newspaper is a your friend.  Keep it handy, cover your work bench with it, change it often.
  • Shop towels on the roll are very handy.  Buy a half-dozen rolls.  They are always “clean” when you need them.
  • Take pictures as you take things apart.  You will not remember how everything goes together in a year.
  • Bag parts as you remove them in plastic zip lock bags and label them with what they are (front fender, shocks, etc.)
  • Use boxes to hold parts bags for major subsystems.  I put all electrical parts in a box, all engine parts in a box, etc.
  • Keep a list of “to buy” parts as you remove them.
  • Assume you will buy all new rubber parts.
  • Develop a “to do” list for work you have to do and think about the best sequence to do it in.  You will save a lot time in end and avoid “redos”.
  • Monitor your patience, attitude and energy level.  When you aren’t feeling focused, confident, or happy, stop working.  You’ll just screw something up, usually something expensive or hard to find.
  • There is no rush.  Take your time and the stress goes away.
  • The fun comes from doing, thinking, planning and overcoming the “Oh Shit” that is inevitable.  Relax, have a beer, tomorrow’s another day.  If you aren’t in the mood, the bike is not going to go anywhere.
  • When you get stuck and don’t know how to get a part on, or figure out how to fix a mistake, clean the work bench.  You can control that, and in the process, solutions will come to mind if you will just be quiet enough to let them suggest themselves.


  • Sand paper and its proper use are critical to a nice paint job.
  • Preparation will take 80% of the time for painting.
  • Sand the last coat with a finer paper than the previous coat.  For 3 coats of primer, 320 grit, 400 grit, 600 grit.
  • If you are painting base coats with silver or black, add a fourth coat of primer and sand at 1500 grit.
  • Clear coat looks very shiny when it goes on, but it has to be sanded to remove the “orange peel” and dust motes.  Use no coarser grit than 2000 and finish with 2500 grit.  Then you can buff it out with scratch remover.
  • You can’t really ruin anything when painting.  If you make a mistake, grab the sandpaper and erase it.  Worse case, paint it again.

2 thoughts on “Silver Ghost Restoration-Epilog

  1. Very impressive!
    Although I don’t plan to do a full restauration I would like to tidy up my 1982 R 65.
    I wonder if you could provide details on cleaning engine block, cylinder, cylinder head, cover and fork slider AND how to treat these items (not shiny Aluminum parts)AFTER you have finished the cleaning? I have spent hours to clean some the listed items only to find that after some time / miles they are ungainly again.
    Thanks and Regards
    I have searched the airhead achives, Fleischers web site etc…. and all I found was to use a Silicon spray after the cleaning and NOT clear coats!

    • Hi Paul,

      I’ve been using AutoSol products. They have an Aluminum Protective Oil spray that I’ve used on all the cast aluminum parts after I got them clean and restored. You can find it here,

      For some parts, I clean in a parts washer to get the grease and oil off the part. For an engine, I use engine cleaner being careful to avoid the products that warn against applying it to aluminum.

      AutoSol has a metal and aluminum cleaner which is a liquid in a pump spray bottle. I use that after oil and grease are gone. I use the aluminum cleaner on aluminum and the metal cleaner on non-aluminum. I scrub with a tooth brush or “00” steel wool if the surface is smooth. If it’s rough cast, as you have for engine blocks and transmissions, I use green Scotch Brite pads if it’s really grungy to loosen the surface corrosion and baked on oil off the surface. I also have used a “fine” wire wheel on my bench grinder for small parts, a wire wheel in a hand drill, and there are wire wheels for the Dremel tool. There are brass brushes (and a brass wire wheel for Dremel) that creates a nice luster on soft, shiny metal parts like the carburetors. I have also just used steel wool going from “00” all the way to “0000”. Ace hardware has a good selection of steel wool.

      When it’s got a sheen to it, I move to the polish, either the liquid metal and/or the paste aluminum polish. I use disposable blue shop towels available in all the auto parts stores, to apply it and buff it out with a clean area of the towel. For aluminum parts, when I’m done with the polishing, I use the Aluminum Protective Oil to help keep the sheen there for some time.

      I hope this helps. Cleaning and restoring the finish turns out to be “interesting” art. I think everyone has “their favorite” products, but I’ve been pleased with AutoSol products. I don’t work for them, but their products have worked well for me.

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