Suzuki can trace its two-stroke racing success to one man and a spectacular escape. And he wasn’t Japanese.
German Grand Prix racer Ernst Degner was born Ernst EugenWotzlawek on September 1931 and died September 10 1983.
Degner sensationally defected from East Germany while leading the 1961 125cc World Road Racing Championship with only one race to go, escaping (with his wife and children) from East Germany in the boot of a car.
Importantly he was racing for the East German outfit MZ at the time, and showing the rest of the grand prix world how it should be done.
Pivotal in the timeline of the development of racing two-stroke technology of the time was the 1960 MZ RE125.
This East German road racer was designed by Walter Kaaden, the father of the expansion chamber. Kaaden’s water-cooled, rotary-valve, reverse cylinder design was totally revolutionary and quickly copied by the Japanese subsequent to Degner’s, defection.
You see, Degner had a complete set of Kaaden’s secrets and MZ’s rivals would do anything to get a decent look at his visionary developments.
Suzuki immediately pounced on Degner and signed him to the factory.
Degner arrived at the Suzuki factory in Hamamatsu, Japan, under the pseudonym of Eugene Muller, taking with him some MZ parts (cylinder, piston, crankshaft and rotary-valve) plus some blueprints. Degner reportedly shared most of Kaaden’s ideas with Suzuki.
This paved the way for the Japanese domination of small displacement motorcycle racing in the following decades.
So. If Ernst hadn’t made it out? Well, Japanese two-stroke racing success may well have never happened. Big, huh?
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.