Ernst Degner in front of Horst Fügner in the rain on their fully boarded MZ from Tschopau in Saxony. This image would finally disappear at the end of the 1957 season. The FIM, which was responsible for abolishing the bulky and dangerous aerodynamic aids, had stood by for years until they were able to come up with new regulations for the coming year, which primarily served safety purposes.

The last third of the season began in Northern Ireland with Round 5

A season with countless injuries and far too many deaths was coming to an end with the last two World Championship events. Traditionally, the smallest classes in Belfast were only very sparsely populated and if some pilots dropped out, it was not uncommon for not all of the points to be awarded for the top 6 ranks at the time. In 1950 only two riders reached the finish and two years later three in the 125s. Of all people, the man who stood at the top of the podium in 1952 dropped out this time and so only six of the seven drivers who started saw the checkered flag. We’re talking about Cecil Sandford, the unlucky guy in the smallest category. On the 11.32 kilometer long Dundrod Circuit, known as the driver’s course, only 10 laps had to be completed in the smallest category.

Route sketch from the 1950s of the Dundrod Circuit near Belfast, held on public roads.

The category up to 125 cc with a Swiss winner

It was Venturi who got off to the best start ahead of his MV factory team colleagues Taveri and Chadwick. Behind them were Miller, Sandford and Provini with the favored FB-Mondial, which produced around 18 hp at 12,000 rpm and weighed around 115 kg. After the first lap, Taveri led Venturi, Miller and Chadwick. Three laps later, Taveri was still in the lead, followed by Venturi, Chadwick and Sandford, while Miller had dropped to P8 after changing his leaky tank. At halftime, Provini was in P3. With two laps to go, Sandford dropped out and so there was a three-way fight for victory, which the Swiss won by a narrow margin ahead of the two Italians. Behind Chadwick and in front of MV private driver Webster, Miller ultimately made it into the points with fifth place.

The 125cc FB-Mondial was more than equal to the MV Agusta in the 1957 season. After finishing second in the opening race at the rainy Hockenheimring, Provini won three races in a row with it. Although Northern Ireland suffered a narrow defeat against the resurgent MV pilot Taveri, they were only one second behind and the Italian daredevil was declared the new world champion for the first time in his short career.
Tarquinio Provini (FB-Mondial) at the goal of his dreams, as the new world champion up to 125cc for 1957.

The rainy second-to-last 250cc race of the season

Shortly before the start it rained, which was no problem for Sandford as a specialist in wet conditions and the Englishman immediately took the lead. Behind them were Venturi and Taveri as the next pursuers. After the first of 12 laps, the leader had already pulled away a bit and behind Taveri was Chadwick, who had caught Venturi, followed by Miller and Provini. Sandford was in the lead unchallenged and was not deterred by the loss of his rear fairing. Taveri had to pit briefly and then returned to the track in sixth place. A little later, Miller retired and Provini lost all chances of a top position due to a spark plug change. Chadwick made it to second place, a minute behind Sandford, before the checkered flag waved, followed by Robb, Brown and Andrews on private NSU Sportmax. The last championship point went to Hodgins on Velocette. And the most important thing in the end was that Cecil Sandford had already won the second title of his career, this time in the quarter-liter class. He had never won a race since his world cup year in 1952 on an MV Agusta 125. Now, five years later, after the victory on the Isle of Man, he already achieved his second win of the season and thus made everything clear, meaning that the world champion in the smaller classes was once again determined early at the season finale in Monza.

Sammy Miller, the new signing from FB-Mondial, was unlucky in the 250cc race when he dropped out in a promising position. In the smallest category, however, he managed at least fifth place.

The repeat offender in the 350s

After second place on the Isle of Man and two victories in the Benelux countries, everyone was excited to see whether Australian Campbell would score a hat trick in Belfast. He won his first world championship point up to 250 cc on his private Excelsior in 1950 right here. Seven years later he returned as a Guzzi factory driver and had become the main favorite in the absence of Geoff Duke and Bill Lomas. The crowd’s favorite Duke was there again for the first time, but the 350cc race didn’t bring him any luck. Six factory machines were at the start, for Gilera it was Liberati, Duke and Mc Intyre, for MV only Surtees and Guzzi relied on the two Australians Campbell and Bryen. When Keith Campbell took the lead from the start, Liberati and Surtees followed him, while Mc Intyre lost a lot of valuable time at the start due to a spark plug change.

