The DKW RM 350 three-cylinder two-stroke racing machine for the 1952 season turned up to 13,000 rpm and delivered up to 45 hp over the course of its development. The largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world at the time, which was based in Zschopau in the 1930s, was no longer in East Germany, but was based in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Shortly before the second world war, the brand belonging to Auto Union (later Audi) dominated the European Championship in this category almost at will. That’s why it was exciting to see whether they would be competitive in the World Championship.

Outlook for 1952 and the favorites before the start of the season

After Benelli withdrew from Grand Prix racing, Moto-Guzzi was alone in the 250cc class from a purely Italian perspective and the title was therefore unlikely to be taken away from them. For the first time after 3 years of banishment, three German factories, DKW, Horex and NSU, were now allowed to take part in the world championship along with all pilots from their country. But no one seriously expected that you would be in danger, also because their budgets were too small to take part in all 6 – 8 rounds. With the exception of the 500cc category, not all classes were generally advertised at most Grand Prix in the first years from 1949 onwards. For the 350cc class, Norton was expected to dominate with world champion Duke like last year. He was also favored for the 500cc race, but Gilera and MV Agusta, who relied on Leslie Graham, also had to be taken into account. MV’s entry into the eight-liter class also promised to revive this category a little. The experts in the sidecar saw no one in a position to challenge title holder Oliver. Below is our summary of all the final results from the 1951 World Cup.

Our statistics for the 125 cc World Championship from 1951, which was held over a tiny four laps, and without the fastest pilots before the Second World War being eligible to take part. It was only now, in the fourth year of the motorcycle Grand Prix sport, that the FIM decided to also grant drivers and teams from Germany the right to start. It would soon become clear that motorsport history would take a positive turn and fresh momentum would come into the scene.
As with the 125cc, in the 250cc class, the runner-up world champion from the previous year, in 1952 was no longer alive due to fatal racing accident.s Of the usually more than 10 victims per year of their beloved sport, very often absolute top drivers were among them. The main reason for this was usually a lack of safety, especially because back then the majority of driving took place on public roads.
From today’s perspective, the canceled results (as it will be seen in 1952 results) at that time and also the awarding of points for only the first 6 of the race are a bad joke. Reliability was essentially punished at the time when the pilots had to change spark plugs during the race, for example (due to the poor quality at the time). A Joan Mir could never have won the title in 2020 with just one win under such regulations.

Black start to the season in Switzerland – the Grand Prix of Switzerland

Today only a good hour’s drive from the German border near Basel, the drivers and teams had a much longer journey back then, which was even more important for the participants from other countries. Except for the category up to 125cc, all other classes took part in Bremgarten near Bern. Unfortunately, the race weekend was overshadowed by two fatal accidents. One was the sidecar driver Ercule Frigerio with start number 16, who was in the lead shortly before the finish, when he crashed into a tree. With the Eymatt curve, exactly at the place where (on July 1, 1948) his famous compatriots Omobonno Tenni and Achille Varzi (1923 Italian 350cc motorcycle champion) died in racing car training. Frigerio’s co-driver Ezio Ricotti survived, but lost his leg in the accident. At the same place on the same day in the 500cc Grand Prix, the 25-year-old Englishman Dave Bennet died on his Norton when he fought for P2 with his compatriot Bill Doran (AJS) and crashed. In some motorsport articles with their race report, the two fatal accidents were not even worth a line to the reporter at the time.

Ercole Frigerio in full action – the Italian was runner-up in the first three years of the World Chamionship. At the time of his fatal accident, the Italian, who was born in Albiate, was already 44 years old. For the fourth year in a row, he was the strongest challenger to title holder Eric Oliver (Norton, GBR) as the then reigning three-time world champion.
Sketch of one of the most dangerous courses in Bremgarten near Bern, which was also used in car racing and caused numerous deaths, especially on two-wheelers. After the serious accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955, in which 84 people died, circuit racing was banned throughout Switzerland for safety reasons. That’s why racing stopped here after the 1954 season.

