The NSU Rennmax 250, recently photographed by us in the NSU Museum in Neckarsulm, with which Werner Haas successfully defended his 250 cc world championship title in 1955. After the German manufacturer, which had only been admitted to the World Cup again since 1952, had initially (in the summer of 1954) announced that it would enter the category up to 350cc for the following year, the factory unexpectedly withdrew from Grand Prix racing towards the end of the season.

The fourth season with German participation

After the first three years of the World Championship from 1949 onwards seemed more like an international match between Italy and England, things became much more interesting from 1952 onwards. The most successful nation and its pilots in the last years before the Second World War brought in factories such as BMW, DKW and NSU, of which the latter brand in particular had completely turned the pecking order in the two smallest categories upside down within a year. NSU dominated up to 125 and 250 cc from 1953, just a year after two first World Cup participations, almost at will. But after the tragic accidental death of their figurehead in the smallest class, the Austrian Rupert Hollaus, the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer from Neckarsulm decided to take a break from racing. The official reason was that they wanted to use the capacities previously used in sports to develop and manufacture commercial machines. However, after a year or two, the initially promised return would no longer come to fruition. In addition to NSU, Horex also decided to withdraw from the World Championship at the end of 1954 (after their rather modest commitment at the factory).

The NSU Sportmax was the replica of the Rennmax that was available for private drivers from 1955, with optimized full casing, as used by the former NSU factory pilots Hans Baltisberger and veteran H.P. Müller was appointed. However, these two received parts of the Rennmax and support from the factory.
Since 1954 at the latest, the topic of aerodynamics had begun to visually influence Grand Prix racing and this Baumm record vehicle from NSU and its successors were on everyone’s lips at the time. Thanks to its drag coefficient of 0.17, there is no need to shy away from comparison with modern vehicles even today.
The designer of the world record vehicles was the brilliant Gustav Adolf Baumm, who died during a test drive on May 23, 1955. Just a few days before, he and the NSU team had celebrated new records.

Various changes and retirements from racing in the 1955 season
Werner Haas, who was shocked by Hollau’s death as a three-time world champion for NSU, ultimately decided to resign and a year later only old master H.P. remained of the four musketeers. Müller and Hans Baltisberger remain. They competed with the previous year’s machines, which were given to them by NSU, and their success in 1955 was certainly impressive. Below are the factory teams named for the new season after Adler also withdrew. In principle, this also applied to the manufacturers Norton and AJS/Matchless, which were united under the AMC brand. In the World Championship they should only take part in the TT and the Ulster GP. With FB-Mondial there was a prominent returnee, while of the Germans, along with Adler and NSU, Horex also no longer took part. At Moto-Guzzi there was a man, the two-time 350 cc world champion Fergus Anderson, who had resigned to the second row and was now team boss for the Italians. So there would definitely be a new title holder except for the premier class up to 500 cm³, while Gilera ace Geoff Duke remained the clear favorite there as the reigning world champion. With Nello Pagani as race director at MV Agusta, a former pilot also came into the same position as Anderson, but he was to resign from Guzzi after just one season.

Our summary of the factory teams officially named at the start of the season, now without the two-time world champions NSU (up to 125 and 250cc), thus foregoing the title defense. At least that was everyone’s opinion after the German manufacturer’s withdrawal was announced. It could not have been expected that even private drivers would continue to be at the forefront, at least with their 250cc Rennmax. However, the fact that MV Agusta was the only factory team remaining in the second smallest category was alarming.
The “International Rhine Cup” on 7/8. May 1955 was something of a dress rehearsal for the world championship season, and not just for the German pilots. International stars such as Carlo Ubbiali, Fergus Anderson, Ken Kavanagh and many others often performed here. This time superstar Geoff Duke was also at the start with his Gilera and won the 500 cc race with a lead of over 2 minutes over the Australian Ken Kavanagh (Moto-Guzzi).
The 350cc Guzzi from 1955, with which Kavanagh won the internationally advertised season opener for the German Championship in Dieburg two weeks before the Hockenheim race in Dieburg ahead of Gustl Hobl (DKW) and the Belgian Auguste Goffin (Norton). Fergus Anderson won the title with the previous bike last year before stepping down to become team boss for the Italians.