The Moto-Guzzi “Monocylindrica” 350 – with around 37 hp at 8000 rpm and a 5-speed gearbox, surprisingly competitive against the four-cylinders from Gilera and MV Agusta. This was not to be expected, especially on faster courses like Spa-Francorchamps. However, the machine only weighed 150 kg and therefore had an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

The preliminary decision for victory and title was made at halftime
After the first lap, Surtees was the Australian’s first pursuer, followed by Liberaty, privateer Murphy, Hartle, Brett, Chadwick (all Norton), Bryen and Duke. One round later nothing had changed at the tip and Bryen had already moved up to 3rd position, while Duke had to retire early with suspension problems. Shortly afterwards, Murphy also retired, while Mc Intyre had already fought his way to P5 behind Bryen and Liberati. Campbell now clearly led ahead of Surtees, Bryen, Liberati, Mc Intyre, Hartle and Chadwick. But the man in P2 with his MV also had no luck and was the next to stop at the halfway point. This meant that the race finally lacked excitement and only the duel between Hartle and Chadwick, in which the former was ahead in the end, provided some variety. This didn’t matter to Campbell; the Australian’s world championship title could no longer be taken away from him before the final round in Monza.

Keith Campbell in top form – the Australian was definitely worth every cent that Moto-Guzzi paid him at a time when driver salaries were low at the time (compared to a few decades later). The likeable man from Down Under went down in history as the first motorcycle world champion who wasn’t from Europe. Of Scottish descent, he was born in Melbourne on October 2, 1931.

Preliminary decision in the title fight in the premier class

This time there were 8 factory machines at the start and a total of 35 private riders. On the Gilera from Mc Intyre and the two MVs from Surtees and Shepard, the massive front paneling that was otherwise common had been removed. Brett won the start on a completely naked Norton without fairing, followed by Surtees (MV) and Duke (Gilera). After the first lap, however, Surtees was already ahead of Liberati (Gilera), Brett, Mc Intyre (Gilera), Hartle (Norton), Duke and Campbell on the Mono-Guzzi. In the third round, Surtees had already pulled away from his pursuers. But the defending champion from England was unlucky again after his failure in the 350s and retired two laps later with magnet damage to his ignition. Hartle was then the first pursuer of the now leading Liberati, but a short time later he also stopped. Mc Intyre inherited his place, having already grabbed Geoff Duke after he passed him first. After all, the 6-time world champion and crowd favorite still made it onto the podium for the first time in this season, which was cursed for him again after a lot of bad luck last year. Brett also had problems and had to give up in the end due to a loss of compression. As a result, Tanner inherited P4 in the best Norton ahead of Bryen (Guzzi) and MV factory driver Sheperd.

Our summary of the results of the Ulster GP highlights the imbalance between the largest and smaller classes in terms of the number of participants, as has been the tradition in Northern Ireland for years.
The Norton perhaps had the most beautiful sound and with only half-hearted factory support, fourth place was still possible and thanks to fast private drivers, at least 4 of these machines ended up in the top ten.

Season finale in Monza with the derniere for 3 manufacturers

After the second time in a row, it was slowly becoming a tradition in the Royal Park that no title decision was made at this season finale. Only in the 250cc series did the last race in 1955 benefit from this excitement, with the final lap in northern Italy, as was so often the case. For the local fans and even the entire world of motorcycle racing, this was a dramatic tragedy, although no one or at least a very small group of people were aware of it at the time. At the Grand Prix of Nations, even the Italian motorsport authorities had no idea that three of the most successful brands to date, FB-Mondial, Gilera and Moto-Guzzi, would withdraw from the motorcycle world championship at the end of 1957. This would be the death knell for the 350 national championship. By the way, just a week before the Nations GP, another fatality in motorcycle racing, this time in the teams, was to be mourned: Friedrich “Fritz” Hillebrand. Like Rupert Hollaus three years before in the category up to 125cc, the German was posthumously declared world champion. And just one day before Hillebrand, Stig Elon Valdemar “Walle” Lundberg tragically lost his life during training for the 350cc at the Masaryk Ring near Brno. At least there were no serious accidents at Monza this time.

Friedrich “Fritz” Hillebrand (left) with his passenger Manfred Grunwald, who survived the accident in Bilbao with only minor injuries. The driver, on the other hand, did not survive the impact with a lamp post and died on the spot. In May 1958, Grunwald married Inge Stoll, who was a world-class passenger in sidecar racing as a passenger for Jaques Drion from France. On August 24th, just a few months later, she and her pilot Drion from France were to die in a tragic accident at the Czech GP (not part of the World Championship) on the Masaryk Ring.
In black on this sketch is the not particularly varied Monza circuit for motorcycles. Decades later, a few chicanes were installed, but the route remained life-threatening. At 5.7 km long, it was a race track that would become standard half a century later (except for its layout).

Ubbiali’s return to size in the 125s

After his opening win at the season opener and then second place, Carlo Ubbiali did not compete in a race until Monza due to the injury he suffered in Assen. During training he suffered a bruise and severe burns in a fall and was then replaced by MV with Fortunato Libanori. He was there again and was supposed to contribute to a real festival for his brand in Monza. But this time the main actor was again Ubbiali, who was supposed to be announced for the following season in the 350cc class a little later, but that didn’t come true. But this didn’t matter to the fast man from Bergamo, he felt particularly comfortable in the smaller classes. He proved this once again after his return to the MV Agusta in his home country. His arch-rival Provini dropped out shortly after the start with engine failure (Mondial’s factory team-mate Sandford also retired a short time later) and this initially led to a three-way battle with Taveri and Venturi. But Carlo made it clear early on who would be the boss of the MV troop again this time, as before, and confidently won the race. Only the troublemakers Miller in second and Sala in P6 were able to break into the phalanx of the MV Agusta troops with their FB-Mondial. Behind them, Ernst Degner on MZ, came in 7th and we would hear more about him soon.

The FB-Mondial from 1957 was supposed to end up in the museum after the Nations Grand Prix in Monza. In its last outing, the fastest 125cc motorcycle this year was unable to win, but at least it was enough for second place under Sammy Miller.
Carlo Ubbiali (MV Agusta) was not lucky in the 1957 season when he was unable to defend both titles from the previous year. The FB-Mondial was simply faster and he was also seriously injured, which meant he lost all chances of the world championship in the two smaller classes.

Reverse bad luck in the quarter liter class

While Carlo Ubbiali suffered Tarquinio’s bad luck this time, he almost had a free run without his arch rival for the first time this year. Above all, Luigi Taveri didn’t see the checkered flag either. With the exception of the 125cc class, the existing lap record was also broken here. In the end, Venturi, in second place, was almost half a minute behind winner Provini, followed by Lorenzetti on the fastest Guzzi, Sandford and Miller (FB-Mondial) and Alano Montanari with another Moto-Guzzi. Not surprisingly, the private drivers had no chance on this fast route. Nevertheless, it was astonishing how far ahead Roland Heck still was with the aging NSU Sportmax. For Cecil Sandford, the placement was irrelevant because, despite finishing 4th, he was already confirmed as world champion before the race and thus took over Ubbiali’s title. The veteran Montanari would tragically die in Cesena the following year after leaving hospital too early following a car accident to prepare for the Italian GP. Unfortunately, due to blood poisoning, he did not survive his forty-ninth year.

Our summary of the results with many prominent failure victims in the smaller two classes. It should also be noted how strong MZ’s performance was in the 125s under their driver Ernst Degner. All Ducati and various MV and Mondial private riders were clearly beaten by the man from the GDR. The Saxon brand’s final breakthrough was to come the following year.
Tarquinio Provini (FB-Mondial) and his look back – despite his failure in the home race up to 125 cc, it was a sensational year for the shooting star of the 1957 season.
Carlo Ubbiali (MV Agusta) had bad luck in the 250cc category after his win in the 125cc, but next season should go better for him after losing both titles.

The race in the category up to 350 cc

With an average speed of 180 km/h (111.85 mph), which was unbelievable for the time, Bob Mc Intyre was the fastest, although he benefited from the fact that numerous stars were unavailable. Both Surtees (MV) and Duke (Gilera) on their four-cylinder machines had retired far too early, but also Montanari with a broken brake cable two laps before the end and Bryen (both Moto-Guzzi). Liberati, who was initially in the lead on another factory Gilera, was also unlucky when he fell back with problems, but was still able to reach the podium in the end. The best private driver was Hartle on Norton, who took the last point behind Milani (Gilera) and Mandolini (Guzzi). It was almost unimaginable that the Gilera and Moto-Guzzi machines that finished in the first five places would no longer be on the starting grid the following year, but unfortunately it became a fact. Together with FB-Mondial, the three manufacturers had been the most successful in the young world championship since 1949 with a total of 19 titles.

Luigi (left) and Giovanni Fratelli, with their figurehead Tarquinio Provini in the middle. The “FB” in the name of FB-Mondial means “Fratelli Boselli” (Boselli Brothers). Just like Gilera and Moto-Guzzi, the company that is so successful in motorcycle racing should decide to exit the GP circus at the end of the year. After 3 world championship titles up to 125 cc in the first 3 years of the world championship (1949 – 1951), they even dominated in both smaller classes in 1957 and won both titles with Provini and Sandford. By the way, Mondial’s motorcycle production only lasted 3 years from this point on.
The shooting star up to 350 cc, Keith Campbell (Moto-Guzzi), was already confirmed as the first Australian motorcycle world champion before the Nations GP. He had had the misfortune of injuring himself in a crash during training in Monza and therefore had to miss the start. Just over 2 weeks later, on September 18, he married Geraldine Reid, sister of Geoff Duke’s wife. Unfortunately, their luck was not granted for long and Keith had a fatal accident in the summer of the following year.

The season finale of the premier class

At the end of superstar Geoff Duke’s second disastrous season, it was finally confirmed in Monza that his time of dominance was over. The big absentee in this race was Bob Mc Intyre, who had previously won the 350cc race for Gilera, complaining of unwellness after his training crash at around 200 km/h (124.27 mph). After a short medical examination on the route, he was admitted to a clinic in Milan. A fracture of the third cervical vertebra was discovered. It would be some time before he was seen in the paddock again. More about this in our report on the 1958 season. The Scot’s machine was handed over to Milani. Moto-Guzzi, on the other hand, decided not to take part due to the injury to their figurehead Campbell. After the start, the 3 MVs of Masetti, Bandirola and Surtees were in the lead and initially only Liberati was in close contact with the MV pack ahead of his Gilera factory team colleagues Milani and Duke. By half time, a duel developed between Surtees and Liberati for the lead.

Libero Liberati (Gilera) in front of John Surtees (MV Agusta) – this duel kept the spectators breathless at the highlight of the weekend. We have not found a similar report in any article since the early years of motorcycle Grand Prix sport (our probably almost complete archive of the pre- and post-war years) until then. According to eyewitnesses, the driving style of the English driver in particular was bordering on fair. For six decades at the latest, this would be the most commonplace in the racing world.

A fierce battle for the lead kept the spectators in suspense
Of course, Libero Liberati wasn’t a monastery student either, but what his English opponent in particular showed in this race was extremely rare for the time. It was completely normal back then that the lead was constantly changing, but what the spectators had never seen before was the form of aggression with which this duel was fought. In order to get rid of his opponent, Surtees apparently often used unsportsmanlike, if not irregular, means, according to statements from reporters present (from a neutral country, i.e. neither from Italy nor England). For example, he fought his way from behind out of the Italian’s slipstream and then blocked Liberati’s path and intentionally blocked the ideal line. These tough maneuvers were also visible to the audience from the stands and could well have resulted in a catastrophe. Behind them, Milani and Duke lost ground to the two contenders, but then Surtees suddenly fell behind due to a lack of power from his engine. In the end, Liberati won safely ahead of Duke and Milani completed a podium with only Gilera factory riders. Behind him, Surtees crossed the finish line ahead of his MV colleagues Masetti, Sheperd and Bandirola. However, only last year’s world champion was in the same round as the winner.

