Horst Fügner in 1954 on his IFA (later MZ) 125cc machinem based on a DKW RT 125.

The successful MZ driver from the first years of racing

In the GDR, racing began at the end of the 1940s. Horst Fügner was one of the first drivers in the workers ‘and peasants’ state, who was there from 1950. Thanks to the efforts of engineer Walter Kaaden, a racing version based on the DKW RT 125 was built with the IFA early on, based on the production motorcycle. The abbreviation IFA was the automotive industry association.

DKW’s manufacturing facility in the late 1930s, before most of the buildings in this photograph were bombed by the Allies. The VEB IFA later created in here, which was renamed MZ “Motorradwerke Zschopau” in the mid-1960s.

This was an amalgamation of vehicle manufacturing companies in the GDR. Shortly after the Second World War, the combines were part of an association and were subordinate to the Ministry for general machinery, agricultural machinery and vehicle construction. One of the components of this was the VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb) IFA-Kombinat for two-wheeled vehicles with VEB Simson Suhl, VEB Motorradwerk Zschopau and VEB MIFA Fahrradwerke Sangerhausen. The MZ brand emerged from the Zschopau motorcycle factory in 1956.

The only usable building after World War II, where the IFA resumed its production of motorized two-wheelers based on pre-war DKW models.

The person of Horst Fügner
Horst Fügner was born on March 11, 1923, in Chemnitz. Young Horst became interested in motorcycles at an early age and listened eagerly to reports on the radio about pre-war races. He had his first driving experiences with a DKW in the Hitler Youth (a political influenced variation of today’s scout movement with an ideological orientation, whose membership was considered mandatory during the Nazi era). During off-road trips, the boys were prepared for their deployment in the army, whereby Fügner’s main focus was probably driving the DKW RT3.

A DKW RT3 from the 1930s with 3 hp was the first motorized two-wheeler on which the young Horst made his first attempts to walk shortly before the start of the war.

The army years and happy to have survived in the end
He joined the army at the age of 18 and was deployed as a motorcyclist due to his training. Of course, this also brought him into contact with the other Wehrmacht motorcycles. Horst survived the war and was then taken prisoner of war for 3 years. Actually strange in comparison when nowadays, after a few weeks of corona lockdown, people sometimes call themselves prisoners in overreactions. Fügner was in Russian captivity for 3 years with bread and water (where millions of former soldiers died after the war) and was happy to come home alive and in one piece at all.

A picture of the (West) German motorsports champions of 1948 from a West German magazine. Horst Fügner returned to his homeland from captivity after the war that year.

After regaining freedom, the first racing experiences
As a trained mechanical engineer, Horst Fügner had completed an apprenticeship at Wanderer in Chemnitz before the war. Back in his homeland, he came into contact with motorcycles again early on. For Horst it was now a matter of realizing his dream of racing. With his membership in the Chemnitz motorcycle club, he laid the foundation for this, now all that was left was a racing machine. For this he improvised and he found a DKW RT125, which he built into a racing machine. With the help of parts that were searched from all possible sources, it worked until autumn 1950 to tinker with one’s own racer. With tips for tuning, which he found over the course of the year, the 125cc DKW ran right from the start.

Two-stroke tuning tips – from a French motorcycle magazine from 1950. With such instructions, Fügner tuned his first DKW RT125 himself in the first season.
DKW RT125 – the basis of Horst Fügner’s first racing machine from 1950.
Horst Fügner was present as one of hundreds of thousands of spectators when the drivers from the GDR competed against the superior international competition at the Sachsenring in the summer of 1950. Here a driver in the Queckenberg curve, which is also today’s target curve. More than this and the start-finish straight is nothing left of the former course. Third up to 125cc was Petruschke on his ZPH.

Fügner’s first race
The first race for Fügner took place on October 1, 1950 on the Dessau track, one of the first race tracks in Germany. The street circuit in Saxony-Anhalt was a temporary track that was used for a race for the first time in 1938, before it was over again in 1956. About 70 kilometers north of Leipzig a journey of several hours for the young man from Chemnitz, but it should be worthwhile. The Dessau section of the A9 motorway was planned as the course. The premiere for Horst went according to plan and in the first race he took second place. With a little more luck, the first win would have been possible, but Fügner was anything but dissatisfied.

The Dessau route in 1950, when Horst Fügner drove his first race here. The section of the motorway was originally planned as a record track and was used as a racing track from 1938 to 1956. Between 1939 and 1949 there was a war-related break before it continued for another 7 years.

The momentous Leipzig race
Fügner’s next appearance followed at the Leipzig city park race the following year. On May 20, 1951, Horst impressed a senior employee of the IFA works in Zschopau (later MZ) who was present. Horst was out of the race, but apparently his performance was still quite good. Shortly afterwards he was hired by the IFA to compete for the company in future assignments.

