Ewald Kluge (DKW) at the old Sachsenring – as one of the most successful two-wheel racing athletes before the Second World War, the Dresden native missed the first few years of the world championship. However, if the former DKW works driver, as a two-time European champion (1938 and 1939) and multiple German champion up to 250 cc, had been eligible to take part from 1949, the World Championships in the middle class would certainly have looked a lot different. He was only able to provide proof of this in 1952, at the age of 43, at the German Grand Prix on the Solitude.

The first real motorcycle Grand Prix year in history

Today, most fans of two-wheeled racing are no longer aware of how high the number of spectators at two-wheeled road racing events was in the golden 1950s. Shortly after the Second World War, which lasted almost six years, the FIM, as the highest motorsport authority, decided to hold a newly introduced world championship that actually did not deserve this title. The main reason for this was the fact that the most successful nation of the last pre-war years was excluded from participation for quite questionable reasons. Even today, those responsible at the FIM are anything but covered in glory when it comes to motorcycle racing, whether at WorldSBK or the Road World Championship. Much of the earlier decades of what was actually a glorious racing series and the history of its heroes are now in danger of being forgotten. We have therefore turned our huge archive upside down to report on the first real year of motorcycle Grand Prix sport in a multi-part and very richly illustrated series.

Our statistics from the last European Championship with 7 races in 1939 – before the outbreak of the Second World War, with the winners from Germany in bold. More than half of all races were won by riders and machines who were only eligible to compete again in the fourth year of the Motorcycle World Championship. This means that we can only speak of a real World Cup from 1952 onwards, as from 1949 to 1952 the strongest nation was excluded from participation.
A single-cylinder MV-Agusta, photographed by us at the Rupert Hollaus Memorial Race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg (Austria). The motorcycles of the helicopter manufacturer from Varese, founded in 1945 by Conte Agusta, were in their fourth year of the World Cup on the verge of a breakthrough in the entry-level class up to 125 cm³ and at the same time were also in the premier class up to 500 cm³ for the established compatriots of Gilera and the English Norton poses a serious threat as the reigning world champion.

Striking differences to today – and yet many parallels

One of the most important differences compared to today is, in addition to very different regulations, the completely different world when it comes to the drivers and their relationship with each other, as well as their understanding of the technology. While in professional racing the pilots used to have to work on their machines themselves, everything has changed completely in this aspect since the twenty-first century at the latest. The rivalry between drivers is also much more toxic than it was a few decades ago. Crashes are now a given in GP racing, whereas in the golden 1950s this often meant death. In this respect, perhaps the most positive thing about the development is the increased safety when it comes to race tracks, clothing and materials. Nevertheless, there are still too many serious or even fatal accidents to complain about. This is due to the willingness to take risks, which has always existed in top-class racing and which is indispensable simply because of the passion of the best protagonists in two-wheeled sport.

Our overview of the regulations from the introduction of the Road World Championship in 1949, as well as the sprint race introduced in the WSBK from 2019, with regard to the awarding of World Championship points. It is now hard to imagine that until the 1968 season only the first 6 drivers received points. In addition, there were also cancellation results until the mid-1970s, which made the overview drastically more difficult.

The fourth World Cup season – finally with German participation!

After a three-year break from Grand Prix two-wheel racing, the German pilots and factories were naturally eager to get back into the world championship. Despite having very modest resources in the early post-war years, they were eager to finally be able to demonstrate their competitiveness again from 1952 onwards. Before the war, many of them were among the absolute best in the world and that is why all fans around the world were excited to see how the drivers from Germany would fare against the strong opposition from other countries. There was definitely a lot to be expected from Ewald Kluge, H. P. Müller, Schorsch Meier, Rudi Felgenheier and Hein Thorn-Prikker, to name just a few of the most popular pilots of that time, and they shouldn’t disappoint their fans in their debut season. Works like BMW, DKW, Horex and NSU should also immediately prove that they didn’t need to hide. The four manufacturers started the GP Sport adventure with a total of 10 German pilots and, in the case of NSU, Roberto Colombo, a works driver from Italy. And the hoped-for initial successes didn’t take long to arrive before they even went a step further a little later.

