Reverse Gear

Get to the chopper!

Mick Bolognese's picture

When Australian Customs contacted us to donate a backyard-built chopper from the former Soviet Union we were completely caught in two minds.

On the one hand, if you’ve seen our custom KMZ Dnepr, you’ll know it’s a pretty mean bike. Stripped back, grungy and industrial, it’s hard to imagine anything which captures better the utilitarian spirit of the USSR. Which, thanks to Hollywood, normally makes us think of film baddies. Dneprs are no exception to this rule: they were used as the bikes ridden by Nazis in a famous chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Using a Cold War era Ukrainian bike as a Nazi prop might seem strange, but in fact Dnepr (the common brand name for the much less pronounceable Kyivskyi Motosykletnyi Zavod) based most of their designs on BMW bikes which were produced specifically for the German military in the Second World War.

On the other hand, it was a stretch to reconcile the history of this particular motorcycle with our mission as the National Motor Museum. Built from parts somewhere in the former USSR, this ‘backyard job’ was seized by Australian Customs: it was imported without approval and probably contravenes a million motor vehicle safety regulations. In short, it has never been on an Australian road and has no obvious links with Australian motoring.

In the end, however, the curatorial team decided to accept it. We decided that the importation of (sometimes very strange) vehicles into Australia, with or without the right paperwork, is another part of the history of Australian motoring we should tell. Not everyone agreed though, and I’m not sure there is a right or wrong view. Would you have done the same?

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