Only few German participants – with a brilliant result up to 250 cm³

On the extremely dangerous Bremgarten track, racing with a top speed of well over 200 km/h in the premier class bordered on Russian roulette. With a lack of international experience at the start of the season and the majority of material clearly inferior, it was left to private rider Gotthilf Gehring on his Moto-Guzzi to score the historic first World Championship points for Germany, two places ahead of Horex factory rider Hermann Gablenz. However, they were already two laps behind winner Fergus Anderson (England, factory Moto-Guzzi). However, Siegfried “Sissi” Wunsch was in fourth place on his DKW factory machine when his engine unfortunately died on lap 10, apparently due to poor fuel quality. Teammate Ewald Kluge had already suffered a similar defect on the third lap. In the category up to 350cc, Kurt Knopf (AJS) and Roland Schnell (Horex) only finished 12th and 16th, 2 laps behind Norton ace Geoff Duke. Werner Mazanec with P17 on AJS should not be forgotten at this point.

The classification of the 250 cm³ Swiss Grand Prix with 6th place and thus the historic first World Cup point for Germany for Moto-Guzzi private rider Gotthilf Gehring, as well as Horex works rider Hermann Gablenz two places behind. Before the war, he had already been victorious with DKW at the Schottenring and the infamous Nürburgring Nord-Loop and in 1950 he became German 250cc champion on Parilla. In the same year, the native of Weingarten in Baden also won the quarter-liter class race at the old Sachsenring after several post-war victories.
Sectional drawing of an NSU engine – of course the German brand and its pilots hoped for its high competitiveness. Apparently only the German Grand Prix should show what the situation is. In the first half of the season, one could not expect to get the answer to this question. The race on the Solitude near Stuttgart for the first German GP was only on the calendar in July as the fifth of only 8 rounds of the motorcycle world championship. It would take until 1961 before the Argentine Grand Prix went overseas for the first time and more than 10 rounds were planned with 11.

The premier class and sidecar at the Swiss GP

BMW had decided not to take part in the Grand Prix near Bern and instead took part in the ISDT (International Six Days of Trial). For this reason, it was little surprise that only Horex private driver Schön appeared in the classification with at least 10th place. While Friedel at least saw the finish, he was even lucky in misfortune when, lying in P8, he had to give way to two opponents despite valve damage in the cylinder head and at least saw the checkered flag. He was luckier than his two compatriots Siegfried Wunsch (DKW), who had to retire on lap 11 after a strong run in the 350cc race, and Hans Baltisberger (AJS), who had to retire on lap 11. Among the teams, it was Franz Möhr who crossed the finish line with passenger Günter Müller in a private BMW ahead of Fritz and Marie Mühlemann (Triumph) in 8th place. Hermann Böhm and Karl Fuchs in P11 and Franz Vaasen with passenger Walter Viesler (all Norton) in 14th place rounded off the pointless German record in the sidecars before the second round on the Isle of Man awaited the World Championship pilots.

Roland Schnell’s new self-built Horex was not yet successful in Bern with 16th place, but at the penultimate round of the World Championship in Monza things were to look completely different for the German. After all, he won the German championship up to 350 cm³ in 1952 and even beat the pilots on private AJS and Norton at the Eilenriede race in Hanover’s city forest on June 19th. The next season, the inventor even founded a company in Karlsruhe to produce a small series and attract various compatriots such as Friedel Schön, H.P. Müller, Robert Zeller, Karl Racheschneck and Fritz plaintiff were then among his customers.

World Championship round 2 with the Tourist Trophy in good weather conditions

On May 25, 1952, one of the dress rehearsals for the German Grand Prix on the Solitude took place at the old Nürburgring in Germany. None of the factory teams and none of the top drivers made the expensive trip to the Isle of Man at the time. Only a few Italians disrupted the British phalanx and those from sister countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The Englishman Cecil Sandford caused a small sensation in the smallest class up to 125cc, who was able to beat the reigning world champion Carlo Ubbiali and his FB-Mondial team-mates with a private MV Agusta provided by Leslie Graham. This time the British clearly dominated and in the 350cc class, Geoff Duke won despite a cramp in his right foot for almost two hours. After his victory, the local hero, with his usual English humor, simply said: “It was a pretty uneventful race.”

The new MV Agusta 125 with a single-cylinder engine was about to overtake the established FB-Mondial in 1952. With the Englishman Cecil Sandford as TT winner in the eight-liter class (with a new lap and distance record in the ultra-lightweight category) and his factory colleague Angelo Copeta in P5, the start of the season was perfect. The reigning world champion Carlo Ubbiali (FB-Mondial) had to admit defeat in second place, see his deficit in our results overview below.

