IBM Model 85: A Weird Mashup Indeed

Quick, name an IBM Typewriter that takes normal 96-Character Selectric III typeballs monospaced in 10 and 12 pitch, and *also* prints in proportional spacing using special “round dot” proportional typeballs?

Give up? How about if I told you it was a weird mashup of the IBM Selectric III and the Wheelwriter? Yeah, it’s sort of a Selectric and uses a ball element instead of a daisywheel, but its brains and keyboard are pure electronic – the forerunner of the much more commonly found Wheelwriter.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty doomed machine. Heavy, over-large and absurdly delicate, I’ve only seen a couple of them ever, and they’ve both been broken in some way. This one I got from Bill at MTE, who called me and insisted I haul the thing away before he up and tossed it in a dumpster. Apparently he hates them passionately, which could tell you a thing or two about the quality and ease of maintenance. I rescued it only because of my insatiable curiosity, but I can’t guarantee I won’t shotgun the thing at first opportunity.

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Updated: September 12, 2015 — 3:26 pm


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  1. Literally an “oddball” machine!

  2. Knowing almost nothing about these, my first guess is the keyboard has a problem with the “T” keyswitch. Obviously the switch does something or it wouldn’t print the * character, but the correct character info doesn’t seem to reach the electronics.

    I’m working on an Electronic 60 right now and could use some parts from this 85 (if they are the same) before you decide to scrap it.


    1. yeah, the T keyswitch is busted. I used stars to fill in the spaces. (:

      what parts you need? I’ll be pulling it apart over the next week & taking pictures.

      1. If the “T” keyswitch is the only thing wrong, don’t you think it could be fixed?

        Hate to see the whole machine scrapped for just that.

        I need the forward/reverse pulleys in the power module. I’m trying to get some made, but in case that doesn’t work out I could use some salvaged ones.


        1. ok, I’ll hold onto it in case you need parts, but I definitely don’t like it enough to fix it.

        2. Hi Clark,

          Models 65, 85 & 95 do not have a power module like the 50, 60 & 75. A Pittman DC motor replaced it. Nothing except the carrier is shared with the 50, 60 & 75. Everything else is different

          I used to enjoy rebuilding models 65, 85 & 95. The weak points are the motor & keyboard – both easily rebuilt. They really are not that bad once the weak points are repaired. Now the 50, 60 & 75 are another story.


          1. Yeah, I probably should have passed on trying to repair this Model 60 since parts are unobtainium. I’ve had an NOS belt shipped from Washington and two cracked pulleys shipped from Sweden. I’m attempting to use the broken pulleys as patterns to make new ones with a 3D printer. I doubt if I’ll ever attempt to tackle one of these again. It’s just not worth the hassle.

          2. Hello Ray,

            Recently got delivery of IBM 95 model.
            Main motor (with belt) runs, but electronic part does not power up.
            Would be grateful for any comment where I could get electronics shematics to try to solve the problem together with invited engineer.

            Best regards,

  3. Before you put it out of its misery, I hope you figure out what’s up with that * key. It actually looks like it’s working pretty well except for the * key and some irregularities in the vertical alignment.

    1. I posted a little late – it look like you do know what’s wrong with the * key.

  4. Never heard of this one! There is always more to learn about typewriters.

  5. Don’t ever junk that machine as I was the branch expert in Greenville SC. and
    still know many of tricks to fix the problems that IBM would not allow me to use until I retired and found the answers on my own.

  6. Send an Email as I may be able to fix all your machines by phone,from one that loves those old machines, Carl

    1. I have recently resurrected my Model 85. All is working “ok” kindof except a bunch of letters are being replaced with alternates. For instance, when you hit the “s” you will get a “d”. I think when you hit an “l” you get an “8.” It’s not that the font is misaligned, because it’s perfectly straight. About 1/3 of the letters on the keyboard are affected. And the “s” will not print from any other key. I did clean and reseat the keyboard connection, but that had no impact.

      I’m trying to decide whether to haul it to the dumpster. It sat unused for several years and everything freezed up. Seems that mechanically, I was able to get everything to move again with WD-40, but this appears to be an electronics issue.

      1. Is there anyway for me to get Mr. Stoner’s email address so I can ask him questions about the machine?

    2. Would love to talk to Mr. Stoner, in case he has an easy fix. I suspect that it’s the keyboard matrix board, however, that is bad.

  7. Hey, does this model come with a dataport? I own an interface that was made in the 1980s, supposedly to hook these machines up to computers and I’m trying to find out more about this. The interface was described as working with models 75-95

    1. I didn’t note any data port on the machine either serial or parallel. I’m sure it required an add-on option for the data port. Brother worked similarly, they had an interface box, but it only worked with machines that already had the input port like the Professional 90.

  8. I have a model 85 that has a built-in parallel interface. It’s a factory option, not a third party add-on. Just a 25 pin cable hanging out the back.
    Sadly, it misprints quite a bit.

