Horst Fügner at the MZ – a very successful combination from the mid-1950s that also caused a stir abroad. Now, with a full World Cup season, a completely new chapter began for the man from Chemnitz and his team from Zschopau.

1958 – the first full World Cup season for Fügner and MZ

In addition to Horst and Ernst Degner, Walter Brehme and Werner Musiol from MZ were also involved in international races this season. The two had already recommended themselves with good performances at numerous events in the years before. The people in Zschopau were particularly excited about the 250cc two-cylinder machine, which was also prepared for World Cup missions. Above all, Horst Fügner was more than impressed with this bike. Last year he had already won the international race on the Tubbergen circuit in the Netherlands. For the first time, MZ had decided to contest all the Grand Prix races of the two smaller classes on the calendar. A huge challenge for the small and with modest means fighting, but highly motivated group from the GDR.

Walter Kaaden (right in the picture) – the brain behind MZ’s successes in racing. He was an ingenious inventor and engineer who, despite many handicaps, helped the GDR brand to become world famous with his drivers Fügner and Degner.

The factory teams for the 1958 season

As in the year before, the list of factory teams was more than manageable in 1958. Instead of FB-Mondial, Moto-Guzzi and Gilera, Ducati (only in the smallest class), CZ from Czechoslovakia and MZ were added, which means that there were again only five factory teams for this season. Fügner and Degner were primarily intended for Grand Prix use. Werner Musiol and Walter Brehme should also be able to gain their first World Cup experience this season. The big favorite in all classes was of course MV Agusta, together with Ducati in the smallest category. CZ and MZ were only considered outsider opportunities even by experts. The same was true for BMW in the 500cc class, except of course for the sidecars. The Bavarian brand had been a bank there for years. Since 1954, the world championship title has always gone to drivers of the blue and white brand.

The 1958 season kicked off with a bang

At the start of the season, one of the most important races was the GDR championship run on the Halle-Saale loop. Horst had won the race three times in a row from 1954 to 1956. At that time this event always took place in June or July, but from 1957 onwards it was brought forward to the end of April. Ernst Degner had won the previous year, but this time it was Fügner’s turn and he wouldn’t let the butter be taken off his bread. With his fourth victory, he underlined his brand as the record winner in the 125cc class at the race in Saxony-Anhalt in the most impressive way. On April 27, 1958, a 19-year-old boy named Heinz Rosner from Zwickau also competed in the 125cc run. With his MZ RT 125 he finished 7th in his first race. Rosner would later become one of the most important drivers in its racing history for the company from Zschopau.

A badge of the first edition of this race from 1950.
On April 27th, Horst Fügner finally made himself the most successful driver in the 125cc class in this race, which was held in Saxony-Anhalt from 1950 to 1964.

First months of the 1958 season with changeable luck
At the beginning of the season, Horst Fügner’s luck was not always well-disposed, as this time he missed a top 3 result at the Austrian GP in Salzburg Liefering. In the previous year he finished the race, which was not part of the world championship, in second place behind the Italian Ubbiali and Degner was third. The latter repeated his classification again in 1958, while Carlo Ubbiali (MV) won ahead of Luigi Taveri (Ducati).

Horst Fügner the unconventional driver – here with the number 124, how he wants to start sitting down instead of sliding start like all his opponents. His MZ teammate Ernst Degner with the No. 123.
Carlo Ubbiali on MV Agusta – the Italian should be the toughest challenger for all opponents in the 125cc class in 1958. Together with his team-mate Tarquinio Provini, the MV driver was the clear favorite in all categories because Moto-Guzzi and Gilera no longer took part in the World Championship in 1958.

The first race of the season in West Germany
At the Hockenheimring, Horst had been very successful the year before with 4th place at the German GP. This time the German World Championship race took place on the Nürburgring and at the May Cup race in Hockenheim, Degner and Fügner, two MZ factory drivers went empty-handed. Instead, Walter Brehme achieved the goal as the winner. The 46-year-old Karl Lottes from Marburg in West Germany had borrowed an MZ from Walter Kaaden and thus finished 4th in this race. The Hockenheim record was more than forgiving for the group from Zschopau, despite the failure of the two top drivers.