Siegfried “Sissi” Wunsch (left) and Ewald Kluge (both factory DKW) at the winner’s photo after the Eilenriede race in Hanover. After a serious crash on May 31, 1953 at the Nürburgring, Kluge unfortunately had to end his career as the previous year’s winner up to 250 cm³. He had previously been in second place. One of his greatest successes was winning the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man in 1938. He died on August 19, 1964 in Ingolstadt at the age of only 55.

The starting position before the 1952 season

To compensate for the lack of the French GP this year, the German Grand Prix found its place on the calendar. This was very manageable with only 8 rounds and in the two smaller classes 125 cc and 250 cc there were only 6, while the 350 category offered at least seven races. Only the premier class up to 500 cm³ was held at all eight stations and, as had been the case since 1949, this remained the case until 1960, until the following year, the first event overseas, the Argentine GP in Buenos Aires. In their first World Championship season, the drivers from Germany were of course still the clear outsiders against already established competition. The reigning double world champion (up to 350 and 500 cm³) Geoffrey “Geoff” Duke remained deaf to the call of the Italians and continued to drive for his English home brand Norton. The 500 MV Agusta was converted to a chain final drive instead of a cardan shaft as before. The Velocette factory was the first major factory to withdraw from Grand Prix, but Leslie Graham would continue to receive support from them in the 250cc class. FB-Mondial works driver Carlo Ubbiali, the 125 cm³ world champion of the previous year, was considered the man who died in the 1952 season after the tragic accidental death of his former teammate Gianni Leoni (who had a fatal fall during training for the Ulster GP together with Sante Geminiani on August 15, 1951). had to be beaten. In the 250s, defending champion Bruno Ruffo on Moto-Guzzi, an Italian, was also a big favorite.

FB-Mondial 125 in the street version – the Italian brand dominated the first 3 years of the motorcycle world championship from 1949. But with MV Agusta, Moto-Morini and soon NSU, the brand founded by 4 brothers from Milan in 1929 was threatened with dangerous competition from home and foreign countries. Ducati would also join them from 1958 onwards, before this factory from Borgo Panigale near Bologna would cause a sensation in the premier class half a century later.
H. P. Müller in 1952 at FB-Mondial at the Hockenheimring, where the old champion took second place behind the reigning 125 cm³ world champion and Mondial works driver Carlo Ubbiali. In the last years before the war, the fast man from Bielefeld switched from two to four wheels and successfully drove car races for Auto-Union (now Audi) with over 500 hp. He then returned to the two-wheel scene, where he crowned his career in the 1955 season at the proud age of 45. You can find out more about him on this page under “History – Riders”.

Countless manufacturers in the fight for fame and honor

Despite Velocette’s withdrawal, the number of factory teams for 1952 was more than worth seeing. This was mainly due to German participation, after no less than 4 plants decided to take part in the first year of eligibility. A total of 13 manufacturers took part in the world championship. Starting in mid-May in Bremgarten near Bern (Switzerland), the following month we went to the infamous TT (Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man) and then the third round in Assen (Netherlands) at the end of June. With Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and the World Championship premiere at Solitude near Stuttgart, things continued without a long break in July. The Ulster GP near Belfast in Ireland followed in mid-August and Monza in Italy in September, before the season finale in Barcelona’s Montjuich Park at the beginning of October in Catalonia. However, only the categories up to 125 cm³ and 500 cm³, as well as the sidecars, were at the start. In principle, only the race in the Royal Park of Monza took place on a permanent race track. All other events were held on closed public roads, with Assen and Spa later becoming permanent courses.

At NSU, the official information before the start of the season is listed here, which is why there are several points behind the last-mentioned pilot. However, the circumstances at the fifth event of the season resulted in growth from this event onwards. For more information, see Part 3 on 1953.
Heinrich “Hein” Thorn-Prikker on his Moto Guzzi 250 cc was often absolutely unbeatable in this category in the early 1950s. For the son of Dutch immigrants, born on January 6, 1911 in Hagen, his father was a well-known artist, his career ended at the age of 43 due to a serious accident in 1955. “Long Hein,” as many called him back then, would definitely have played a defining role in the World Championship if he had been eligible to compete from 1949 onwards. As a private driver, he basically had no chance against the armada of factory drivers, but he was still supposed to prove in 1952 that he was one of the absolute best.

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