I’ve published this article from February 2014 again as I recently found an excellent documentary on the Lobethal races by Tony Parkinson produced in 2008. Tony has been kind enough to allow me to embed the video at the bottom of the page. Many thanks, Tony.
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.
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 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 carburettors, which was inducted via a rotary valve, to be pressurised in the main crankcases. The end result was a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 of 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 for the arrival of a 1938 SS 250 production version of the factory machines. DKW was 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.
After the war road races were held at nearby Woodside and in 1948 racing returned once more to Lobethal 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.
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