Sad news before the start in Spain

William Raymond “Ray” Amm, one of the most popular racing drivers of that time, had a fatal accident on April 11, 1955 at the “Conchiglia d’Oro”, the Shell Gold Cup in Imola. The Rhodesian (today’s Zimbabwe) fell in the Curva Rivazza in the 350 cc race and lost his helmet, whereupon he died on the spot. That’s why he was sorely missed by many when, like before in 1951, the season began in Barcelona for only the second time. As is so often the case, this did not apply to all classes in Catalonia; in Barcelona only the 125 and 500cc, as well as the sidecars, were advertised. For this reason, none of the teams from England and Germany were at the start. With only 8 rounds this time instead of last year’s nine, only the premier class up to 500cc was on the calendar at every event. This would become worryingly thin just a year later, when, as in the first two years of 1949 and 50, it would only consist of 6 rounds.

William Raymond “Ray” Amm had a fatal accident during his debut on the 350 cc four-cylinder MV Agusta in Imola. The long-time globetrotter from Salisbury in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) fell in the Curva Rivazza and lost his helmet.
A photo of the “Shell Gold Cup” in Imola – a route that would unfortunately later claim many, sometimes prominent, victims. Decades later, Brazil’s national idol, Ayrton Senna, died here in Formula 1.
Route sketch of the Montjuic Park Circuit on the southern outskirts of Barcelona.

The 125cc class race with a new winner
Last year, the Swiss Luigi Taveri, who comes from Italy, was able to impress in some races (up to 125 and 500 cc). That’s why MV Agusta signed him for 1955 and the young man thanked them for it at the first opportunity. He immediately beat all the Italians, including his teammates Ubbiali and Copeta, as well as the FB-Mondial factory riders. This was to be the foundation for a career with many highlights, which he would achieve in later years on a completely different make. In any case, Carlo Ubbiali, as the 125 cc world champion in 1951, obviously had an equal teammate at MV in Taveri. Nevertheless, after NSU’s withdrawal, the starting position for the Italian was much better to finally be able to win the next title four years after his first title. As third behind FB-Mondial figurehead Romolo Ferri and ahead of his factory team colleague Lattanzi, Carlo could certainly hope for a good season. The honor of the Spaniards in their home race was saved by Marcelo Cama on the Montesa in sixth place behind Copeta (MV) and ahead of 4 other Spaniards. Last place was the German Willi Scheidhauer on his private MV Agusta.

Aerial view of Montjuic Park with a view of the Catalan metropolis of Barcelona and the harbor on the right in the background.
Luigi Taveri made a perfect debut at the season opener and his debut for the MV Agusta factory team. But within the team he had a very experienced and fast colleague in Carlo Ubbiali, who from now on had to be beaten. The big time for the little Swiss was to come anyway, but as he couldn’t have known at the time, on a very different make and a few years later. But he should never forget his first Grand Prix victory in Barcelona for the rest of his life.

Favorites’ bad luck in the premier class

Due to ignition problems, reigning world champion Geoff Duke had to park his Gilera far too early. However, his Gilera factory team colleague Reginald Armstrong kept the MV drivers Bandirola and Masetti safely at bay and won by more than half a minute. In a race with many failures, only 8 pilots saw the checkered flag and with Valdinocci ahead of his compatriots Pagani and Forconi, a previously internationally unknown Italian brought his private Gilera to the finish line in 4th place ahead of two other MV Agusta pilots. Behind the factory Gilera driver Giuseppe Colnago, who, like Duke, was also unlucky in P7, Alfredo Flores, a Spaniard, still took 8th place, although like the Italian before him, a considerable 2 laps behind the winner from Ireland. Before the French GP continued two weeks later for at least three of the four solo classes, there was a rather surprising leader in the intermediate rankings in both categories held in Spain.

Reginald “Reg” Armstrong (front left in the picture) had remained winless in the World Championship the previous year before he won his sixth Grand Prix in Barcelona and his third in the 500cc category. In the 1952 season he was on the top podium three times on Norton (2 in the 350s and once in the premier class), and a year later at the Ulster Grand Prix and in Bern for NSU up to 250 cc.
Our summary of the results exceptionally for this time with those who were canceled. Dickie Dale and Francisco González went off the track in the 500s, John Grace from Gibraltar fell, Guzzi ace Ken Kavanagh was injured and his factory team colleague Duilio Agostini had an accident. FB Mondial hope Tarquinio Provini also crashed in the 125cc race, meaning the Italian lost valuable points right at the start of the season.