Karl Lottes as a DWK works driver in a race in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of war. He survived the war and continued to race as a private driver until he was well over 40 years old.

Fügner’s conciliatory podium placement in Sankt Wendel
In the race for the Saarland Prize, the two MZ factory drivers fought with Luigi Taveri (Ducati) at the beginning. Initially, the Swiss couldn’t break away from the two. Ernst Degner would have won in the end if the earth cable on the battery of his MZ had not become loose. The fortification cost the driver from Gleiwitz in Upper Silesia valuable seconds and thus victory. Fügner had dropped back to 5th place at times during the race, but was able to fight his way up again. Despite Taveri’s victory and Degner’s second place, the podium was ultimately a conciliatory result for the man from Chemnitz before he went to the TT on the Isle of Man for the first time.

MZ ace Ernst Degner in pursuit of Ducati factory driver Luigi Taveri.

WM-Auftakt mit der Tourist Trophy
Mit gehörigem Respekt reiste das kleine Team aus der DDR auf der Isle of Man zur TT an. Die Erfolge zu Saisonbeginn waren im Vergleich zum Vorjahr sowohl für Fügner wie auch Degner überschaubar gewesen. Umso mehr waren Horst und Ernst nun auf die erste Teilnahme an der berühmt-berüchtigten TT auf der Isle of Man gespannt. Mit der gebotenen Vorsicht gingen die beiden Fahrer aus der DDR das Abenteuer der ersten TT an und sie sollten dafür belohnt werden. Auf dem 17,36 km langen Clypse Course gewann im 125cc Rennen der favorisierte Carlo Ubbiali (MV Agusta) vor Romolo Ferri und Dave Chadwick (beide Ducati).

A respectable result for the MZ drivers at the premiere
For the first participation on the dangerous street course, ranks 5 and 6 of Degner and Fügner were more than impressive. In the first run of the 1958 World Championship, both MZ pilots scored points, which was more than respectable. The only shame for MZ was that the carburetor tuning simply did not work on the 250cc machine. Therefore, after the training session, the team decided with a heavy heart to forego the race.

Ernst Degner on his journey to 5th place in his TT premiere with the 125cc MZ.

The great road circuit dying of the 1950s
From the beginning of the 1950s, a downright death on the street had set in. In addition to the Wegberg race in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Hamburg city park race was no longer held after 1952. A year later, after only two years of being held, the Chemnitzer Autobahnschere (freeway scissors) came to an end. On the Feldberg im Taunus, Horst Fügner was the last 125cc winner at IFA in 1954, before it was over, as was the Rostock Osthafen course. After 1955, the Dieburger Dreieck race, Eilenriede in Hanover and the Schottenring came to an end. In the latter (also known under the name “Rund um Schotten”), Fügner won the last edition of the 125cc class on July 10th.

Rund um Schotten or “Schottenring” – the last race held here in 1955 was won by Horst Fügner in the 125cc class.

The last city park race in Leipzig
In mid-June, the eleventh and final edition of the Leipzig City Park Race followed, a run for the GDR championship, also known under the name “Rund um das Scheibenholz” (all around the disc wood). In Leipzig on June 15, 1958, Ernst Degner won the 125cc class ahead of Horst Fügner, Walter Brehme and Werner Musiol. After that, the end of this race had come. Many events were no longer approved from 1955, because that year on June 11, 1955, the worst disaster in motorsport to date occurred. At Le Mans, the car of the French Pierre Levegh and the British Lance Macklin had been killed by flying debris and fire. Circuit races were then generally banned in Switzerland, and this decision has never been revoked since.

Route map of the Leipzig City Park Race, held from 1950 to 1958.
Ernst Degner on the MZ RE 125 – he had a better start to the 1958 season than his team-mate Horst Fügner. But its time was yet to come, especially on the two-cylinder 250cc engine.