The map of the Leipzig Stadtpark race of the early 1950s, in which numerous IFA drivers still participate and should be successful. The race was also known under the name “Rund um das Scheibenholz” (Around the Disc Wood).

As an employee in the company and test and racing driver
From now on Fügner was a kind of works driver for the brand from Zschopau, later known as MZ, which was to make a name for itself on the racetracks for decades. The Zschopau test manager Kurt Kämpf had thus laid the foundation for Fügner’s IFA career after the race in Leipzig. From now on Horst was part of the Zschopau team, where Walter Kaaden would set up a racing department a short time later. The man from Chemnitz became an employee in Zschopau, as a test fitter and racing driver. This place was to become something of a second home for him for a long time.

Competition in his own country
A certain Ernst Degner (see our detailed 10-part story about him under “History”) had been determined since 1950 to prove himself on the racetracks in the GDR. In addition to the former DKW works driver Bernhard Petruschke, who was already known in the pre-war era, Degner was also a driver who made a name for himself early on. The two competed on a so-called ZPH 125.

Bernhard Petruschke – as a former DKW contract driver, he caused a sensation on German racetracks at the ZPH even after World War II. See our detailed story about him under “istory tab on this site.
Overall German championship 1950 with Petruschke as seventh due to his many failures with the fast ZPH (here, as so often wrongly listed as IFA DKW) and Ellmann as the best East German with fourth place.

It was a racer based on the DKW RT125, just like at IFA since 1949 and Fügner from autumn 1950. This privately developed bike was built by a talented technician named Daniel Zimmermann with the help of his friend and mechanic Henkel. The first letters of the designer, driver and mechanic therefore also formed the name of the racer, which usually went much faster than the offshoot of the DKW RT125 built by VEB IFA. The main modification of the ZPH engine consisted of the rotary plate valve invented by Zimmermann and even patented in the GDR.

An advertisement in the US newspaper “American Motorcyclist” from 1958, with a Simson 350cc and a reference to MZ models. Two-wheeler production was early on one of the few export markets with which one tried to sell one of the rare foreign exchange providers in the West.

Competition from the west
Of course, there was also very strong competition from the West, especially the drivers who competed in the world championship again from 1952 on for DKW and NSU. In addition to Werner Haas and Hans Baltisberger (see for the story of the two in the separate chapter under “History”), H. P. Müller was one of them. In the short time in which the Neckarsulm company NSU was involved in the World Championship, from 1953 to 1955 there were five world championship titles in the 250 cm³ and 350 cm³ class. Hermann Paul (H. P.) Müller achieved the last of these on an NSU “Rennmax” with a 250 World Championship title.

As a multiple German motorcycle champion, Hermann Paul (H. P.) Müller was one of the most important stars of the pre-war and early 1950s. In August 1956 he also set a total of 3 world speed records from 50cc to 125cc for NSU on the Bonneville Salt Lake. In 1950 and 1952 Müller won the 125cc race at the GDR racetrack Sachsenring in Eastern Germany.

The first 3 years of the World Championship without Germans
In this context, it is also important that pilots from Germany were only allowed to compete in the motorcycle world championship again from 1952. During this time, IFA and ZPH could of course only get something in the smallest class. The team from Zschopau had been racing again based on the series DKW RT125 as early as 1949. But in the first few years there was no illusion that they could win something internationally.

The best East German driver in the 125cc class 1950 on the Schleizer Dreieck in front of around 250,000 spectators was Petruschke on his ZPH (based on DKW, which is why it was declared as such in West Germany).

The first two years with IFA
Due to the fact that the ZPH with Petruschke and Degner was usually faster than Fügner with the IFA, Horst’s successes in the first few years were quite manageable. But again and again he achieved respectable successes, with which he and his team should not be dissatisfied under the given circumstances. The victories at races like Halle-Saale in the first few years (1950 to 1952) went alternately to Erhard Krumpholz (DKW, IFA from autumn) and Bernhard Petruschke (ZPH). The latter even won the GP of Czechoslovakia in Brno, which was not part of the World Cup at the time.

Report in an East German magazine about the race in Brno (Czech Republic) with winner Bernhard Petruschke in the 125cc class and a mention of Horst Fügner behind Krumpholz as seventh.
Bernhard Petruschke on a recording from before World War II. For IFA he won the title of 125cc DDR champion in 1953 and 1954, but in the first year he was still on the renamed ZPH.

The dominant man up to 125cc at the beginning of the 1950s in the GDR
In 1950, Petruschke, who was born in Kleinmachnow east of Potsdam, also won the Stralsund baths race in the 125cc. This was despite the fact that he had a pretty bad fall in training and started the race with a bandaged knee. Horst Fügner, on the other hand, always managed to put himself in the limelight, but he didn’t make the big breakthrough in the first two years. After all, with a 3rd place behind the West German stars H. P. Müller and Karl Lottes (Mondial) at the Sachsenring at the 125cc IFA, he was able to attract attention.

