Tragedy at the penultimate GP of the season
The Royal Park of Monza was one of the rare permanent race tracks in the 1950s. To be precise in the motorcycle world championship, it was currently the only one on the calendar. All other races took place on public roads, but that didn’t make Monza any less dangerous. On August 26, 1951, Luigi Alberti, who had just been hired by Guzzi as a works and test driver and was considered a great talent, had a fatal accident here during training. This time it hit a much more prominent racing driver who had just become world champion up to 125 cc and had already arrived as a 5-time Grand Prix winner (one of them shortly before in the 250cc in Bern, the other four in the 125cc in a row). was. Rupert Hollaus had an accident due to a slight driving error and with any other pilot this accident would probably have been minor. For the Austrian, however, a light blow to the head was enough to lose his life. The Lower Austrian, born on September 4th, 1931 in Traisen (south of Sankt Pölten), had only just turned 23 when he died in the Lesmo curve on September 11th, 1954. He was to be followed by other victims in Monza and 16 years later in automobile racing, with Jochen Rindt (who was actually born German) another shooting star from his country.
NSU’s waiver – in both smaller classes
Shocked by the bad news from their figurehead at Rennfox, NSU decided not to take part in both categories. An extremely rare gesture of respect and sympathy at the time, and even decades later, in the face of this tragedy that shocked the sports world and the entire country. Against this background, the results in the smaller two classes were of course no longer of any serious importance. The Italians from MV Agusta, who were defeated in the title fight, and all the participating private drivers remained among themselves. With the exception of Carlo Ubbiali, who was named runner-up world champion after the Grand Prix of Nations with third place up to 125cc, none of the pilots who finished in the points had previously reached the top six in this category. Similar with the 250s, where this was true for half and the world championship had also been decided long before that. The German Georg Braun also had a lot of bad luck this time after a sensational second place in Bern. He sat on his NSU breathing down the neck of the eventual winner Wheeler (Guzzi) before he had to give up when the footrest came loose. In the end, in both smaller classes, various names appeared in the top six who had never scored points before. Rupert Hollaus became the first rider in history to be posthumously declared 125cc champion. At the time, no one could have guessed that the NSU factory team would be attending a Grand Prix for the last time.
The title decision in the 350cc class
After the start, as expected, the four Moto-Guzzi factory pilots Anderson, Kavanagh, Lorenzetti and Duilio Agostini led. Ray Amm followed with a large respectable distance on the single-cylinder Norton, which was vastly inferior, especially at top speed. Fergus Anderson, who was defeated by Enrico Lorenzetti at the same venue last year, took revenge on the Italian this time. He took the lead at exactly the right moment and won his third race within four laps after Assen and Bern, having only not seen the checkered flag since the summer at the German GP at Solitude. The Scot became the second defending champion after Werner Haas in the 250s. Becoming world champion for the second time was clearly the highlight of his career before he lost his life at the age of 47 in a race in Namur (Belgium) in 1956. After the disappointing fifth place, Ray Amm still had to fear for the runner-up position, as both Rod Coleman (AJS) and Guzzi factory driver Lorenzetti could still pose a threat to the Rhodesian. According to official figures, around half a million spectators were present.
The undisputed king crowned himself again up to 500cc
After his failure at the opener in Reims, France, and second place in the half-liter race at the TT, which was canceled in fog, superstar Geoff Duke won all four of the following races. For this reason, the question of who was the favorite for the GP of Nations in the premier class did not arise before the start. Gilera, like its competitors from MV Agusta and BMW, had experimented with different fairings and continued this in Monza. Defending champion Duke might even have won without a fairing, but of course Gilera preferred not to leave anything to chance despite the superior performance of its 4-cylinder engine. As expected, Geoff Duke, with Masetti in tow, pulled away from the rest of the field from lap 4 onwards. With a lap average of 182 km/h, the Englishman literally shattered the record set by Les Graham († on June 12, 1953 at the TT) from 1952 and was a full 8 km/h faster. Geoff, who came from the Isle of Man, was barely slower than the fastest racing cars of the time. In the end, Duke won overwhelmingly and didn’t give Umberto Masetti, his first pursuer, a chance. Behind the Italian were Bandirola, Dale (both MV), Armstrong (Gilera), Kavanagh on the best Moto-Guzzi and Ray Amm in seventh place with no points on the hopeless Norton single-cylinder. Duke was world champion again.