Second round of the world championship with the Dutch GP
With the Dutch TT in Assen, the 2nd round of the motorcycle world championship took place on June 27th. Horst Fügner had fond memories of the Netherlands after his first win abroad in Tubbergen with the RE 250 in the previous year. But this time it should be Degner again, who was harmless in the 125cc class. Before that he had only driven the seventh best time in training and Horst was placed even further back. The factory machines of the competition from MV and Ducati were simply too strong. In the end, Degner saved the last championship point for the Zschopau in the race with 6th place. Fügner crossed the finish line in 8th place, for which there were no counters until 1969. After all, he had left the Italian Romolo Ferri and a certain Englishman named Mike Hailwood (both Ducati) behind. Victory in the 125s went to Ubbiali ahead of Taveri and Provini.

The 250cc race in the Netherlands – retirement with the RE 250
In the 250cc class, only Horst Fügner competed for MZ and was even in fourth place after the first lap, before he was canceled one lap later. Often enough, in the first decades of Grand Prix racing, the fragile technology unfortunately thwarted the plan. And this was by no means only true for the team from the GDR. A good example of countless failures can be read in our history about Bill Ivy and his far too short career.

Horst Fügner on the cover of a GDR magazine about motorsport – from 1953 every racing fan knew the likeable racing driver from Chemnitz.
Assen GP 1958: Carlo Ubbiali (MV) ahead of Luigi Taveri (Ducati) and Tarquinio Provini (MV).

Belgian GP with World Championship round 3
The third round of the Motorcycle World Championship took place on the fast track at Spa-Francorchamps. As was to be feared in advance, Degner and Fügner could not keep up with the countless factory machines from MV and Ducati in the 125cc class. This time Horst was the best MZ driver, but nothing more than the thankless seventh place was possible for him. Luigi Taveri took the last World Championship point on the Ducati in 6th place. His team-mate Alberto Grandossi won the 125cc GP of Belgium ahead of Romolo Ferri (MV), Dave Chadwick (Ducati) and Carlo Ubbiali (MV). The 250cc category had a break in Belgium, it was only advertised again at the German GP at the Nürburgring. So far the troops from the GDR had only scored a few points in the 125s and of course they were eager to finally prove with the two-cylinder engine that they were now quite competitive with it.

Belgian GP in Spa-Francorchamps 1958 – Horst Fügner missed the last world championship point in seventh place by just one place in the 125cc class.

GP of Germany – the event at the “class enemy” with a bad history
In West Germany, MZ still had an invoice from the previous year. Although Degner had won all 3 races of the (West) German 125cc championship in 1957, he was not awarded the championship title at the end. It was simply scandalous what the OMK (Supreme Motor Sports Authority of the Federal Republic of Germany) had achieved with it. You let someone ride along like in previous years, but in the end you declare your license to be invalid. This was a politically motivated mess unparalleled and happened in the Federal Republic of Germany, which otherwise always presented itself as liberal! The team from the GDR therefore probably felt particularly challenged and went all the more carefully when preparing the machines.

Photos of the MZ Re 250 in the paddock from 1958 – on the right the front fork with the duplex brake. At that time, disc brakes were not used, even in racing there were only drum brakes at that time.

The race – the final breakthrough for Fügner and MZ
In the rain at the Hockenheimring last year, Fügner had his best ever World Championship result with fourth place. But at the Nürburgring in 1958, he even topped this result. With a sensational drive he secured second place behind Tarquinio Provini (MV) with the MZ RE 250. The first world championship points in this class for MZ and also on the podium. In the 125cc class he went up and took an excellent 4th place behind Degner, who also achieved his first Grand Prix podium with 3rd place. Walter Brehme rounded off the best GP weekend for MZ so far with rank 5. Ironically, all of this happened in West Germany, of all places, where the Zschopau company finally achieved its breakthrough among the world’s best on July 20, 1958. For the team and the country, the satisfaction could hardly be greater. Certainly there were countless fans and spectators in West Germany at that time, too, who viewed this performance from a purely sporty point of view and granted the hard-working team from Zschopau their success.

At the top of the world – Horst Fügner’s final breakthrough for MZ came in 1958 at the Nürburgring. And it shouldn’t be long before the Man from Chemnitz would add more.

