When Richard Costello was involved in an accident while riding his 1958 BMW R50 more than 40 years ago, he promised his pregnant wife he wouldn’t ride again until their children had grown up. Decades passed, and Richard never made it back into the saddle. But he couldn’t bear to part with his machine and it stayed in storage. Two years ago, he died at age 71 after suffering a stroke. His bike had not been ridden since 1969. However, desperate for his pride and joy to one day be back on the road, Richard had secretly penned a note to his son, Bill.
It was while Bill was looking over the R50 after his father’s death that he found the scrap of paper attached to the bike’s handlebars. It told him where the spare parts were kept and read: ‘I want the bike fixed as well as I know you can do it’. Those sentences changed Bill’s life, as he learned to restore, ride and love the R50. In a further tribute to his dad he created a video slideshow telling the story of man and machine, set to Pearl Jam’s ‘Just Breathe’. The film struck a chord with people around the world, attracting more than 360,000 YouTube views to date.
Bill, who lives in New York with his family, says he finally understands why his father turned down his repeated offers to fix up the bike. “I’d say: ‘let’s get it back on the road’, but he’d always turn me down. Now I’m sure it’s because he wanted to leave it for me. At first I felt overwhelmed by the restoration, but doing the work gave me an amazing connection to my dad — it was my way of keeping him alive.”
He insists that the R50 could not have been transformed without the help of BMW enthusiast Peter Nettesheim, who owns a huge private collection of BMW motorcycles. Bill heard about Peter while researching how to restore the R50 and, after hearing Bill’s story, Peter agreed to help him get the bike back on the road.
“I couldn’t have done it without him — he was the one who rescued the bike. He came to look at it before we started and said straight away, ‘I can get this bike going again in about half an hour’. It hadn’t even been started in 40 years so I didn’t think he’d be able to, but he did. That was the moment I knew we’d be able to do what my dad had asked.”
The R50’s story is captured in Bill’s YouTube video. The three-and-a-half minute clip uses no words, just photos and the song. The very last picture is of a plaque dedicated to his dad, which Bill had fitted to the R 50. “The video was just for my family really, the Pearl Jam song reminded me of him, and that’s what actually inspired me to make the video.”
When the film began growing in popularity, it attracted thousands of comments, mostly from people who wanted to let Bill know how much they had been touched by his story. Unfortunately, the attention also saw him reported to YouTube for using the Pearl Jam track without permission. Bill, then out of work, found himself with a $1,000 fee.
Reluctantly, he asked people to contribute toward the amount and set up an online donation page which would automatically close when the total was reached. Money came in fast, then slowed to a trickle until Bill suddenly received an email. Overnight he had made his $1,000. It turned out the mystery benefactor was BMW.
“I got an automatic message to say the fundraising page had shut down, which I was really surprised about as it had been around $300 the night before. Then I got a cryptic message saying ‘you’ll probably have noticed the amount has been paid in full’, which turned out to be from BMW.”
Bill has since been invited to the annual BMW Motorrad Days event in Germany this summer and is now deeply involved in the world of BMW motorcycles. He has a new network of friends and has become the subject, author and photographer of a series of articles on the restoration published in enthusiast magazines including On The Level and Motorcycle Classics.
“It’s opened up a whole new world to me, one which without my dad I’d never have become part of. I think he’d be proud — and I think he’d like the attention he’s getting too.”
You can see the video below: