Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ewald Kluge, DKW and the Lobethal TT

In August 2013 that most famous of road racing circuits, the Isle of Man, celebrated its first Classic TT as part of the Festival of Motorcycling. With a burgeoning number of classic events around Europe it was perhaps a long time coming to this historic racing venue. The event featured racing machinery from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, but perhaps more interesting was the presence of a pre World War Two German DKW SS 250 supercharged two-stroke, that was ridden on a parade lap by former 250cc Grand Prix winner Ralph Waldmann.

Two time  European Champion Elwad Kluge.

Two time European Champion Ewald Kluge.

Brought to the Island by Audi Heritage to celebrate its historic victory in 1938, it was a recreation of the machine that Ewald Kluge used to become the first German, and only the second foreigner, to win a TT.  DKW was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world during the 1930’s with a huge research and development department that boasted 150 employees.  DKW also produced cars and in 1932 merged with three other German car manufacturers Audi, Horch and Wanderer to become part of Auto Union, which was represented by the four linked circle insignia that the Audi brand still uses today.

DKW’s only produced two-stroke motorcycles at that time, and in the 1930’s the technology was still in its infancy. But thanks to the innovative genius of Ing Zoller, DKW came up with a unique design that used a split single layout with tandem piston bores that utilised a common combustion chamber and articulated connecting rods. A third piston was housed in a pumping chamber or ladepumpe (supercharger) mounted horizontally to the front of the engine crankcases.  This forced the air and fuel from the Amal TT carburetors, which was inducted via a rotary valve, to be pressurized in the main crankcases. The end result was big jump in power and also fuel consumption. With the megaphone style exhaust fitted it also had a reputation as one of the loudest racers of its era.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 two-stroke engine.

Engine diagram of the DKW SS 250 ladepumpe (supercharged) two-stroke engine.

There is no doubt about the Nazi influence on the German Automotive industry prior to the Second World War.  Hitler bankrolled the racing efforts of the Silver Arrows, supporting Mercedes and Auto Unions dominance of Grand Prix motor racing.  It was all part of Hitler’s plan to show the world the technological superiority of Nazi Germany. The Nazi’s had infiltrated most aspects of German life and in 1932 set up the N.S.K.K. or the Nationalist Socialist Drivers Corps which “Nazified” the driving associations and clubs. It made it almost impossible for the national racing heroes of the era not to be associated with the Nazi’s.

Ewald Kluge was a member of the N.S.K.K. and became the Lightweight (250cc) European Champion in both 1938 and 1939 (which was the forerunner of the Moto2 world championship). From 1936 to 1939 Kluge was also a four time German National Champion. But 1938 was his most successful year taking the European crown and the German road racing and hillclimb titles. Out of fourteen events he entered, he won 12 and was second twice attaining the “Champion of Champions “ accolade that was only granted to those who achieved the highest possible number of points.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

Kluge in action at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT.

But Europe was not the only place that Kluge and DKW were to compete.   In 1937 the sleepy Adelaide Hills town of Lobethal in South Australia hosted the inaugural South Australian TT on a road circuit that compared favourably with those in Europe.  Enticed by the Lobethal Carnival Committee the DKW team was to tour Australia taking in events in other States as well. Officially it was called a cultural and sporting exchange. It may also have helped that there was a strong German influence in the area with immigrants settling in Lobethal and nearby Handorf in the mid 1800’s.

The circuit itself was on sealed public roads and eight and three-quarter miles in length (14.082 km) running in a clockwise direction and took in the towns of both Lobethal and Charleston. It was almost triangular in shape and featured hairpins, s-bends, fast sweepers and flat out straights with changes in elevation that ranked it as one of the best road courses of the time anywhere in the world.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988.

Les Friedrichs is re-united with the works DKW in 1988 at the  Lobethal  TT recreation.

Baron Claus Von Oertzen managed the DKW team and his vivacious wife Baroness Irene Von Oertzen also accompanied him to Australia.  It was quite a shock to the locals when the teams van, plastered in swastikas, arrived in the township.  There were also rumours that a British Special Intelligence Service agent was shadowing the team as pre-war tensions began to rise.

The Baron had chosen a local rider Les Friedrichs to be Kluge’s co-rider and although this would be Friedrichs first road race he had outstanding credentials in other motorcycle sports. The choice was a good one and in the Lightweight (250cc) TT, Friedrichs followed home his team leader Kluge for a stunning 1-2 victory.  Kluge then went on to win the Junior TT (350cc) with his 250cc machine; such was the technical advantage of the German racer.

The grid lines up for the start of the 1988  Lobethal TT recreation.

The grid lines up in the main street of Lobethal for the start of the 1988 TT recreation.

Because of the success of the races, the following year the Auto Cycle Council of Australia endorsed the Lobethal event to be run as the Australian TT.  Racing car events were also held on the circuit and the popular road course hosted the Australian Grand Prix in 1939. The Lobethal TT was held on the December Boxing Day holiday and the DKW team, as part of their tour, contested several interstate events in early 1938.

The team had planned to return again at the end 1938 and Kluge left behind his practice bike. This was a 1936 model works URe 250, which was left in the care of the Victorian DKW importer who was waiting on the arrival of a 1938 SS 250 production version of the factory machines. DKW were the first manufacturer to sell a production version of their “works” racers to the public.  However the team did not return due to the onset of the Second World War.

Kluge was called up for military service in 1940 and was captured by the Russians and not released until 1949 due to his association with the Nazi’s.  At the age of 44 he returned to competition but suffered a serious high-speed accident at the 1953 Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring, which ended his career.  Ewald Kluge was only 55 years old when he passed away in 1964, leaving a remarkable racing legacy.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

The 1936 works racer left behind by Kluge in 1938.

After the war road races were held at nearby Woodside and in 1948 racing returned once more to Lobethatl until the South Australian State Government banned racing on public roads and brought to an end any thoughts of resurrecting the Lobethal TT.

The ex Kluge machine was discovered again by Eric Williams in 1960 who retrieved it from the side of a house in St. Peters in Adelaide where it was found lying and slowly rusting away. The engine had blown up in a big way at the Sellicks Beach races.

Williams then spent 17 years restoring the machine and it made an appearance in 1988 at TT88, which recreated the Lobethal TT as part of South Australia’s sesquicentennial. The TT reunited the DKW racer with a 78-year-old Les Friedrichs who performed a parade lap of the circuit stunning the onlookers with a cacophony of ear shattering sound emitted by the exotic little racer.

Jewel like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Jewel like high tech two-stroke engineering in 1936 from DKW.

Williams sold the DKW in 1992 for $50,000 (Aus), a record for a vintage machine in Australia. Steve Hazelton outbid the American Barber Museum to keep the rare works racer in Australia, but 20 years later decided to put the DKW up for sale again.  Hazelton was extremely disappointed to receive very little interest from within Australia for this exotic ex-works racer.

It would no doubt be reassuring to Kluge, that Audi Tradition continues to honour his racing achievements and that of the DKW works team.  And although the roads around Lobethal are no longer used as a racing circuit, motorcyclist from all over Adelaide ride the course regularly to enjoy what was once one of the worlds great road racing circuits.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Photographs Geoff Dawes (C) 1988. Images courtesy of http://www.audimediaservices.com. Diagram www.motorradonline.de.

Below is a link to a map of the Lobethal TT course. https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=201984503616328999196.0004d09b2905e2b5ca5e4

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Who The Hell Is Steve Baker?

When American Kenny Roberts invaded the European Grands Prix in 1978, the two times AMA Grand National Champion left an indelible mark on the World Championship.  Not only did Roberts become the first American to win a 500cc world title  (the first of three), he also brought to Europe an American dirt track style of racing that would change the face of the sport forever.   Not only that, Roberts was also instrumental in improving paddock conditions, safety and appearance money after ruffling the FIM and establishment’s feathers by proposing a breakaway “World Series” to compete with the Grands Prix.

The quiet achiever Steve Baker.

The quiet achiever Steve Baker.

It’s therefore somewhat understandable that when the question of who was the first American to win a 500cc Grand Prix, it’s assumed it was Kenny.

In fact, it was a fellow Californian, Pat Hennen. Hennen started racing in the 500cc World Championship in 1976 for Suzuki GB and won his and America’s first 500cc Grand Prix in Finland that year. He also finished a creditable third in the Championship.  Hennen performed the same feat the following year, this time winning British Grand Prix and placing third again in the Championship. In 1978 Hennen won in Spain but suffered a severe race crash at the Isle of Man TT, which ended his career.

So who was the first American to win an FIM road racing World Championship? Ditto, again it’s assumed to be Roberts.

It was, however, a diminutive, unassuming, and quietly spoken character by the name of Steve Baker. Born on the 5th of September 1952 in Bellingham, Washington State, Baker, like so many of the American World Champions that followed, started out a dirt tracker.   At age 11 he would spend hours riding the many dirt trails around his hometown and at 16 began to race on short track and the TT dirt tracks of the Pacific Northwest. By the early 1970’s Steve had become one of the top-ranked novices, and junior TT riders in America.  Baker was by now racing in events up and down the west coast of the United States and Canada.

Baker at work on Yamaha Canada TZ750.

Baker at work on Yamaha Canada TZ750.

Steve then turned his hand to road racing, mainly in Canada, competing in as many as five classes during a typical weekend. It wasn’t long before Baker had a hat trick of Canadian road racing titles to his name in the 500cc expert class, taking the number one plate in 1974, 1975 and 1976.  1976 was a good year for Baker who also took out the 250cc and unlimited expert class as well.

Baker had begun racing professionally in 1973 with sponsorship from Yamaha Canada’s Trevor Deeley, with Bob Work as his tuner. Baker’s debut in his first AMA national was at the 1973 Daytona 200 in which he finished 28th.  It was not until September that year that Baker showed his true potential with a creditable 2nd place to former 250cc World Champion Kel Carruthers at Talladega in Alabama.  Unfortunately, it was on the same circuit the following year that Baker crashed and broke his leg, leaving him sidelined for the rest of the year.

Bakers comeback ride was at Daytona in 1975 and it netted him a commendable 2nd place to Gene Romero. But it was in 1976 that Baker’s star really shone.  Now one of only five riders to receive a “works” OW31 TZ750 Yamaha, it proved to be an awe-inspiring combination.  Baker qualified 2nd to Kenny Roberts at the season opening Daytona 200, but during the race suffered mechanical problems after holding down third place.  Disappointment turned to success at the next two FIM Formula 750 Prize events in Venezuela and at Imola in Italy with Baker winning both of the 200-mile races.

Baker on the grid alongside future factory teammate Johnny Ceccotto.

Baker on the grid at Imola alongside future factory teammate Johnny Cecotto.

On the home front, he recorded his first AMA national victory at the Loudon Classic in June and backed it up with a win in the 250cc race.  Baker repeated this at Laguna Seca again winning both the national and 250cc race.  1976 was also Baker’s debut in the Trans-Atlantic Match Races, a series that pitted a team of America’s best riders against seasoned English racers on circuits in the UK. Baker won four of the six races finishing second and fourth in the other two and was top points scorer of the series.  This was against riders of the calibre of Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene and former world champion Phil Read.  Baker followed this up later that year with a win in the prestigious Race of the Year at Mallory Park beating the likes of 500cc World Champion Barry Sheene and multiple World Champion Giacomo Agostini amongst others.

For 1977 the FIM Formula 750 Prize had been granted full World Championship status with the season starting Daytona 200 as the opening round.  Baker by now had been drafted into the official Yamaha factory squad to contest not only the new 750cc World Championship but the 500cc World Championship as well alongside Johnny Ceccotto while Giacomo Agostini was provided with “works” machinery through the Italian Yamaha importer.

Baker leads Roberts both on the OW31.

Baker leads Roberts both on the OW31.

Finally, everything seemed to come together for Baker at Daytona, qualifying on pole position and winning the race.  Baker also clinched the double by winning the International Lightweight 250cc race. The F750 World Championship consisted of eleven rounds most of which (unlike the Grands Prix) consisted of two heats. Six of the circuits Baker had raced on before and with the mighty OW31 at his disposal he was able to win five of the rounds, coming second in three and third in two. Baker never finished off the podium in the 10 rounds he contested. His nearest rival Frenchman Christian Sarron was 76 points behind.  America, at last, had its first FIM road racing World Champion.

BakerSteve2_l

Diminutive Baker manhandles the OW31 through the infield.

But it was the 500cc World Championship that Yamaha was most eager to capture.  The Japanese company had first entered the blue riband 500cc class in 1973 with 1972 250cc World Champion Jarno Saarinen.  Unfortunately, Saarinen was killed in the 250cc race at Monza while leading the point’s table in the 500cc class. Yamaha withdrew for the rest of the season but returned in 1974 with the great Giacomo Agostini.  Agostini went on to win the title for Yamaha in 1975 giving them and Japan their first 500cc World Championship. But in 1976 rival Japanese manufacturer Suzuki with the talented Barry Sheene had taken the title away. Yamaha was required to save face.

In 1977 the 500cc GP’s were also contested over eleven rounds, but many of the circuits were new to Baker. Steve was reported to have said in a recent interview that he was “overwhelmed by Europe” when contesting the championship.  Not only were their new circuits to learn there was also the question of racing in the rain, something that did not occur in the United States.  On top of that, there was the culture shock of living outside of the states. Then, of course, there were the street circuits, which were part of the Grand Prix calendar.  Spa in Belguim, Imatra in Finland, Brno in Czechoslovakia and Opitijia in Yugoslavia all could prove deadly and finding the right place to make up time or take calculated risks could only come from experience. Let’s not forget that 1977 saw the British Grand Prix on the mainland for the first time (at Silverstone) after the top riders of the day vetoed that most deadly of all road courses, the Isle of Man TT.  Even the closed circuits at that time could not be considered “safe” by today’s standards and fatalities regularly took place.

It was with this backdrop that Baker contested the championship, taking on seasoned campaigners like World Champion Sheene and a flotilla of “works” or factory supported RG500 Suzuki’s, not to mention his own teammate Ceccotto and Agostini on the other factory Yamaha YZR500 0W35’s.

At the end of a tough season, Baker finished in a creditable second place to World Champion Barry Sheene.  He had scored second place three times, third place three times, fourth once and fifth once.  The second round of the 500cc Championship had been boycotted in Austria at the Salzburgring after an accident in the 350cc race that saw one rider killed and several others badly injured, including Baker’s teammate Johnny Ceccoto, who broke his arm. In the other two races that made up the series in Finland and Czechoslovakia Baker suffered mechanical problems which blunted his final points tally,  80 to Sheene’s 107.

Always fast.

Always fast.

With such a performance in his rookie year, a factory contract for 1978 might have been expected.  The only thing that Baker hadn’t achieved was winning a 500cc Grand Prix.  Unfortunately Yamaha top brass witnessed a domestic bust up between Baker and his fiancé Bonnie with his sister and Bob Work at the Dutch TT in Assen.  This seemed to seal Steve’s fate and a contract was not forthcoming.

The Gallina team signed Baker for the following season on a private Suzuki RG500, but against the factory machinery he could only achieve seventh in the championship, his best result a third place podium in Venezuela.  Baker also competed in the F750 World Championship for the Gallina team on a production Yamaha TZ750E although he was “allowed” to ride Yamaha Canada’s factory OW31 in North America.  Daytona was no longer part of the F750 World Championship in 1978, although it was still the most important road race in America. Baker suffered a DNF through mechanical failure while in second place chasing Kenny Roberts. The season turned out to be one of mechanical failures and risky strategy for Baker, desperate to try and compete with the “works” machines. To cap off a disastrous season, at the last round at Mosport in Canada, Baker was involved in another riders fatal practice crash. Baker escaped with a badly broken arm and leg.

Steve finished sixth in the Championship with his best results being two-second places at Imola and Laguna Seca and a third place at Paul Ricard. The following season, in 1979, Baker was set to race in the MCN/Superbike championship in the UK riding a Yamaha TZ750F for Sid Griffiths.  At the second round of the series, at Brands Hatch, Baker crashed entering Paddock Hill bend and sustained similar injuries to his Mosport crash of the previous year.

Bakers privateer Gallina TZ750D.

Bakers privateer Gallina TZ750E.

Steve Baker left the sport without having the chance to fully fulfil his enormous potential and returned home to open a Yamaha dealership in his hometown of Bellingham, which he runs to this day. Often overlooked as America’s first World Champion, Baker holds no grudges, and there is no bitterness, only a modest gratitude to have been able to enjoy the experience.

In recent years Baker has ridden for the Yamaha Classic Racing Team at numerous classic events around Europe, jogging peoples memories while attracting new fans, and reminding us all of the very special the talent that is, Steve Baker.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014. Images courtesy http://www.global.yamaha-motor.com, http://www.aircooledrdclub.com, http://www.classicmotorcycles.net and http://www.ge-board.de