Degner's fast stroke

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

This year Suzuki becomes the third Japanese factory (after Honda and Yamaha) to celebrate half a century in Grand Prix racing. The smallest of the Japanese marques hasn’t had a happy time of late, having scored just one victory since the advent of the four-stroke MotoGP class in 2002, and that was in a downpour at Le Mans three years ago. The factory’s V4 GSV-R is a good-looking motorcycle but is out-gunned on horsepower and has an irritating tendency to understeer, so it rarely troubles the dominant Ducatis, Hondas and Yamahas.

Suzuki is doing its best to celebrate 50 years on the world stage, mostly by looking back at better days. Its golden years were the late ’70s and early ’80s when its highly effective RG500 two-stroke won four world titles with Barry Sheene, Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini. But through all the celebrations you won’t find any mention of the fact that the RG500 had its genesis in technology stolen from an East German motorcycle factory in a thrilling episode of Cold War skulduggery. What happened in the summer of 1961 makes the McLaren/Ferrari spy scandal look pedestrian.

When Suzuki first ventured into GP racing in 1960 its 125 was a paddock joke – a smoky little two-stroke that was horribly slow and prone to melting pistons. The consensus was that the two-stroke had had its day in GP racing, killed off by an earlier ban on supercharging. Only one company was having any joy with the ‘stink wheel’ (a nickname bestowed by four-stroke snobs) MZ.

Motorradwerk Zschopau was a communist-run motorcycle factory with a tiny, underfunded race shop headed by Walter Kaaden, a genius engineer who had worked on Hitler’s top-secret ‘terror weapons’ programme during WWII. Kaaden had been based at Peenemunde where the V-1 and V-2 were developed and built. In 1945 he only narrowly avoided getting exiled to either the USA or the USSR to work on a superpower space programme.

In Zschopau Kaaden dedicated himself to putting the two-stroke back on top. Using what he had learned about the engine while working as an apprentice at the DKW motorcycle factory during the pre-war years and about gas dynamics at Peenemunde, Kaaden made the two-stroke sing like a musical instrument. He used resonance and harmonics instead of mechanical valves to build the world’s first normally aspirated engine to produce 200 horsepower per litre: the deceptively simple 1961 MZ 125.

That summer MZ’s best rider Ernst Degner (a Polish war orphan raised in East Germany) was on his way to winning the 125 world title aboard Kaaden’s wonder machine. What Kaaden and the team’s Stasi minders didn’t know was that Degner was planning to defect and sell MZ’s technology to Suzuki.

Degner slipped away from his team after the Swedish GP at Kristianstad and made his way to West Germany via Denmark. The defection was timed to coincide with a plan to smuggle his family through the Berlin Wall, which had just gone up. Degner’s wife and two children were drugged and hidden in the false boot of a car driven by Degner’s partner in crime, a West German two-stroke tuner who’d been the go-between in the Suzuki plot.

Degner took with him various key MZ engine parts and then flew to Japan to help design Suzuki’s 1962 125 and 50cc racers. No one was surprised when the factory’s new bikes turned out to be remarkably similar to the MZ. In June ’62 Degner took Suzuki’s first TT win and four months later the company’s first world title.

It took a while longer before Suzuki conquered the premier 500cc class, but the RG500 that took Sheene to the 1976 and ’77 500 world titles was a square-four two-stroke with rotary-valve induction; in other words, four MZ 125s in a square format.

Thanks to Kaaden’s breakthrough technology, two-strokes ruled GP racing for 35 years. It took a fundamental rule change (in 2002 990cc four-strokes were introduced to take on the 500 two-strokes) to sound the death knell for the much-maligned engine.

You may also like

Related products