Saturday, October 22, 2016

Stealing Speed

I'm just finishing up a fascinating book called Stealing Speed: The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsport History.  Unfortunately the book appears to be out of print and hard copies are bringing somewhat ridiculous prices. It available as a reasonably priced ebook however.
The book tells the too strange to be fiction story of how Nazi rocket scientist Walter Kaaden's life-long motorcycle obsession resulted in the two stroke tuning advancements that forever changed the motorcycle world. And how East German rider Ernst Degner defected to Japan with a suitcase full of secrets giving Suzuki a competitive advantage that contributed to Japan's eventual motorcycle world domination. It was coincidentally perhaps the perfect book to read immediately following another excellent book, Shooting Star: The Rise & Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry.  

The book well documents the intriguing and somewhat terrifying details behind the Nazi V2 rocket program, a weapon Hitler referred as the "New York" rocket with an obvious target in mind. The story of chief scientist Werner von Braun's surrender to US forces and eventually work with NASA is a commonly told historical tale. Walter Kaaden chose a different path that eventually landed him in Russian occupied East Germany.

Before the war DKW (pronounced ‘dekkavay’) had been the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, producing 45,000 bikes a year. Following Germany’s WW2 defeat, DKW’s patents and copyrights were nullified as a result of war reparations and the RT-125 became the world’s most copied motorcycle. In Russia they called their RT-125 rip-off the M1A. Britain’s renowned BSA marque sold it as the Bantam, building 200,000 units, and Harley-Davidson called its RT clone the Hummer. Post war when Kaaden's interests turned again toward motorcycles and racing his experience with exhaust gases and resonance in the Hs 293 project were a natural transferal in making the most out of an aging RT, the only power-plant at his disposal. Advancements that resulted in 13 bhp in 1954 to 16.5 bhp in 1956 and 22 bhp at 10,000 rpm in 1959. A feat I see as nothing short of a miracle having an affinity for the little RT of my own.

Kaaden's advancements ultimately landed him at the East German reorganization of DKW, MZ motorcycles (Motorenwerke Zschopau). Kaaden successfully evoled the RT from a cheap smokey moped to a world dominator. Kaaden was the first to achieve the allusive 200 bhp per liter.
Still, Kaaden struggled to campaign a successful GP Team with no budget, antiquated equipment and noncompetitive riders until the acquisition of star rider Ernst Degner.
Degner become jealous of Western racers who showed up at GP events wearing trendy tailored suits and driving flashy new Jaguars and Porsches. Communist doctrine mandated Degner was paid no more than ordinary MZ factory floor workers. Degner was also unhappy living in East Germany and racing abroad under constant surveillance of the murderous Stasi secret police.

In the summer of 1961 Degner evaded his Stasi minders to rendezvous with Suzuki. The previous year Suzuki had entered their first GP with it's woefully slow 125s. Shunzo Suzuki decided his only path to GP success was to steal Kaaden’s tuning magic. Degner was that means; he wanted out of East Germany and he had exactly what Suzuki needed.

Degner devised a plan sneak guarded secrets out of the MZ factory and sneak both himself and his young family out of East Germany. A rather precarious plan as whenever Degner raced abroad the Stazi police made certain his family stayed in East Germany, to make sure he always came home. Sadly is first attempt to smuggle out his wife and children out of was planned for the morning after the Berlin wall was erected. Ultimately Degner and his family's death defying defection was eventually successful costing Kaaden perhaps his only career shot at a GP championship.  
RM62 engine showing clear Kaaden design similarities
Ernst Degner went on to ride a Suzuki RM62 to their inaugural 50cc title in October 1962. The RM62 made eight horsepower and was good for 90mph. Its success was as much a historic
 moment for the sport as it was for 
Suzuki as it was first world title won by a two-stroke.

Over the next few years the two-stroke would go on to utterly dominate GP racing, so much so that after 1975 not a single world title was won by a four-stroke until the rules were changed and the MotoGP era began in 2001.

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