6 October 2011

Schotten not forgotten

Annual classic races show how advanced Germany was in the 1950s, and Audi brings DKW and NSU racers from their museum to prove the point

The Vogelsberg Mountains north of Frankfurt contain some of the best bike roads you can find and thousands of riders gather every year on the third weekend of August for the Schotten historic races.

In 1925, an automobile and motorcycle club was founded in Schotten, and designed a very demanding, undulating 16.08 km circuit using the public roads around town.  In 1947, 90,000 spectators attended the first motorcycle race there after WW II to see top riders like Karl Kling, Walter Zeller and Schorsch Meier.

The track flourished and in 1953 it was awarded the German round of the motorcycle World Championship. But like the Isle of Man TT in the 1970s, top riders staged a strike, complaining that the course was too dangerous. As a result, only the 125cc and 250cc races were run as part of the world championship, with NSU-mount Werner Haas winning both races.

The Schotten course never recovered and all German road racing was stopped after a series of accidents a few years later. An attempt was made to build a £20 million circuit at Schotten the early1970s, but despite money being pledged and political support, it never happened.

The yearly races held now are part of the German classic series that started in 1989. Races are staged on a 1.4 km street circuit in the town itself, and attract more than 100 entries and 20,000 spectators. The event’s appeal is two-fold: Spectators can get close to the action and see many rare German racing machines.

A day here shows how technically advanced German industry was in the 1950s and 1960s, long before the Japanese became involved. This year, Audi Tradition brought bikes from its museum, reminding people that great motorcycle names like DKW and NSU are also part of its heritage.

Regarded as the most professional racing team, NSU was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world in 1955 and held numerous land speed records. The company won World Championships and took the first four places in the 1954 Lightweight TT. Mike Hailwood rode an NSU, and his original machine was present at the event.

Along with well-known historic bikes, Audi stunned the crowd by bringing the 1936 DKW 700cc UL sidecar outfit, which had not seen the light of day since 1937. It took two years work to rebuild the motor, which was damaged in a race. New barrels were cast in 500cc and 600 cc versions, so as not to put too much strain on the bottom end of the motor – which is the only one in existence.

The 700UL is classed as a parallel twin two-stroke, but it does in fact have four cylinders working on the Bichrome, or split-single layout, like a Puch. The pistons are mounted on articulating con-rods, and work in their own cylinders but share a common combustion chamber with a centrally mounted spark plug. One piston follows another, with transfer ports in one cylinder and the exhaust ports in the rear.

Both the twin carburettors and the exhausts are mounted at the rear of the cylinders, while water hoses lead from the front of the cylinders to a radiator attached to the down tubes. This layout leads to its “U” designation and also means that a reverse megaphone is not required to create back-pressure in the exhaust system. Hence it has virtually straight exhaust pipes exiting rearwards and ending in conventional megaphones.

A similar, supercharged solo machine ran at the Isle of Man TT before WWII, where it was remembered for its speed, its deafening exhaust and unmentionable fuel consumption. It was difficult to assess the 700UL’s top speed from parade laps , but it certainly sounded different. 

Next year’s million-dollar question is whether the company will show the four-cylinder NSU prototype that’s rumoured to be the basis for the first Honda Four.  If it does appear, it will be at Schotten, which is now the largest classic bike race meeting in Germany and the only place to see some of the best German racing and historic motorcycles in an appropriate historic setting.

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