World Championship round two with the French Grand Prix

Provini had completed the smallest class up to 125 cc on his FB-Mondial when he circled the route with a time of 3:26.6 and an hourly average of 144.657 km/h. However, the two MV aces Taveri and Ubbiali were just behind and it was the little Swiss who initially took the lead after the start. Provini, on the other hand, was initially very far behind and chased after the leading trio consisting of the leading Ubbiali, Ferri and Taveri from lap two. In the fourth round, Ferri was in the lead on the Mondial, which the two MV pilots Ubbiali and Taveri were no longer able to follow, who, completely unleashed, set a new lap record several times. But on the penultimate lap 11, Ferri’s FB-Mondial stopped running smoothly and he ultimately fell back to P6 by the finish. Ubbiali took an easy victory, followed by MV teammate Taveri and Lattanzi on the best Mondial. Behind them are Provini and Copeta, as well as the unlucky Ferri. The German private pilot Krebs on his private FB-Mondial followed, already 2 laps behind the MV private riders Webster, Kronmüller and Scheidhauer.

Route sketch of the Reims course, which replaced Rouen after 1953. It’s almost impossible to have many fewer curves than here.

Rainy first 350 race of the season

Strong winds and rain were not good conditions for the 350cc race in Reims, when the three Moto-Guzzi pilots Dale, Kavanagh and Colombo took the lead after the start. Initially handicapped by some distance, Agostini began to make up ground on his Guzzi teammates. It took seven laps for the Italian to get to the front group, just as Ken Kavanagh dropped out. Colombo, who was still sitting on a two-year-old Guzzi, couldn’t quite follow Dale and Agostini and missed the connection with them. However, it was not Dickie Dale, who had been leading for a long time, who ultimately won the race; it was Duilio Agostini who crossed the checkered flag first, ahead of the Englishman. Behind Colombo, who completed the podium, the Belgian Goffin (Norton) followed in P3 ahead of Murphy (AJS) and the Frenchman Collon, also with a private Norton. Moto-Guzzi was the only factory team that took part, meaning they shared the podium between themselves despite Kavanagh’s failure.

Due to the lack of fall space, the races were particularly dangerous in wet conditions at the time. A tiny mistake could be fatal in an instant.
There was always dead silence before the push start. In 1955 it would be another 32 years before the engine started running for safety reasons.

Clear favourite victory in the premier class

Four works motorcycles were fielded by Gilera, ridden by Geoff Duke, Libero Liberati, Reginald “Reg” Armstrong and local hero Pierre Monneret. These four initially dominated the race, with the reigning world champion able to pull away from his pursuers early on. On the twenty-fourth lap, the fastest local driver was unlucky on the less demanding course when Monneret, lying in second position, broke his chain and therefore fell hopelessly behind. The Belgian Goffin had to give up and Bandirola was eliminated due to a fall. Behind the winner Duke, Liberati and Armstrong arrived at the finish, while Forconi on the best MV Agusta crossed the finish line one lap behind the Frenchman Collon and the Belgian Dauwe (both Norton). After only two of eight rounds, Armstrong was leading with 12 points, ahead of Duke (8), Bandirola and Liberati (6 each), Masetti and Forconi with 4 points each in the interim standings.

As in the previous year, Geoff Duke (Gilera) was initially forced to catch up as defending champion due to his failure in the first round (1954 in Reims, where he won).

Before continuing with round 3 on the Isle of Man

With the Tourist Trophy on the infamous Snaefell Circuit, which is over 60 kilometers long, a much more demanding task awaited the pilots. Above all, all classes were finally at the start, with the two smaller categories up to 125 and 250cc competing on the much shorter Clypse Course. However, many of the pilots from continental Europe did not even make the trip to the island because of the long and expensive journey. Conversely, it has been the case for many English people for years that they had no desire to compete in races on the continent before the TT. With significantly fewer than 10 World Championship rounds since 1949, this of course had a significant influence on the overall ranking. In 1955 there were at least eight rounds left on the calendar, but a season later there would only be a paltry six. This was particularly due to the modest financial resources of the teams and private pilots so shortly after the Second World War.

Brief exchange of ideas between Geoff Duke (left) and Pierre Monneret before the start – an image that would be so completely unthinkable decades later.

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