Mat Oxley

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

Current page

181

Current page

182

September 1 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Walter Kaaden, the German engineer who transformed motorcycle grand prix racing by creating the modern two-stroke engine. Between 1958 and 2011 (after which MotoGP went fully four-stroke), two-stroke bikes won more than 2000 grands prix, all directly or indirectly attributable to the great man.

Kaaden, a former weapons engineer who worked on the Henschel Hs-293 Gleitbombe (guided missile) and ME 262 jet-powered fighter plane, ended the war on the east side of the Iron Curtain, where he set about building the world’s most powerful race bikes. His state-owned employer MZ had scant resources, but it didn’t matter, because Kaaden was a genius who noticed two-stroke possibilities where others saw none.

“The most promising possibility to gain performance lies with the exhaust, basically a downstream supercharger,” he once wrote.

Kaaden’s 1961 125cc MZ was the first normally aspirated engine to produce 200bhp per litre. The bike should have won that year’s world championship, but instead MZ’s star rider Ernst Degner defected during the Swedish GP and sold Kaaden’s secrets to Suzuki. The very next year Suzuki won its first world championship, as later did Yamaha, Kawasaki and others, all using Kaaden’s two-stroke tricks.

Following Degner’s defection the GDR authorities mostly forbade Kaaden and his mechanics from travelling to The West. Thus MZ’s racing exploits were much curtailed. But where there’s a will there’s a way…

“Kaaden watched the Japanese factories take his ideas”

At the end of 1960 Kaaden hired British rider Alan Shepherd, who enjoyed success on 125, 250 and 350cc MZs. After 1961 Kaaden accompanied Shepherd to races when he was allowed, but other arrangements had to be made when he wasn’t.

In 1963 Shepherd had an entry for the Italian GP at Monza, but Kaaden wasn’t given clearance to attend, so both parties drove to the Brenner Pass on the Italian/Austrian border, where the bikes were switched from the MZ truck to Shepherd’s Austin van.

Setting up a two-stroke GP bike was never easy. The engines were fickle, affected by the slightest change in ambient pressure and temperature. And also by engine wear.

“If the cylinder wears, the port profiles change, and so does engine behaviour,” wrote Kaaden. “So you may tune an exhaust to suit a certain engine, then after the race you change the piston and the engine doesn’t have the same power as before. So you can’t tune the engine to the smallest detail, because in the meantime other components can wear so much that they require changing, and it all starts over again.”

Despite such constraints, Shepherd went well at Monza, telephoning Kaaden whenever he needed advice. The pair had agreed that if the engines required more serious attention, the work would have to be done by Kaaden on the Austrian side of the Brenner pass, a 450-mile round trip from Monza. Luckily that wasn’t required, and Shepherd finished second in the 350cc Italian GP and fourth in the 250.

The 1964 championship began at Daytona, USA. Obviously there was no way the GDR would allow Kaaden and his crew to travel to the heart of western decadence, nor would the Americans allow a bunch of Commie bike nuts into their country, so Shepherd went alone.

But first he had to get the bike. Shepherd climbed into his Austin once again and set off for the Berlin corridor, the 120-mile strip of neutral asphalt that linked West Berlin to West Germany. The bike swap was made at Helmstedt, ironically the same East/West border crossing used by Degner’s family when they had escaped in the boot of a car.

The MZ-RE250 was air-freighted from London to Florida, after Shepherd had abandoned the Austin, which broke a conrod near Cologne. Things went almost as badly at Daytona – Shepherd was so far adrift that on the eve of final practice he called Kaaden in Zschopau.

This wasn’t an easy or cheap procedure. At first the American telephone company refused to connect a call to the GDR. Finally, under pressure from Daytona, it relented. Shepherd made the call, but at £30 a minute in today’s money, it had to be quick.

He recited his problems to Kaaden, who quickly decided the cause was low-grade fuel. “Don’t interrupt me now,” he told Shepherd. “Here is what you must do… Do all that and I think you will win! Goodbye.”

And Shepherd did win, after hurriedly making some adjustments to compression, ignition and carburation. That year the 28-year-old scored two more podium results – at the Isle of Man TT and Spa-Francorchamps – to end the campaign third overall, behind the mighty Yamaha and Honda factories.

MZ continued to make occasional forays into grand prix competition over the next decade, taking its final victories in 1971. Kaaden passed away in 1996, having watched the Japanese factories take his ideas and, with it, control of motorcycle racing. “Every time you build something good, someone steals it,” he said shortly before his death. “I have to accept it. I cannot change it.”


Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley


DIGITAL EXTRA

You may also like

Related products