Kim New­combe’s Konig 500

The Kim New­combe Konig 500

Classic Racer - - WHAT'S INSIDE - Words by: Terry Steven­son Photos by: The New­combe fam­ily, Rodtin­gate, Pa­trick Steven­son, terry Steven­son

An iconic mo­tor­cy­cle in nearly ev­ery sense of the phrase. An out­board two-stroke mo­tor and a very tal­ented rider at the con­trols gave birth to a com­bi­na­tion that, to­gether, was the first to chal­lenge the mighty MV Agus­tas of the time.

Like some­thing from a Hol­ly­wood block­buster, what a guy from New Zealand man­aged to make went out on track and stunned the rac­ing world. This is the story of that mo­tor­cy­cle.

If you wrote this as a fic­tional story for the big screen now, peo­ple would prob­a­bly say it was too far-fetched a rav­ing fa­ble. But this was as real as it gets. In the early 1970s Kim New­combe de­vel­oped a 500cc out­board en­gine in­side a self- de­signed frame. Work­ing in a small work­shop in Ger­many and against the odds, the Kiwi's plan worked. And won a 500cc Grand Prix. New­combe was an in­cred­i­bly tal­ented New Zealan­der. Al­ready an ac­com­plished mo­tocross rider in NZ and Aus­tralia, he landed a job in Ber­lin with the Konig out­board en­gine fac­tory in 1969, and found that a lo­cal had un­suc­cess­fully tried to fit a Konig 500cc mo­tor into a Manx Nor­ton frame. He took up the en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge and then had to learn to road race to de­velop the Konig 500 him­self. His rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and en­gi­neer­ing work de­vel­oped in par­al­lel to the point where New­combe stood on the World 500cc podium on two oc­ca­sions in 1972. The Konig fac­tory sold a num­ber of ex­am­ples in kit form to pri­va­teers. By the 1973 sea­son the Konig 500 was more re­li­able and faster in a straight line than the fac­tory MV Agus­tas of the great Gi­a­como Agos­tini and Phil Read. At one point dur­ing 1973 New­combe ac­tu­ally lead the world 500cc cham­pi­onship! New­combe and his low-bud­get ef­fort split the MV Agusta team by the sea­son’s end to fin­ish sec­ond in the cham­pi­onship to Phil Read, and ahead of Agos­tini.

But New­combe trag­i­cally lost his life af­ter hit­ting a con­crete bar­rier in an avoid­able in­ci­dent at Stowe Cor­ner, dur­ing an Au­gust 1973 Bri­tish F750 in­ter­na­tional race at Sil­ver­stone. He posthumously fin­ished sec­ond in the world 500cc ti­tle chase with one ti­tle round re­main­ing. Aus­tralian Rod Tin­gate be­came his me­chanic that year and, sev­eral decades later, built up a Konig 500 us­ing orig­i­nal and fab­ri­cated parts as a per­sonal trib­ute to his old friend and rac­ing mate. My priv­i­leged ride came dur­ing a Clas­sic Reg­is­ter meet­ing at the Hamp­ton Downs cir­cuit in New Zealand. Even tak­ing the Konig through scru­ti­neer­ing was an event. Be­cause sump plugs have to be wired for race­track safety, dur­ing in­spec­tion the ques­tion was asked: “Where is the sump plug?” ex­pect­ing it hadn’t been wired as it wasn’t vis­i­ble. Tin­gate replied: “This one’s a bit un­usual as the gear­box is up­side down!” Which pretty well sums up a lot of the en­gi­neer­ing on the Konig in or­der to take a ver­ti­cally mounted, high per­for­mance, four-cylin­der out­board mo­tor and some­how make it work hor­i­zon­tally in be­tween a 1430mm wheel­base. Another ex­am­ple is the chain ad­juster, which is en­gi­neered into the swingarm mount rather than the rear wheel axle. New­combe also built a box sec­tion swingarm when round ones were used, years ahead of its time. The Konig 500 seat is very low at 730mm, with pad­ding. Un­like to­day’s bikes, 35 years ago the foot­pegs were placed so high and far back that I found it a small chal­lenge just get­ting on the bike. New­combe was a tall six feet and two inches, some three inches taller than my­self, and my knees couldn’t quite tuck into the re­cessed fuel tank, be­hind the Kawasaki H1R fair­ing. It’s a good stretch to the han­dle­bars which left the up­per part of my body rel­a­tively re­laxed while my legs were an­gled so tight they quickly be­came numb from lack of cir­cu­la­tion. I was about to head out for the first ride by a Kiwi on a Konig in NZ, since New­combe did all the devel­op­ment work in Ger­many and never road-raced at home. Kim’s son Mark New­combe proudly rode two laps of hon­our on a Hans de Wit-owned Konig 500 at a Sach­sen­ring demon­stra­tion in 2004. To avoid any of the plugs foul­ing, the en­gine needs to be revved when stand­ing still. Like New­combe did in the sev­en­ties, we didn’t warm the bike up – dur­ing devel­op­ment he dis­cov­ered the ra­di­a­tor couldn’t keep the en­gine cool enough, so he would start the ma­chine and go

straight away, which is al­most ex­actly what I did, ex­cept I was un­ex­pect­edly held in the pit lane for a minute. The mo­ment, which seemed like a life­time, was not lost on me, as I was about to taste a very large slice of mo­tor­cy­cle his­tory!

Out and about

Tin­gate had warned me about burn­ing my legs on the two pro­trud­ing exhaust pipes, but it only struck home when we started it up for my ride. Within 30 sec­onds the en­gine gen­er­ated enough heat in the exhaust pipes to burn my left leg fairly well, with the right ex­pan­sion cham­ber fol­low­ing suit. I had to stand up to find re­lief from the in­ner-leg bar­be­cue. Time to go, but trav­el­ling down the pit lane I felt more heat from the pipes. Once on the track all was for­got­ten as more chal­lenges lay ahead and I had just five laps to fig­ure out the ma­chine on which New­combe won the 1973 Yu­goslav Grand Prix, at Opatija, on June 17. The Hamp­ton Downs spec­ta­tors were treated to the four-cylin­der Konig’s dis­tinc­tive and loud stac­cato exhaust note em­a­nat­ing from its two un­si­lenced pipes. Like the rear cylin­ders, the front pair of the flat-four cylin­ders fire at 180° in­ter­vals and share the same high-level ex­pan­sion cham­ber, with New­combe the­o­ris­ing each out­let pres­sure wave help­ing to extract spent gases from the other cylin­der. The busy ‘twin’ sound­ing crackle could be heard miles away. On the bike the noise seemed even worse, al­though that was the last thing on my mind as I tipped it into the first turn. The pre-unit Quaife five-speed gear­box has a right-hand gear shifter set in a re­verse ‘race’ pat­tern one-up and four-down ar­range­ment. Once un­der­way I found the 493cc en­gine to be very smooth through­out the 10,500 rev range. There is no power­band to speak of and I was very sur­prised how well the mo­tor pulled from the mid-range for a two-stroke. The en­gine was run­ning slightly rich #160 main jets in the ex-porsche twin 40mm Solex car­bu­ret­tors, caus­ing a no­tice­able top-end power loss, along with slightly ‘off’ ig­ni­tion tim­ing. How­ever, my great­est is­sue was chang­ing gears be­cause I had so much dif­fi­culty mov­ing my legs or feet to shift the lever on a ma­chine Rod set up for him­self. As such I found neu­tral a few times while I fig­ured out how to tackle the un­ex­pected prob­lem. Un­for­tu­nately, when I came in the en­gine stalled it­self just as I came into our pit. On check­ing, Tin­gate found a bro­ken 10mm toothed ro­tary disc in­take drive belt that he’d just re­placed af­ter break­ing one at Pukekohe. This was an is­sue New­combe en­coun­tered dur­ing the Sev­en­ties, re­plac­ing the belt be­fore ev­ery race, which is hardly sur­pris­ing as the short belt is cre­atively twisted 90° from its drive. Tin­gate re­placed the belt then took the Konig out be­fore my sec­ond stint. How­ever, that belt broke on his first lap, leav­ing the task of find­ing another late on a Satur­day.

Sec­ond time around

By Sun­day morn­ing we’d found a re­place­ment that Tin­gate in­stalled and re-timed the points. The ex­tra ef­fort was re­warded with a mo­tor that ran sweeter and had more power, even if still run­ning rich. I also knew what to ex­pect in re­gard to the rid­ing po­si­tion and did stretch­ing ex­er­cises to give my legs and feet a greater chance of move­ment on a bike that is sig­nif­i­cantly more leg cramped than even Dani Pe­drosa’s fac­tory Rep­sol Honda Mo­togp bike. And Dani can re­ally fit into a cramped space, so his bike isn’t what you’d call roomy. For the sec­ond day the Clas­sic Reg­is­ter kindly pro­vided a track free of other ma­chines, so I didn’t have to worry about inad­ver­tent col­li­sions. Rod and I started the bike and this time I went straight out to avoid fur­ther leg burns from the pipes. I im­me­di­ately felt the mo­tor had more zest and, al­though the newly-fit­ted Krober elec­tronic rev counter wasn’t op­er­at­ing cor­rectly by read­ing ev­ery sec­ond ig­ni­tion im­pulse, it revved out at the top-end much cleaner too. When I hooked fifth gear along the front straight, the mo­tor held its revs bet­ter to of­fer more speed than the pre­vi­ous day’s ses­sion. It be­came clear that hav­ing a six-speed trans­mis­sion would have been a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage for New­combe on faster world-level race­tracks. With the rev counter askew, I can only es­ti­mate the un­usual 85hp two-stroke pow­er­plant was most tractable from 7000-8000rpm, giv­ing New­combe a healthy 2500-3500rpm work­ing range while rac­ing. In 1973 it made enough power for reg­u­lar podi­ums against works MV Agus­tas. The is­sue was how on earth New­combe man­aged to fit on and race his Konig 500 for grands prix back then! Even if Tin­gate said he had short legs. On the track I dis­cov­ered it was more com­fort­able around the cor­ners when I hung off the side of the bike. Stop­ping came easy from the 230mm di­am­e­ter Ce­ri­ani four lead­ing shoe drum front brake, even if a lit­tle ‘grabby’ on ini­tial take-up. It worked so well the bike would em­bar­rass a few 1980s ma­chines with its power and feel. With the lever fit­ted on the left side, the Ce­ri­ani rear brake also had enough stop­ping power for me to lock the rear wheel on oc­ca­sion go­ing into cor­ners, yet it was grad­ual enough to be con­trol­lable. Weigh­ing just 120kg dry, the nar­row Konig was su­per-easy to flick into and drive around the turns on its spoked 18in Bor­rani al­loy rims fit­ted with mod­ern Bridge­stone Bat­t­lax BT45 tyres. The Konig’s wheel­base was 55mm longer than the 1973 MV Agusta 4s 1375mm be­cause New­combe needed the ex­tra space to fit the trans­mis­sion be­hind the mo­tor. Par­tic­u­larly in the slower cor­ners, I could feel the rel­a­tively long wheel­base, which also hap­pened to give the bike ex­cel­lent sta­bil­ity for the faster turns. Lit­tle won­der New­combe per­formed so well on the big Euro­pean cir­cuits. It is a trib­ute to his de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing skill, and to Tin­gate for re­cently pro­duc­ing a good frame from poor orig­i­nal fac­tory draw­ings. Konig took third in the 1973 con­struc­tors’ ti­tle as five other Konig rid­ers scored points

in the world 500cc cham­pi­onship. Ex­clud­ing the unique Isle of Man TT road course (Jack Find­lay won on a Suzuki), no other man­u­fac­turer won a 500cc race that year, other than the two works teams of MV Agusta and Yamaha, and the low-bud­get Konig 500 that was de­signed, built and raced by New Zealan­der Kim New­combe liv­ing in Ber­lin.

Right: Agos­tini, Al­berto Pa­gani and Kim New­combe chat, in 1972.

Left: Agos­tini, A Pa­gani, Kim New­combe, 250 win­ner Jarno Saari­nen, Di­eter Braun. West Ger­man GP April 30, 1972.

Above: The Konig 500 frame.

Left: The Konig 500 – beau­ti­ful, sim­ply fast and iconic.

Above: Kim in the Konig work­shop show­ing bare frame.

Right: Kim New­combe and Rod Tin­gate pre­par­ing bikes. Ger­man GP, Hock­en­heim, 1973.

The Konig 500 – a long way to the bars. Above right: The Konig 500 en­gine.

Rod Tin­gate with his Konig 500.

Above left:

Be­low: Yu­goslav GP pro­gramme. Opatija, June 17, 1973.

Left: Rod Gould, Agos­tini, Kim New­combe. East Ger­man GP, Sach­sen­ring, July 9, 1972.

Bot­tom: Terry Steven­son and Rod Tin­gate with the Konig.

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