Our summary of the results of the two larger classes and thus the last Grand Prix, in which Gilera and Moto-Guzzi (as well as FB-Mondial in the smaller two categories) took part. This ended an era and, above all, from the following year onwards only a handful of brands remained (not only referring to the Italian manufacturers). For the first time in history, seven Italian 4-cylinder machines took the top 7 places.
Libero Liberati (in the middle) with Milani on the left and Geoff Duke on the right – the Italian had shown it to everyone and being able to triumph in front of his home crowd was just as important to him as the title in the premier class of motorcycle racing.

Conclusion of a season with lots of new world champions

With Libero Liberati, an Italian became champion in the premier class for the first time since 1950 and 1952 with Umberto Masetti (also on Gilera). His splendid performance with four wins in six races this season and the Monza victory as the icing on the cake, showed, above all, that the peak in the career of crowd favorite Geoff Duke had been passed. He had been clearly beaten by his teammate twice in a row and, like him, had now lost his place at Gilera. The three manufacturers Moto-Guzzi, FB-Mondial and Gilera had concluded a contract with each other towards the end of the year in which they assured each other that they would not return to racing before 1960. Curiously, they had also provided all the world champions before they withdrew from Grand Prix racing and were no longer to appear in the result lists this century. With the exception of Cecil Sandford, who was a repeat offender (he had become world champion up to 125 cc in 1952), all the other pilots had won a title for the first time.

Horst Fügner on the MZ, the small troupe from the GDR rightly attracted more and more attention. The coming season should finally bring the breakthrough for the Saxon and his team.

Interesting side story at the end of 1957

What was particularly interesting was an event that did not take place under the public eye. Because FB-Mondial withdrew from Grand Prix racing and this caused quite a stir, a man from Japan contacted the Boselli brothers. We’re talking about Soichiro Honda, the head of what will soon be the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. He asked to purchase one of the Mondial racing machines that had driven the competition to the ground this year and received one. After thorough examination, this was later included in the exhibition of this brand at the Motegi race track. We will see a similar story in an article a few years later, in which the Japanese would prove to be highly skilled copiers and imitators of Western technology. However, in this case there was no truly voluntary release of high-tech development on the part of the manufacturer and its brilliant designer.

This run for the German Championships took place in front of an impressive backdrop that was rich in history from the previous two decades. The young BMW driver Hiller secured the championship title up to 500 cc with third place, but the star and clear winner of the race was Walter Zeller, who retired from GP Sport in the middle of the season. With Karl Lottes, an old friend (also in the Grand Prix scene) won the title in the 125s, although he had to retire on lap 10 with technical problems.

The 1957 season in numbers

With Provini there was a clear dominator as the successor to his compatriot Ubbiali, while the Swiss Taveri was only left with the runner-up title despite his incredible consistency. What was noticeable this time was the increase in teams from behind the Iron Curtain, i.e. from the GDR and with CZ from what was then Czechoslovakia. Last year the latter got a total of 2 points, this time it was already three and MZ even managed 4 points with just two appearances, which was almost nothing compared to the following year. Incidentally, the Manufacturers’ World Championship went to Mondial by a small margin, thanks to the faster winning times in Summer, a decision similar to that in 1953, when MV was slightly ahead against NSU in the end.
With the exception of 4th place in Monza, Cecil Sandford was on the podium in each of the 6 races. The superiority of FB-Mondial was even more evident in this class than in the smallest, as the top three in the final ranking were all on the Boselli brothers’ motorcycles.
With the regulations from 1993, the ranking would have looked like this:
Campbell 95
Liberati 93
Mc Intyre 70
On the one hand, regardless of his forced break due to injury in 1957, the era of Geoff Duke as a virtually invincible champion came to an end and on the other hand, from this season onwards the diversity of Italian brands finally crumbled. With Moto-Guzzi and Gilera (together responsible for 14 world championship titles since 1949, as well as 9 European championships and 14 TT victories), two traditional brands that were very successful even before the war said goodbye at the end of the year. FB-Mondial won 5 manufacturer and rider titles each.

Our list of fatalities from the 1957 season in motorcycle road racing

If you take a closer look at the history of “Fritz” Hillebrand and compare it with later decades, you might get a little bit of a feeling for what such pilots went through before they risked their lives again practicing their favorite sport. While Norton’s private driver Valle Lundberg was just unlucky enough to have crashed in the wrong place, Roger Barker’s accident was simply the result of then-unknown rules of thumb, such as sufficient fluid intake in high heat.

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