Start of the first German World Championship race in history on the Solitude race track near Stuttgart in 1952. While Werner Haas, the winner in the smallest class, became the idol of numerous fans, today hardly anyone knows the winner of the 250 cc category, which is twice as large as that , in which the NSU works driver celebrated the very first GP victory for Germany in front of a home crowd.

Rudi Felgenheier – the first German 250cc Grand Prix winner

German two-wheeler heroes such as Ewald Kluge, H.P. Müller, Werner Haas, Horst Fügner or Georg “Schorsch” Meier from the times shortly before or after World War II are still well known to many motorsport fans today. If you don’t know them, you will find very detailed and richly illustrated information about many of them in our history section on this page. But how about Rudi Felgenheier? Actually, a motorsport driver should become immortal when he becomes the first GP winner for his country in the quarter liter class. But this is by no means the case for the German born on November 20, 1930 in the Horchheim district of Koblenz. That’s why we pay tribute to him and his achievements with this report on our website.

Rudi Felgenheier was one of the greatest talents of the early post-war years. Actually, it is difficult to understand why this likeable and, according to his companions, highly valuable sports friend fell into oblivion far too soon.

The beginning of a far too short racing career

According to the few records that still exist, Rudi Felgenheier’s career started in 1950. However, since he can already be found in the result lists of the German championship up to 125 cm³ that year, this can hardly be true, as mentioned in the wiki, for example. First you had to earn your first spurs in the so-called ID card category before you could get involved with the best and thus licensed drivers. We found his name mentioned several times in our huge archive, at least from his first year with the licensed drivers. After that, he was to remain loyal to the DKW make and soon after received a works machine. After the war, there were only a few more years of production for DKW motorcycles in Ingolstadt, while in Zschopau the remains of the former factory halls continued to be used for production under the name IFA (later MZ). There, in the 1930s, DKW became known as the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. The first GDR series was therefore also based on the brand’s pre-war model RT 125.

Here is the intermediate result of the overall German championships of FRG and GDR, with Rudi Felgenheier in fifth intermediate place. With HP Müller was tied with Ellmann from Chemnitz, one of the greats of the late pre-war and early post-war years. For more about the man from Bielefeld and his incomparable career, see our history on this page.
A lap later we found another entry from Felgenheier, who was unable to score any points in the fourth lap at the Schottenring. Incidentally, even in the motorcycle world championship, only the first six places were awarded and in 1950 only 3 rounds were held in the 125cc class, in Assen (NL), Clady (Northern Ireland) and Monza (Italy). The saddest joke about it: Until the first three World Cup years from 1949 to 1951, riders from Germany were not even allowed. Before the Second World War, their pilots, most of whom were still active afterwards, accounted for more than half of the European champion race victories. This to the sporting value of the first 3 World Championship years.
In connection with the final result of the German championship and Rudi Felgenheier in 6th place, it should not be concealed that drivers like H.P. Müller were on the road with a so-called charging pump. This is marked “m. K.” highlighted behind the manufacturer and means nothing other than that with a compressor a significant increase in performance compared to naturally aspirated engines was achieved. Incidentally, the GDR introduced its own championship in the following year, which means that its pilots should only rarely be guests in the West for a long time.

The breakthrough in 1951

The German championship of this season began with the so-called Eifel race. However, the eighth liter class started for the first time at the Feldberg race, which Rudi won. He won in front of the former Auto Union works rider H. P. Müller after having stopped 9 laps. There were actually ten of them planned, but that could not matter to Felgenheier with his first and unfortunately last win of the season. As in the previous year, the only 21-year-old from Rhineland-Palatinate had obviously impressed those responsible at DKW sufficiently. Therefore, in the following year, as a member of their works team, he was to ensure the most important success in the world championship for the Ingolstadt company in its unfortunately much too short post-war history. Because at that time only the first three to four of the rankings were published, it can no longer be determined with certainty what results Rudi had achieved in the 1951 season in addition to his opening win. However, this does not change anything about his final breakthrough this year.

In the early 1950s, racing was still characterized by the hardships of the post-war period, and yet it was particularly important for that time. For this reason, even the American occupiers of Germany supported such events very early on. At that time, you needed a little distraction in the tough everyday life and, above all, it was also a competitive spirit that spurred on the industry. Before the car made its breakthrough in the so-called economic miracle, motorcycle companies such as BMW, DKW and NSU were also extremely popular and successful.
After the first run to the German championship up to 125 cc, Rudi Felgenheier led ahead of old master H.P. Müller, who a few years later was to become the first private driver in an NSU 250 cc world champion. In contrast to the third millennium, riders were still forced to deal with the technology of their motorcycles. Back then, you couldn’t do anything unless you lend a hand, and this also applied to the works drivers.

The ups and downs of his most successful season

For Felgenheier, 1952 was a season with many highs but also lows, such as the Feldberg race on June 15 of that year in the Taunus mountains. As last year’s winner in the smallest class, the 21-year-old man from Koblenz-Horchheim started in the 250 cc class this time, but missed the checkered flag as a result of a fortunately minor fall. His DKW works colleague Karl Hofmann did not fare so well with a concussion and a broken arm when he took off in a sharp left-hand bend. It was even worse for Horst Herrmann, who was only 23 years old. The man from Stuttgart died in a fall on the second lap of Friday practice after the so-called jump hill on the 11.576 km long track with a total of 37 bends. For Rudi, despite his luck in misfortune, it was to be the last appearance in the Taunus, but of course he could not have guessed this at the time.