“Rund um das Scheibenholz” (“All around the disk wood) race 1951 – despite the failure, Horst Fügner was discovered as a talent at this event in the city park of Leipzig and signed by the IFA.

Integration of ZPH into IFA
In Brno Petruschke had already won the 125cc race of 1952 with an IFA, at least his ZPH had been renamed to this name. After he had impressed with strong performances at the ZPH even in the neighboring country, including at the Solitude, the party took hold. The ministry responsible for the vehicle industry and consequently for motorsport had long been a thorn in the side that a private team should win the laurels. On the other hand the products of the nationally owned industry thus regularly dwarfed.

In the race for the East German Championship in 1951, Petruschke came second here with the fast ZPH. behind the Berliner Seidel on a self-tuned 125cc Puch.
Bernhard Petruschke at the IFA 125cc at the Scheibenholz race in 1953. At that time he actually still drove the ZPH, which was renamed the Zschopau brand in the middle of the 1952 season.

Man and know-how transfer
Under the direction of the East Berlin Minister for Heavy Machinery, Fritz Selbmann, the ZPH was integrated into the IFA in Zschopau. With victories abroad as well, this machine, created on a private initiative, was often unbeatable. Bernhard Petruschke had won in Budapest on July 1, 1951, and has now also been transferred to IFA. The state company people built on their (Daniel Zimmermann’s and Bernhard’s) experience with the machine and as a pilot. Designer Daniel Zimmermann was entrusted with the development and construction of racing boat engines. In January 1953, the management of the IFA racing department was handed over to engineer Walter Kaaden. This was the actual hour of birth of the racing machine that later became world-famous under the name MZ.

Route map of the Solitude west of Stuttgart from the early 1950s. From the time before World War II, numerous drivers from East Germany with a lap record were still listed in the 1951 racing program. For example with the 250cc A. Geiß from Zschopau (German champion 1933) and Ewald Kluge from Zschopau, the 3-time German champion from 1936 to 1938. The latter lived in Ingolstadt after the war and also won on August 18, 1950, on DKW again on the Solitude route.

The redesign of a 125cc IFA
Horst Fügner was part of a small, sworn troop, whose everyday business, according to later statements by the popular racing driver, did not neglect the fun. After Walter Kaaden joined the company in winter, his department received the order to build 10 racing machines. In the “Volkseigene Betrieb” (VEB) IFA, this was a very sporty task because the men of the newly established racing department were also involved in the production of the series machines. But they made it at least partially and in the 1953 season the first really self-designed machine was built. It wasn’t just a copy of the ZPH, but a real new development with a square bore and stroke ratio of 54 x 54 mm. The power is said to have been around 12.5 hp at 8,000 rpm. However, initially only 3 machines were finished, which is why Petruschke initially used his ZPH, which had been renamed IFA.

Sketch of an IFA RE 125 engine in a French newspaper from the 1950s, clearly visible the rotary valve control of the two-stroke engine.

A tough start and the first major successes in 1953
Walter Kaaden was considered a veteran in Zschopau and his commitment should soon show that his choice for IFA should be spot on. His father was a director chauffeur at DKW (later Auto Union) and Walter grew up with the pre-war racing families. Initially, Zschopau was still struggling with teething troubles with the new 125cc series, while Petruschke was able to collect points for the GDR championship with the tried and tested ZPH base at the start of the season. In the end, thanks to his constancy, he was able to secure the title of 125cc master of the GDR. As the titleholder, Bernhard replaced IFA driver Erhart Krumpholz, who held the championship title in 1950 and 1952.

Horst Fügner on the first 125cc IFA self-construction in the 1953 season. In the first year there was a lack of reliability and there were various dropping-outs with technical causes.
Report in an Ostdeutsche Zeitung about Horst Fügner’s 3rd place at the Saarland GP (not a World Cup race) in Sankt Wendel, West Germany in May 1953.

Fügner with the real 125cc IFA and the breakthrough on the Sachsenring
For Horst Fügner and the “real” IFA, however, the big hour came at the Sachsenring of all places. Before Petruschke, Horst won in front of his home crowd on August 23, 1953, thereby fulfilling a long-cherished dream. On Wikipedia this victory is ascribed to Petruschke, but there is even a winning photo with Fügner at the top of the podium, which proves the opposite.

As it was in a West German magazine, it was certainly just as correct as in East German newspaper reports: The 125cc winner from 1953, Horst Fügner.
The Sachenring 125cc winner of 1953, Horst Fügner and West German Hubert Luttenberger as third. Incidentally, Petruschke came second behind Horst Fügner, for whom it was a career milestone, in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Horst Fügner, 3rd from left, as a member of a strong IFA squad, taking a group photo after a successful racing weekend in the early 1950s. On the far left of the picture Siggi Haase and next to him engineer Walter Kaaden, the ingenious brain behind the soon even greater successes.

Part 2 coming soon..