  9. I’m sorry you feel so bad about IBM models 65-85-98 as I spent 30 years working on all machines from 1930 until the wheel writer came out in 1984.
    Now that was a real piece of so I retired. I have a model 65 that I changed to a model 85 that has worked great for me for over 10 years. Having been trained on 28 and been the branch office expert on 25 of them I do know A bit typewriters. I agree that the 50-60 % 75’s were junk, that was not true of the-65-85 & 95’s I’m working with Tom Hatfield in CA to get his working.

    1. Ahh, good. I’m glad he got ahold of you – heh dunno how I was supposed to act as a contact when neither of you left emails :D

      As far as the 85? Eh, it just doesn’t flip my switches. If I’m gonna keep something that large and heavy, I’ll keep my Composer. If anyone wants to pick this 85 up in AZ for free, they’d be welcome to it. Just needs the “T” keyswitch fiddled with and prolly a good cleaning. (:

      1. How amazing, it’s my “dream typewriter”! I’ve been on a huge hunt for that machine! Do you by any chance know how much it weighs?

        1. I would say that it’s about as heavy as a 60’s grey model Composer. Probably at least 15 pounds heavier than a Selectric II 15″. It was real heavy.

  10. Hi. Retired for 28 years. Trained up to Wheelwriter and PC’s. And also copier line
    I do not remember training on this IBM 85. But found one in my attic, after all these years.
    Memory lose on how I aquiered this Monster. Can barely carry it, ha.
    So, willing to part with it. Make offer. In northern Calif.

  11. If this thing works like my model 50 ET did, there is no separate keyswitch for “T” or for any other keybutton. There are microswitches for each of six bits. The keyboard mechanism isn’t that different from the old mechanical Selectrics , but the six bails result in tripping these microswitches instead of being mechanically linked to the tilt/rotate mechanism.

    1. The Models 65, 85, 95 use the IBM Model M PC style keyboard. Very different from the 50, 60, 75.

      Information on how they are repaired here:

      Video here… (Same keyboard used in Wheelwriter)

      0x0025 – Bolt Modding an IBM Wheel Writer 3

  12. Hi
    Hope to reopen some discussion on Model 85.
    I recently inherited my Mother’s Model 85, which she used for MANY years.
    not all of the keys work when depressed.. memory seems to work

    Anyone in Phila area work on these? I’d like to try getting it working for sentimental reasons.


    1. Check one of the near 20 shops in Pennsylvania, list here:
      Good luck!

  13. Asking for a Father of a good friend. Really. She said her Dad had an IBM 85 and I told her that IBM didn’t make an IBM 85 (wrong). He maintains he needs a motherboard. Has scoured the internet with no luck. Any thoughts? Much thanks

    1. Probably not worth the effort. You can find a good Wheelwriter for lunch money, if you’re persistent. Way more reliable, you can still get ribbons.

  14. repairing the key module for this should be a relatively simple, albeit tedious process. Assuming the PCB is dot damaged in some way the keyboard is likely the simplest part of the machine to repair.

    I’ve recently ordered one of these mainly to get a good look at a (for better or worse) transitional piece of tech that will look good between my Selectric and Actionwriter. Once I get a good look at mine I would be happy to assist with repair of the keyboard if you haven’t sorted that out already.

    1. Oh, that machine is long gone. :D

  15. I’ve got 4 Model 85’s, a Model 95 and a Diskette Module. I’ve been resurrecting them for years but finally they have developed problems that are beyond me. Is there anyone in the New York area (Brooklyn) that can repair these ? I am also looking for the Communication Module.

    1. Can you provide pictures of the Diskette Module?

  16. I have an IBM 85 electronic typewriter but I have never used for decades. It is mechanically very interesting, so I turned on the power. The motor is on but no electronic power. The problem is between the transformer and DC power. The power supply PC board could not supply DC power at all except big capacitors. Whenever I have time, I have been checking DC power supply troubles. Could I find any service manual? darkblue

    1. Not that I’ve seen. ):

  17. These were common at TRW One Space Park Redondo Beach California. The IBM Model 50 Electronic Selectric Typewriters were much more common in the executive offices. There were also a few IBM Memory 50 and 100 Selectric Typewriters which were originally leased and then purchased. I have a Memory 50 Selectric Typewriter which I bought from TRW surplus many years ago. When one of the executive secretaries retired, the Memory 100 Selectric Typewriter also appeared for sale at the surplus store. It had the green case. Unfortunately I didn’t have the money at the time, or I would have definitely snagged it, as I actually knew the person who used it last.

    1. To add, while I know the Model 65, 85, and 95 were especially troublesome to IBM CEs, their technology was definitely fascinating at the time.

      I later learned that the Xerox Memory Typewriter ran circles around the IBM Electronic Selectric typewriter models. :o)

      1. Now that I have acquired an IBM 95, I see that this particular Model 85 had the 3-Cell battery sticker. I suppose this particular model also had user replaceable batteries for memory back-up?

        1. yes, I recall it too AA cells.

  18. Hay, I used to work for IBM servicing these machines many years ago. Let me know if I can help.

  19. looking for a motherboard for the #85 ibm typewriter
    or would consider selling other that the motherboad in perfect condition

    1. I have an entire machine IBM 85 machine clean and in excellent condition, has been wrapped in plastic for years, FOB Van Nuys, CA. Model No. 6714-24.First come first serve, if anybody.

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