Crashes have always been part of racing. But they didn’t always go as lightly as in this picture and usually the drivers had to bear the consequences themselves. Of course, this also referred to necessary repairs in terms of effort and costs. These facts should perhaps be occasionally reminded to pilots of today, who generally just have to get on their bikes and ride off. Incidentally, there was still a great deal of respect among the drivers and teams of that time. In the event of problems, it was absolutely normal to help the opponent and, if necessary, even to assist him with spare parts and tools.
The poster for the 1953 international Feldberg race, won in the 125 cc class two years earlier by Felgenheier. A year after the event advertised in this picture, the international breakthrough for a man from the GDR, named Horst Fügner, began in this city. You can find out more about this exceptional talent from Saxony in our richly illustrated history on this page.

Rudi’s second great triumph – 1952 at the Sachsenring

Competing on the traditional track in the former GDR was a unique experience for all pilots, regardless of whether they came from the West or from behind the Iron Curtain. As early as 1951, Felgenheier competed on the difficult course in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, at that time in the eighth liter class and with the number 168 on his DKW at 9:30 in the morning. This time he had start number 116 on his 250 cc DKW and the pilots were even sent into the race at 9 o’clock in the morning. After his West German brand colleague Ewald Kluge was still in the lead in the first lap, it was Rudi who ultimately came out on top. He completed the 12 laps in 53:18 minutes and thus an average speed of 124 km/h, which was an excellent value on the street circuit at the time. In 1950, Fritz Riess from Nuremberg was hardly faster than the Koblenzer on his record lap in sports cars up to 2000 cm³. After Felgenheier had benefited from the bad luck of some opponents in his Grand Prix victory on the Solitude, the success in Saxony was the final confirmation of his driving class.

A happy Rudi Felgenheier after his success at the Sachsenring, with a wreath around his neck. Only a few exceptional talents were able to enter the list of winners on this traditional course. With Giacomo Agostini, an Italian is likely to remain the record winner in Saxony for all time.
The sketch of the old Sachsenring with the Queckenberg curve and the start-finish straight in the picture below, the only passages that still exist on the current circuit. Far too many drivers lost their lives here, including Bill Ivy in 1969, one of the world’s most popular and best drivers England has ever had.

A mixed ending to Rudi’s breakthrough year
Rudi Felgenheier should still get his chances this year despite the rain on the city of his first big success on the Feldberg. In addition to the sensation on the Sachsenring, he still managed to finish second behind NSU works driver Werner Haas in his 250 cc DKW in the final of the DM (German Championship of the Federal Republic of West Germany). Added to this was a fifth place on September 7th in Munich at the 3rd Riemer circuit race, where he was initially on P3. But then Thorn-Prikker was overtaken by the “long Hein” and crashed in the airport curve. However, he got back up and at least saved fifth place to the checkered flag.

The freshly crowned West German 125 cc champion Otto Daiker (right in the picture, and his NSU team colleague Werner Haas as a double winner in the smallest and the 250 cc class. In doing so, he helped his brand colleague to the state championship of 1952.

The early career end at the Tourist Trophy

NSU had upgraded and the company from Neckarsulm was now really starting to take off with its four-stroke engines. Almost out of nowhere they had suddenly joined the world elite with Werner Haas and the young Austrian Rupert Hollaus (see our history for more about these two) and the Italian brands such as Moto Guzzi, Morini and MV Agusta were just as astonished as the English about them German pilots and the performance of their brands. In 1939, this and its predecessors had won the majority of the races of the then European Championship before a senseless war interrupted racing for many years. For the 1953 season, DKW relied primarily on Siegfried “Sissy” Wunsch, August Hobl and Karl Hofmann. The last two should get the coals out of the fire for the Ingolstadt company, especially in the 350 cc class. Instead of a compressor, which had meanwhile been banned for their two-stroke engines, they relied on a rotary valve control for the mixture supply.

The layout of the Snaefell Course, one of the two most common TT variants. The number of victims of the Tourist Trophy reached 46 in 1953 and, unfortunately, it was to rise sharply. But it wasn’t until 1976 that the FIM, as the supreme motorsport authority, gave in and revoked this event’s World Championship status for the years that followed.

The last mission of the first 250 cc world champion from Germany
Rudi Felgenheier with start number 115 was already registered by DKW for the Solitude race on June 21, 1953, but he was not to compete again. A serious fall while training for the TT ended Felgenheier’s career prematurely. The then only 22-year-old then founded a mechanical workshop in Lahnstein. At the beginning of June 1953, no fewer than four drivers lost their lives on the Snaefell Course. The following are their dates of death, names and place of death:

DateNameNATCategoryManufacturerWhere, Age, TT Victim No.
12.06.1953Geoffrey “Geoff” J. WalkerAUS500 ccNortonKerrowmoar, 23, 46
12.06.1953Robert Leslie “Les” GrahamGBR500 ccMV AgustaBray Hill, 42, 45
08.06.1953Thomas Walter SwarbrickGBR350 ccNortonKirk Michael, 29, 44
08.06.1953Harry L. StephenGBR350 ccNortonBishhop’s Court, 37, 43
With “Les” Graham, the 500 cc World Champion died in 1949 on an A.J.S. In the 1962 season he was third in the world championship on a Velocette 250 cc and vice world champion on an MV Agusta. The man won 8 Grands Prix before losing his life on the Isle of Man as TT victim number 45
Rudi Felgenheier in the race of his life at the 250 cc Grand Prix 1952 on the Solitude. A fall at the TT, or rather while preparing for the deadliest motorsport event in history, ended his racing career far too early. But if you consider that, according to our statistics, at least 35 pilots lost their lives in two-wheel street racing between 1950 and 1953, you are glad that Rudi Felgenheier lived to be 74 years old. In the last months of his life he had lost his eyesight..

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© MotoGP).