The confirmation at the Swedish GP
Only a week after the Nürburgring, the GDR team headed for Sweden, it went to the Hedemora track. The premiere took place here with the first World Championship round in Scandinavia, in the 10th season of the motorcycle world championship since 1949. Just like the race at the Nürburgring, Horst Fügner should never win the Swedish Grand Prix in his entire life forget more. On July 27, 1958, after the 250cc race, for the first time in the history of MZ one of their drivers stood on top of the podium after a World Championship run. Mike Hailwood (NSU) came in second ahead of his English compatriot Geof Monty (GMS). In the course of the category up to 125cc, Fügner came sixth behind team-mate Degner. The victory went to Alberto Gandossi ahead of Taveri (both Ducati), Ubbiali and Provini (both MV).

Horst Fügner on the 250cc MZ – the 1958 season brought him the sensational first and only Grand Prix victory of his career.

Ulster GP – the penultimate championship round
On the track from Dundrod, a few kilometers west of Belfast, the penultimate round of the World Championship got down to business. Horst Fügner got the coal for MZ out of the fire here too. In the 125cc class, he secured two important points for his team with fifth place, while Degner came away empty-handed. He hit back in the 250cc race and even took the lead after the start. In the end, however, it was Tarquinio Provini (MV) who won the race and thus secured the world title before the final in Monza. Local hero Tommy Robb (NSU) finished second ahead of Dave Chadwick (MV), Degner and Fügner. For the latter, this was enough for the runner-up world championship title, the troop from the GDR no longer made the trip to the season finale in Monza. The run of the 125cc series was won by Carlo Ubbiali on MV Agusta, who was therefore already the world champion in this class.

Horst Fügner before the start of the 250cc race with Carlo Ubbiali and Tarquinio Provini (both MV Agusta).

The icing on the cake of the season with the Sachsenring victory
For Horst Fügner, his 250cc win at the GP of the GDR at the Sachsenring, which is not yet part of the World Cup, was another highlight of this most successful season of his career. On his victory run on August 17, 1958, he also set the fastest lap. Ernst Degner retired on the 2nd lap of this race with technical problems. For this he kept himself harmless with the 125cc victory in front of a home crowd. Horst came second behind his teammate in this race in front of Werner Musiol and the West German Scheidhauer on Ducati. For Fügner it was the icing on the cake of his sensational season.

Sachsenring spectators with self-made, very adventurous “grandstands”.

Third title in the GDR championship
After two titles in the 125cc GDR championship in 1955 and 1956, he also clinched overall victory a third time. With that he also left his former teammates Erhart Krumpholz and Bernhard Petruschke behind with 2 titles each in the smallest class. Horst was the first driver in the post-war period with 3 championship titles in East Germany. At the GP of Czechoslovakia, which is not part of the World Cup, Fügner was second behind Degner in the 125cc class. Until one lap before the end, the man from Chemnitz also led in the 250cc race, but once again the technology failed again and with the victory in mind he had to give up.

Horst Fügner on the MZ Re 250 – after a bad start to the season, he ended up being vice world champion.

Some of Fügner’s most important successes in 1958

In addition to the runner-up world title in the 250cc class, Horst Fügner achieved a top ten result in the 125s with a 9th place. For the third time he was GDR master in the 125cc class. As the first driver of the post-war period, the now 35-year-old had won 3 championships in his own country. Fügner had reached the zenith of his career. Compared to his former teammates Krumpholz and Petruschke, he was still very young. The two MZ drivers from the first few years were already in their mid-40s when they retired. With Degner he now had strong competition from his own team. In addition, in the World Cup, there are many top drivers from abroad with their mostly superior machines. Nevertheless, Fügner had a sensational season behind him and was already looking forward to the second full World Cup season in 1959. Nobody could have guessed at the time that Horst’s career would not last very long.

Motor of the MZ Re 250 – the in-house design made it into the top of the world with Fügner as driver.

125cc driver world championship 1958

250cc driver world championship 1958

Part 7 with the story of Horst Fügner coming soon..