Photographed by us in the NSU Museum – the cockpit of the NSU Sportmax 250. Officially the first series-production racing motorcycle used by a private driver, with which H.P. Müller won at his home Grand Prix on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring. And more than that, he even fought for the title.

Bad news before the last quarter of the season

Shortly before the Ulster Grand Prix, which took place in the second week of August, came the sad news of the fatal accident of the Spaniard Juan Bertrand Elizalde (sometimes just called Juan Bertrán). The Catalan, who was born in Barcelona in 1927, was the best local in the Spanish Grand Prix on October 3, 1954, finishing 4th in the 125s at the Spanish GP on Montesa. After finishing 6th in 125cc on his Montesa, he also took part in the 500cc race at the Circuit de San Lorenzo de Gijón. The Valencian Paco González gave him his Norton for this. Juan lost control of his motorcycle in heavy rain while trying to clean his glasses at the exit of the Piles corner on lap six. When he fell, he hit a kilometer marker and, due to the speed of more than 120 km/h, the impact was so strong that the Norton broke into two pieces. Bertrand flew upside down from his motorcycle and crashed into the pergola of a wall about 100 meters away. He died on July 31, 1955 in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Route sketch of the Dundrod Circuit from that time.

The starting position before the Ulster Grand Prix

Many decisions had been made at the beginning of August 1955, including that of world champion up to 125cc with Carlo Ubbiali on MV Agusta as the two-time title holder in this class. In addition, Bill Lomas (Moto-Guzzi) was already confirmed as the first-time champion in the 350s. In Germany, the World Championship runner-up before the last two races, August Hobl up to 350cc, had just become national champion on his DKW. In the 125cc it was Karl Lottes (MV), up to 250cc Hans Baltisberger (NSU) and in the 500cc premier class Walter Zeller on a BMW. In England, world champion Bill Lomas was also crowned national 350cc champion. In addition, John Surtees won the 500cc title on Norton and even became English champion up to 250cc on an NSU Sportmax. After Lomas had already achieved something almost superhuman at this year’s TT, when he finished all 4 Grand Prix classes in the top 7 and even claimed two victories, another triumphant week awaited him in Northern Ireland.

Our route sketch of the 12.42 kilometer long Dundrod Circuit with its key points.

The second to last 250cc Grand Prix of the season

This race brought no luck to the German H.P. “HaPe” Müller, who was fighting for the title. He tried to avoid a collision with another pilot and collided with a bale of straw, which threw the veteran far back. Nevertheless, in the end he was still able to save one last point in 6th place. It was very advantageous for the former NSU factory driver that two private drivers, John Surtees and his Irish NSU brand colleague Sammy Miller, followed by Masetti on the MV, took away important points from the most dangerous opponent in the title fight. In this respect, the Bielefeld racer benefited greatly from the fact that the NSU Sportmax production racer was so competitive. Therefore, Müller’s bad luck in the second round was easier for him to cope with because Lomas only finished fourth and with these three points he led the official interim rankings. This was wrong, but the title fight was still open, although Lomas’ 6 points from Assen were to be canceled at the end of the season. Ultimately, after the Ulster GP up to 250cc, even without this correction, it was clear that the decision about the world championship would only be made at the finale in Monza.

John Surtees with the NSU Sportmax on the way to his first Grand Prix victory, of all places with the NSU Sportmax in Northern Ireland and thus snatching important World Championship points from his compatriot Lomas.

Billy Lomas’ first prank in Northern Ireland – up to 350cc

Nobody can say how this race would have turned out if DKW had traveled to Northern Ireland with their factory team. However, taking into account the very limited resources of all the works at the time, it is understandable that they did not take the long (and expensive) journey to Belfast for their new hope, Hobl, because they had no chance of winning the title. That’s why Guzzi only had to fear English competition from AJS and Norton with Lomas, Dale and Duilio Agostini. These were not to be underestimated in their home country, but were now still a good deal inferior to the Italian motorcycles in terms of top speed (especially without fairing) and acceleration. Hartle finished a few seconds behind Lomas. Lomas started relatively slowly and quickly took the lead, despite the strong defense of his competitors, who were unable to keep up with the pace set by the new Guzzi star. Hartle, who was only 21 years old, was the most convincing along with Lomas in the 350cc race, as he was able to keep all of his opponents behind him, along with Surtees, with the exception of the winner. This was convincing across the board. Although Bill wasn’t there at the first race in Reims and was only hired by Guzzi for the TT, he had already achieved 4 wins and a second place. Unfortunately, there was a momentous crash to report during the 350cc race. Briton Julian Crossley (Norton) fell on August 11th and died in Belfast hospital eleven days later. He was a friend of the racing driver Mike Hawthorn, who became Formula 1 world champion in 1958.

Bill Lomas (Moto-Guzzi) was the shooting star of the 1955 season after he was taken on by the Italian factory following an injury to their regular driver Dickie Dale. The latter also returned in the second half of the season when he had sufficiently recovered from his car accident.

Billy Lomas’ second trick – in the premier class

Like DKW, Gilera and the reigning world champion Duke also decided not to travel. Because his only opponent Armstrong also belonged to the same factory team, they were able to afford this without endangering their superstar’s title defense. Dickie Dale, who was forced to take a long break after a car accident, was back for Gilera. But the main role in the race up to 500cc was played by Lomas, who was brought in as a replacement for him after his injury. After the start, however, the three Norton factory drivers Surtees, Hartle and Brett were initially in the lead, with the latter soon being overtaken by Lomas. On the fourteenth lap, Surtees, who was in the lead, had to go into the pits to refuel. A little later he had problems with his magneto ignition and Hartle, who was leading after his refueling stop, also had to go to the pits to refill petrol. Lomas, who was in the lead, was then able to stay ahead of Hartle and saw the checkered flag in front of him as the two-time winner of Ulster. Brett had to give up shortly before the end and Dale caught Mc Intyre, which put him in third place. The two Matchless drivers Murphy and Clark completed the points behind them.

Bill Lomas and his Moto-Guzzi were unbeatable at the Ulster Grand Prix, with the Nortons of Dale and Hartle breathing down his neck in the two larger classes. On the MV, however, things were much less successful for him in the 250s.
Our summary of the results of a round in Northern Ireland that, as is so often the case, was sparsely attended and several factory teams decided not to travel. Three weeks after the Ulster Grand Prix, the finale in Monza was on the calendar and apparently almost everyone was happy to travel there in the autumn, although many of the private pilots still taking part in Belfast were not among them, but at least the factory teams were.

Final with the Nations GP in Monza

In addition to the 250cccategory, the title fight in the premier class up to 500cc had not yet been decided, with Geoff Duke being the clear favorite in this regard. Here it was something of a fratricidal battle, as the only remaining challenger, Reg Armstrong, was his Gilera factory team colleague. Quite the opposite in the 250s, where veteran H.P. Müller, as a former DKW (before the war) and NSU factory driver, competed against the best in the world as a private pilot for the first time. With MV Agusta and Bill Lomas supported by his fast Italian teammates Ubbiali and Masetti, the German had a most difficult task ahead of him. In addition, various fast private pilots were looking for a good end to the season and also fought for points and prize money on Moto-Guzzi and NSU machines. The world championship had already been decided in the other two categories, but there too, exciting battles could be expected in the last Grand Prix of the year.

What was embarrassing in advance was that the FIM doubled down on Assen’s mistake (regarding Bill Lomas being moved back one position due to refueling with the engine running), as this report in a German magazine before the Monza weekend shows. It couldn’t have been worse and it was only late towards the end of the year that they had to meekly admit that the Englishman had been disqualified due to his violation of the current regulations and would therefore lose all of Assen’s points.
Circuit sketch of Monza from that time with the circuit used by the motorcycles in black and the integrated oval under construction in 1955 for future car races.
Start of construction work on the oval circuit in the royal park of Monza – true to the model in Indianapolis in the USA. With gradients of up to 80%, “safe” speeds of around 300 km/h were promised. Such constructs also emerged in Japan, while in Berlin, discussions about dismantling the Avus, built in 1921 (the banked north curve was not built until 1937), were the first permanent race track in the world. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the steep wall curve was demolished.

The start with the Italian gala performance up to 125cc

At 9:30 a.m. the 24 drivers set off for the 33rd Nations Grand Prix in Monza, which has had the status of a World Championship round since 1949. DKW took part in a 125cc World Championship race for the first time with their best drivers and the latest factory machines. Of course, the Italians on their MV Agusta and FB-Mondial were the favorites. At the start, the small Swiss Taveri (MV) led ahead of his brand colleagues Venturi and Sala, before Ubbiali was already in the lead from the first lap. Two laps later, the leader and newly crowned world champion from Bergamo since Assen had already pulled away slightly from his pursuers. A little later, Ferri had to give up and Taveri also ended the race early in his pits. Provini was now Ubbiali’s first pursuer and his lead was only two and a half seconds on lap 5 of 18. Two laps later, Provini also had to head for the pits, then continued in P6 again before stopping again and finally having to give up. Afterwards, the positions were largely taken and Ubbiali achieved a clear victory ahead of his compatriots and teammates Venturi and Copeta. Behind them, Hobl and “Sissi” Wünsche on the surprisingly fast DKW two-stroke engines, ahead of Gampanelli on the best FB-Mondial. With Karl Lottes and Willi Scheidhauer behind Guido Sala (all MV), other German pilots made it into the top ten.

DKW had retrofitted and was immediately successful with the new 125, right next to it the 350cc 3-cylinder two-stroke machine.
The adventurous casing of the FB-Mondial was of very little use against the faster MV Agusta and DKW machines and their pilots.

The supposed decision in the 250cc class

H.P. Müller, or as he was often called, the racing tiger got off to a miserable start and was therefore 20 seconds behind on his NSU Sportmax. According to the supposed state of things (due to the still incorrect intermediate rankings, without the correction of Lomas’ result), Müller should have won and Lomas could have finished at most third in order to become world champion. However, left to his own devices, he had little chance of doing so. That day the heat was almost unbearable and Lomas followed him like a shadow, which was the only right thing to do at the time. Behind Ubbiali (MV), Baltisberger and Miller (both NSU), H.P. ultimately achieved an excellent fourth place ahead of Lomas and Masetti (both MV). The Englishman was then celebrated as the new world champion, but his joy was only to last a few weeks. After re-assessing the situation, the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) of the FIM finally came to the conclusion that Lomas had to be disqualified for his refueling stop with the engine running and remain without points, as the regulations clearly stated.

The German Hans Baltisberger ahead of the Irishman Sammy Miller (both NSU private drivers) and the eventual winner and local hero Carlo Ubbiali (factory MV Agusta).
Hermann Paul (called “HaPe” or “Renntiger” = race tiger) Müller on his private FB-Mondial in the 1951 season. For more about the first world champion as a private driver, see “History – Driver” on this page. After a 25-year career as a top driver and countless racing victories (even in over 500 hp Auto Union racing cars shortly before the war), he achieved his final crowning achievement at the end of his career.

The Grand Prix of Nations up to 350 ccc

Before the start, almost everyone was just wondering in which order 4 factory Guzzis should arrive at the finish. With Kavanagh, the new world champion Lomas, Duilio Agostini and Dale, the manufacturer based in Mandello del Lario on Lake Como had four of the strongest factory drivers of the time under contract. Founded in 1921, 70 years later the company will be the oldest continuously producing motorcycle manufacturer in Europe. In any case, no one seriously expected the DKW people stationed in Ingolstadt after the Second World War. But the young Hobl in particular was able to keep up surprisingly well on the fast 3-cylinder two-stroke engine as the only one of the 21 remaining pilots. Thanks to a sensationally good start, the German was in the lead right from the start and held this position until lap 4. It was only in the next round that Lomas caught up with him and his teammates Agostini and Dale followed closely behind. After that, Lomas was able to pull away a little and Hobl gradually lost ground until, on lap 10, he fell back from 27 to 3rd ahead of Kavanagh and Agostini had to retire. There were now only 7 pilots on the same lap and nine laps later there were only six. In the end there was a photo finish for the win between Dale in first and Lomas just a tenth behind, with Kavanagh completing the podium by a respectable margin. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it finale between Hobl and Guzzi private pilot Lorenzetti, the 250cc world champion from 1952 (on Moto-Guzzi) and “Gustl”, which went to the Italian by the narrowest of margins. Private driver Colombo on another Guzzi came sixth ahead of the two Germans Hallmeier (NSU) and “Sissi” Wunsch (factory DKW).

Hans Baltisberger with his NSU Sportmax, which he also used very successfully in the 350cc class after being slightly drilled out. It’s hard to imagine how successful the works team from Neckarsulm would have been if they had carried out their plans from the summer of 1954 and also taken part in the World Cup up to 350cc from 1952!
Of course, on the ultra-fast route in the city park of Monza, everyone drove with full casing that was far too voluminous for today’s standards. Fortunately, a year after Rupert Hollaus’ tragic accident during training, there were no fatalities this time. Unfortunately, this was not to remain the case for the next few years and decades.

The decisive race of the 500cc class

After many years of dominance by Gilera, perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend occurred in the premier class. For the reigning world champion Geoff Duke it was about defending his title and at most Reg Armstrong could pose a threat to him in the finale in Monza. Only at the very last moment did Gilera decide not to use their new 8-cylinder engine. After the first lap, Forconi was in the lead ahead of Bandirola (both MV), Duke, Armstrong, Liberati (all Gilera) and Masetti (MV). One round later, the reigning world champion was leading Bandirola, who crashed a short time later. Forconi had to retire with technical problems and after 24 of 35 laps, Duke, Masetti, Armstrong and Colnago were in the lead. behind him with a respectful distance Milani. Everyone else was already lapped. A little later, the comfortably leading Duke had problems, which the Englishman also signaled as he drove past his pit box. With ten laps to go, things got tight for the superstar and his initial lead of almost half a minute melted away. In the end, to the delight of the Italian audience, it was Masetti who took the surprise win for MV thanks to Duke’s bad luck. Maybe 5 meters behind Armstrong and 20 more Duke than now six-time world champion.

Start of the last premier class race of the season in the Royal Park of Monza, on one of the few permanent race tracks in the calendar at the time. The day Geoffrey “Geoff” Duke was crowned motorcycle world champion for the sixth and final time.
Our summary, with only a few of the most prominent failure victims in the premier class, after the list was around twice as long as that of the pilots who reached the finish.
Of course, the Moto-Guzzi V8, which was already driven for test purposes in training at Spa-Francorchamps, but was not scheduled to be used in a race until next season, caused a huge response.

The conclusion of the 1955 season

After the wrong world champion, Bill Lomas, was first proclaimed and celebrated, it was only in its year-end meeting that the FIM realized what mistake those responsible had made at the Dutch TT. It should by no means be their last capital mistake. In the end it didn’t matter to Hermann Paul Müller and thanks to him, NSU was able to celebrate another title for one of their machines a year after their factory retirement. For Bill Lomas on the other hand it was certainly something to cope with after the English sonny boy became world champion up to 350cc and with the runner-up title behind H.P. Müller went down in history anyway and would continue to be highly successful the following year. While Ubbiali still had several titles ahead of him after his second 125cc, Geoff Duke, as the fastest man in the first post-war years, should have reached the end of the line. With three titles each up to 350 and 500 cc, the man from the Isle of Man went down in history as a racing legend.

At the end of the year, Hermann Paul Müller, a thoroughbred racing driver, retired who had often been his own mechanic and would probably have had an even more successful career as a racer without the senseless war. But becoming the first private driver to become world champion at the age of 45 is probably proof enough for eternity of his extraordinary skills and the tenacity that always characterizes the best in sport history.

The 1955 season in numbers – our statistics

Our summary with the version finally corrected several weeks after the end of the season, in which Lomas, as the regulations stipulated, received no points for Assen and was even third in the end. After Monza, he was proclaimed double world champion up to 350 and 250 cc, England’s shooting star had to be content with one title. Müller’s crowning achievement was historic for two reasons: he was the first private rider to become world champion on a commercial machine. Previously, only factory riders had fought for the title.

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