Valve Seat Recession – A Definitive Reply

A considerable percentage of BMW Airhead motorcycles have had various valve and/or valve seat problems, up until the 1985 models. This article will try to explain the background, and why the various problems developed, and why some have problems and some do not. Note that air-cooled motorcycles are more subject to ‘top-end’ stresses, than water cooled motorcycles.

Tetraethyl lead, TEL, is dangerous if absorbed through your skin when in pure form and much less so in diluted form, and it is a form of lead previously used extensively, highly diluted, in gasoline.  Way back when it was still in use (still is in some parts of the World) it was sold by the Ethyl Corporation, and such gasoline’s had a nickname:  Ethyl.

This compound has TWO major effects. First, in sufficiently high percentage, it can raise the octane value a fair amount, very important in WWII aircraft engines, especially those that were supercharged; some were both supercharged AND turbocharged. The original purpose for using tetraethyl lead in gasoline was specifically for raising octane. Some of those aircraft engines required 145 octane gasoline. Usage for the purpose of raising octane was carried forward for decades for cars, because it was cheaper, even when the lead was sold to the refineries expensively by the then Ethyl Corporation, than using only refining methods to increase octane. Many decades ago, premium (higher octane) gasoline’s were simply called “Ethyl”. Usually those gasoline’s had MORE TEL (Tetra Ethyl Lead). There is a lot more to this story, this is a simplified version of lead usage.

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