British dominance in all categories – but only on results paper

Without a misunderstanding with his scoreboard, at least the lightweight victory (up to 250 cc) must go to the Italian Bruno Ruffo. However, this bad luck cost the lead, already three-time world champion (1949 and 1951 up to 250cc, and 1950 up to 125cc) his first TT triumph in the final lap. It was only with a lot of luck that Reginald Armstrong won the Senior TT (up to 500cc) after his chain broke while passing the checkered flag. As in Bern, unsurprisingly, a fatal accident overshadowed the weekend at the TT. Norton private driver Frank W. Fry crashed during training on the dangerous Snaefell Course at Westwood Corner and died of his serious injuries two days later. The Englishman was the 38th tragic victim of the Tourist Trophy, with far too many more to come. Last year there were four pilots, John Simister, John Pat O’Driscoll, John Thomas Wenman and Chris Horn, who lost their lives on the TT.

Bill Lomas (England, left in the picture) at Governor-Bridge and the Australian Rod Coleman (right, both on AJS). They placed in the top 5 in the Senior and Junior TT and Coleman even took a podium for his mark ahead of Lomas in the Junior TT in the 350s. The 350cc A.J.S., introduced in 1949. The 7R “Boy-Racer” would prove to be one of the most successful racing machines in the world until production stopped in 1961.
Our results overview of all solo classes at the TT from 1951 with some surprising results.
The majority of German pilots took part in races such as the championship round on the Feldberg in the Taunus Mountains, instead of competing against the world’s best drivers in the Grand Prix environment. Of course, there were also financial reasons for this in the early post-war period. The factories were not yet quite ready to compete with international competition. But preparations were in full swing for the home race of the German Grand Prix on the Solitude.

The Dutch TT in Assen with round 3 of the World Championship

With the exception of the English dominance by Norton’s figurehead Geoff Duke in the 350cc class and an outstanding ride by repeat offender Sandford on MV Agusta, the Italians were once again heavily involved this time. In the premier class, Umberto Masetti even managed to inflict a serious defeat on series winner Geoff Duke. Only 1.2 seconds separated the two fighting cocks at the finish and the 250cc race was supposed to be even closer. Enrico Loprenzetti beat his compatriot and Moto-Guzzi factory teammate Bruno Ruffo by a tiny 0.6 seconds. With the two Englishmen Fergus Anderson and Arthur Wheeler, two more Guzzi pilots followed in the next races and only their English colleague Bill Webster on Velocette prevented a 6-fold victory for Moto-Guzzi.

The different layouts of the Dutch TT near Assen until 2006 – now called the “Cathedral of Speed”.

Competitive races in the neighboring country caused many absences

As was the case at the TT, no German rider was able to enter the classification lists in the Netherlands before the fourth round of the World Championships in neighboring Belgium. However, on the same weekend, about 180 miles away, the Eilenriede race, which was very popular at the time, took place in the city park of Hanover, where, as in the previous year, the entire country’s elite came together. In addition, no factory team from Germany had traveled to the Ardennes; instead, they were all concentrating on the German championship for the time being. Everything looked as if everyone (possibly with the exception of BMW) would only get in at the premiere for the first home GP in Stuttgart.

Start of a race of the DM (German Championship), which most of the factories and pilots in the country were still concentrating on in 1952, despite being entitled to take part in World Cup races. However, this was to change drastically in the following year and only then did the year-round entry into Grand Prix sport begin for the best Germans and their brands. At the moment, however, there was very little commitment felt in Bern, England, Assen and Belgium, at least before the German GP.
Our overview of results from the third Motorcycle Grand Prix of 1952 as part of the Dutch TT in Assen. In the meantime, it began to become apparent that, despite Geoff Duke’s exceptional driving skills, Norton was faced with overwhelming competition in the premier class from Italy. Although only narrowly beaten by Masetti in Assen, second place in the third round of the world championship was the first countable result for the factory driver of the English brand. As the reigning double world champion up to 500cc and up to 350cc, the chance of defending his title was only realistic in the smaller category.

Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps

In addition to the sidecar category, only the two largest classes up to 350 and 500cc were held on the picturesque but extremely dangerous route in the Ardennes. Fortunately, for the second time after Assen, there were no fatal accidents here either. However, some pilots died on other courses, including the 22-year-old German Horst-Wilhelm Herrmann on his 500cc Norton when he fell over the so-called ski jump on June 14, 1952 during training for the field mountain race. Only a month later, the Schottenring claimed a fatality when, on July 11th, the well-known Dutchman Leonardus “Lous” van Rijswijk, also riding a 500cc Norton, fell during training in the Winkler Curve and crashed into a bridge. Just two weeks before, he had finished eleventh in the 350cc class and took 13th place in the half-liter category as the best Dutchman here too.

Otto Daiker (NSU) as winner of the 8 liter class at the Schottenring ahead of H.P. Müller (FB-Mondial), Hubert Luttenberger, Wilhelm Hofmann (both NSU) and Karl Lottes (FB-Mondial). Geoff Duke would never forget this event, as he competed there shortly after the Belgian GP and ended up in hospital after a fall due to mistaking a curve (which is why he took it too fast). Despite its dangerous nature during the “Around Schotten” race in 1952, this course served as the venue for the German Grand Prix the following year, to the dismay of many.

Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps

In Spa, Geoff Duke won the 350s on his Norton for the third time in a row, while in the premier class he placed ahead of his brand colleague Ray Amm, but again narrowly lost out to Umberto Masetti. Englishman Tommy Wood returned to GP racing after serving his reduced license suspension at the FIM Spring Congress. After the Italian Grand Prix the previous year he was told by the C.S.I. (International Sports Commission) received a one-year ban for following a boxing rule because he slowed too obviously to allow his teammate Lorenzetti to get past him. However, this ban was lifted early shortly before the event in Spa and Tommy at least made it into the top ten after his forced break in the 350cc race.

Geoff Duke with “La Source” on the 350cc Norton during his victory ride in Spa-Francorchamps. With this time only 7 seconds ahead of his brand colleague Ray Amm (only half as much as in Assen), his third triumph in a row was much narrower than the first World Championship race in Bremgarten (53 seconds ahead of Coleman at the time). But he was still almost certain of the title in the second highest category.
After Masetti’s repeated victory before the middle of the season, the Italian took the lead in the 500cc World Championship with 16 points ahead of Duke (12) and Armstrong (11). Duke, on the other hand, with only three 350cc races left, was no longer able to defend his title thanks to the canceled result regulations. In the premier class, however, it was already clear that he would no longer compete for Norton in 1953. The 4-cylinder Gilera with its modern cylinder head with double camshaft had to be considered.
Geoff Duke (left) and his English compatriot Leslie Graham – along with Fergus Anderson, the two best riders in England in the larger classes of the fourth season of a still young motorcycle world championship. 1952 was a difficult year for the reigning double world champion Duke. Above all, he suffered a serious injury to his leg and pelvis in a fall in the 350cc race at the international race at the Schottenring on July 13th, which put him out of action for the rest of the season.

After the first half of the season – before the first German GP

While in the quarter-liter class there was a tie in the intermediate rankings between Fergus Anderson and Enrico Lorenzetti (both Moto Guzzi) with 20 points each, in the 350 series the defense of the title for Norton’s ace Geoff Duke was already secured with three laps to go. In the category up to 125cc, after only 2 of 6 races, despite two victories by World Championship leader Cecil Sandford (MV Agusta), it was still completely open after two second places by the reigning world champion Franco Ubbiali (FB-Mondial). For Gilera it looked like a changing of the guard in the premier class after two wins from Umberto Masetti. Leslie Graham on MV Agusta and Jack Brett (AJS), like defending champion Duke, were already well behind. While the race in Albi (France) on July 13, 1952 was no longer part of the world championship, everyone was excited about the first motorcycle Grand Prix of Germany that was part of the world championship at the Solitude near Stuttgart. So far, the German drivers and factories have not been able to shine, but this could definitely change.

Start of the 350cc Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps with the infamous Eau Rouge curve in the background. Unfortunately, only three out of five categories were announced on the course, which was held against a magnificent backdrop in the Ardennes. The two smallest had a break until the German GP.
Even in Germany, as can be seen here in the example of the Norisring in Nuremberg, racing took place against an impressive background. In this case, however, the tribune in the background was historically burdened, as it was originally built by a fascist dictatorship. As early as 1948, the active Motorsport Club Nuremberg raced here again, which generated enormous interest among the population.

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