The final round of the World Cup – with many absentees
Despite the regulations at the time with the cancellation results supporting the tension, this time, as in the previous year, there was no title decision in Catalonia at the final in the Montjuic city park in Barcelona. Despite reports to the contrary, Werner Haas should not compete for the Italians next year, nor as a private driver with NSU factory equipment from 1954. But let’s dedicate ourselves here in a short version to the events in Barcelona, which did not cause particularly big waves due to numerous absences threw. Without the 250cc category and the participation of the factory teams from Gilera, NSU and MV Agusta, the story of the 125cc class race is quickly told. Tarquinio Provini, who is only 21 years old, took his first Grand Prix victory on FB-Mondial after second place in Monza before Colombo (MV). Already one lap back, the Spaniard Elizalde (Montesa) followed along with Juan Bertrán, Paragues and Corsin, three colleagues from their own country who were largely unknown abroad. Two of them ended up two laps behind the winner.
Little tension even in the larger two classes
Repeat offender Fergus Anderson completed the hat trick after Bern and Monza and, including his victory in Assen, was now, like Hollaus, a four-time category winner. Because Gilera and MV specifically boycotted participation in Spain due to the protectionist import restrictions on foreign companies and manufacturers, the Englishman was one of only a few international stars there with Guzzi brand colleague Agostini. The latter came second ahead of John Grace from Gibraltar with his private Norton. The German privateer Georg Braun took fourth place on his NSU 250 Rennmax ahead of Bob Matthews (Northern Ireland, Velocette) and the Belgian Goffin (Norton). In the 500s, Dickie Dale took victory on his MV ahead of Kavangh (Guzzi). Behind them are Nello Pagani (MV), Tommy Wood (Norton), Goffin and Harold Clark (both Norton).
Scandalous behavior by the FIM damaged the sport
At a manufacturers’ meeting in London on November 15, the English and German manufacturers threatened to withdraw from the world championship if the FIM stopped listening to them. In this case, however, the Italians spoke of reducing their commitment if the highest motorsport authorities did not give in. The FIM’s behavior was particularly scandalous in another case. Fergus Anderson, the 1954 350cc world champion, was banned indefinitely “for actions that would be detrimental to the sport and the FIM.” In 1953 he returned his world championship medal to the FIM; some of his articles in the magazine “Motor Cycle” were obviously offended by the autocratic masters of the FIM. Anderson subsequently appealed this suspension and was unsurprisingly successful at a meeting with the CSI as an appeals body in December. Fergus Anderson subsequently announced his retirement as a driver and was appointed head of the Guzzi team by his previous Italian team. For the FIM, which lost in this dispute, it was by no means the last scandal that they allowed themselves to incur. Even decades later, the officials did not cover themselves with glory and repeatedly caused displeasure with sometimes extremely questionable, unfair and idiosyncratic decisions.
The 1954 season in numbers – our summary of the results
The beginning of the end of a high flight
At the time of the Swiss Grand Prix, NSU publicly announced its entry into the 350cc class. But possibly due to the tragic events in Monza, as well as the missed sales targets for 1954, the factory team of the famous Neckarsulm company unexpectedly resigned. Although drivers like old master H.P. Müller will keep their machines so that they can compete with them next season. But apart from him, none of the grandiose quartet, one of whom did not survive, was to benefit from it in the long term. Werner Haas ended his career and fate was not to be kind to Hans Baltisberger in the summer of 1956. The consequences of NSU’s withdrawal for motorcycle racing in Germany were fatal. Even today it is still almost unbelievable how suddenly the interest in the media almost evaporated into thin air. The very same media that had recently celebrated the German triumphs with several pages of illustrations only rarely mentioned motorcycle racing shortly afterwards. As a rule, from then on, even the most magnificent achievements or deaths only found space in marginal notes.
NSU’s quiet withdrawal from the World Cup
The fact that NSU did not travel to Barcelona with its factory pilots did not worry anyone at the time. Towards the end of the year, however, there was news of “a temporary withdrawal”, with the intention of an alleged return at a later date. However, nothing came of this and because sales of motorcycles and scooters in Germany fell significantly from the mid-1950s onwards, NSU was even supposed to stop production of motorized two-wheelers completely in 1963. Initially, the Neckarsulm brand still benefited enormously from its sporting successes . In 1955, NSU was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world with 300,000 motorcycles sold and 6,600 employees. Before the Second World War, in the 1930s, this was still DKW, which was based in Zschopau in Saxony. There, the GDR brand IFA (later renamed MZ) emerged from the rubble after the war, which dared to restart with DKW technology in the only building that was not bombed out. They also ventured into racing and in the years from 1955 onwards they will appear more and more frequently in our Grand Prix history. We looked at the NSU exhibition in the Neckarsulm Museum shortly before the end of 2023 and can only recommend it to everyone, also because many motorcycles from other manufacturers are also on display here.
Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© MotoGP).