Lothar Mildebrath is a world authority on the BMW Rennsport and author of the book Munchener Meistermacher Maschinen: BMW RS 54 and Family. Here he traces the career of one of the best-loved pilots of the Bavarian racers.
Walter Schneider, from the town called Siegen in south western Germany near Cologne, started his racing career in a sidecar chair in 1949. He soon built his own BMW R 66-engined sidecar outfit and earned his first laurels in 1950. Many German solo and sidecar riders used Nortons in the years before the BMW Rennsport was available. In 1953 he took the opportunity to buy a 500cc Norton Manx from 1952 German champion Rudolf Knees (1907-1982) and Schneider started sidecar racing with more success, ending up in fourth position in the German sidecar championship that year. The result encouraged him to take part in the 1954 world championship. His passenger being associated with the local BMW dealer, and BMW being about to deliver the first few of the RS 54 Rennsport motorcycles, Walter Schneider was able to obtain one of those rare racers in April 1954. With this new motorcycle came his new passenger; Hans Strauss (1924-2001) from Nuremburg who had been racing with Ernst Ebersberger on a BMW sidecar outfit with some success since 1949. Their first race on the new BMW Rennsport was at Zandvoort in Holland in May 1954 where they finished second. Besides racing for the world title Schneider also chased world records. He joined the BMW works team with Wilhelm Noll and Friedrich Hillebrand in March 1955 in Montlhery near Paris, France where they achieved 57 new records in 24 hours on their Rennsport powered sidecar. He repeated a similar effort when he joined Frenchman Jean Murit at the Bol d’Or 24 hour race in June 1959. But let’s go back to 1955. That was the second year of BMW Rennsport powered sidecars at the Isle of Man TT in early June. Walter Zeller had introduced his fuel-injected solo Rennsport to the island in 1953. Unfortunately he did not finish but had been able to show the quality of this newlydeveloped engine. Sixteen sidecar teams started the 1955 Sidecar TT race on the shorter 11 mile Clypse course which avoided the Snaefell Mountain section. Schneider’s sidecar carried Noll’s fairing from the previous year, covering the front wheel, with racing number 5 on it. During the race some of the main contenders were forced out, one after the other. These included the favoured Smith/Dibben and Oliver/Nutt combinations on Nortons. Faust/ Remmert (who became world champions by the end of the 1955 season) and Noll/Cron (world champion of the previous year 1954) also had to give up after crashes and technical trouble. After 83 minutes, nine laps and 156 kilometres Walter and Hans crossed the line and saw the chequered flag first. That was the first victory by a non-British sidecar – manufacturer and riders – and the first of a long string until the 1970s. Many will remember Ewald Kluge’s victory on the 250 cc Lightweight
ABOVE Walter Schneider with the Isle of Man Sidecar TT trophy in 1955. LEFT Sliding through Onchan village in the 1954 Isle of Man Sidecar TT.