A tale of intrigue
The DKW racers and a tale of intrigue.
When German champion and DKW works rider Ewald Kluge arrived in South Australia in late 1937 with his wife for a series of appearances to promote the DKW brand – part of the giant Auto Union corporation – there was a third member of the troupe that in some circles, drew more attention than the famous 27-year-old rider.
Baron Klaus-Detlof von Oertzen accompanied the Kluges on the trip to act as interpreter, but was immediately under observation as a possible enemy agent with sympathies to the Nazi Party. When the brands of Audi, Horch, Wanderer and DKW – all based in the Saxony area of Germany – amalgamated in 1932 to form Auto Union, Von Oertzen, who had been Sales Director for Wanderer, was appointed to the board, where he later became chairman. It is said that Von Oertzen suggested the four-ring symbol that became the overarching emblem for the new group and which is still used today on Audi vehicles. However the increasing tensions in Germany did not sit well with Von Oertzen, and in 1935 he wisely decided to migrate to South Africa with his wife Irene (who was Jewish), where he set up in business importing the DKW saloon cars. He also managed to bring a brace of the incredible Auto Union Grand Prix cars to South Africa for promotional races at Cape Town and East London. Ever the energetic businessman, Von Oertzen also began eyeing Australia as a potential market, and was highly instrumental in arranging the Kluge visit. Local authorities began closely observing the movements of the Baron and Baroness, noting that they made contact with many Germans while in Australia (certainly not that difficult in South Australia with its large German population), and that large amounts of money – around £11,000 – were being deposited into his bank account. It was later alleged that he was dispersing funds to individuals and groups and that he was listed in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Nazi Party of Australia. He was also accused of photographing strategic installations and trying to arrange for parts of the Australian coastline to be filmed from an aircraft.
As a prominent German motor sportsman, Kluge was obliged to join the N.S.K.K. (National Socialist Motor Corps) which had links to the Nazi Party and operated from 1931 to 1945. “Aryan qualities” were a requirement for membership, as was adherence to the Nazi doctrine. Kluge wore the NSKK insignia, which incorporated a swastika, on his leathers. Meanwhile, back to the real story. Baron Von Oertzen arrived in Melbourne in November 1937, where his wife had been holidaying for the previous two months. He brought with him a DKW cabriolet which used a 20hp two-stroke engine with front wheel drive which he believed could be produced locally. The couple left almost immediately for Perth where they held talks with trade officials regarding sales for DKW. He explained that he hoped that the currency flowing out of Australia would be compensated by the purchase of Australian ‘wool and raw materials’ by Germany. “We have no gold,” he explained, “and we must try to balance our trade if we are to carry on business on an equitable basis.” The Kluge entourage set up camp in Adelaide in preparation for the races at the 14-kilometre Lobethal road circuit on 27th December, 1937. Roughly triangular in shape and completely bitumen sealed, the circuit ran through the towns of Lobethal and Charlestown, and had an interesting combination of fast corners and straights with elevation changes thrown in for good measure. The DKW team was actually under covert scrutiny from British amateur driver Alan Sinclair, who was also an MI5 agent and was in Australia to compete in the car Grand Prix at Lobethal, and much was subsequently made of this cold war tactic. Local press reported that the van driven by Von Oertzen containing the bikes and gear was adorned with swastikas, but this was actually the NSKK insignia. The DKW machinery consisted of three 250cc machines, all finished in silver/cream and all based on the split-single layout designed by Ing. Zoller. The engine used tandem bores with a common combustion chamber and articulated connecting rods. A third piston was contained in the horizontally-mounted supercharger which attached to the front of the crankcases. All three of the bikes
differed slightly in specification, according to Eric Williams who would later own one of them. “Kluge’s bike had a gear or chain-driven crank forward of the main crankshaft with a vertical pumping cylinder (supercharger) and an across-theframe gear-driven rotary valve on top, with two Amal Fischer Vergasser carburettors feeding into it, then to the front split-single cylinder. The second bike (which was raced by local Les Fredricks at Lobethal) had horizontal forward-facing pumping cylinder with two carbs under streamlined teardrop shrouds, feeding into it then to the front split-single cylinder via reed valves. Both had ‘pistol grip’ fuel tanks with separate oil tank and pump, with swinging arm/plunger rear suspension and full width hubs. The “practice bike” (hereafter referred to as such) was a 1936 model with horizontal forward-facing pumping cylinder with ‘upside down’ piston increasing crankcase capacity and crankcase compression, with two side-mounted carbs feeding rear split-single cylinder as per a conventional two stroke. This bike also had a pistol grip tank, petrol/oil lubrication, a rigid frame and girder front suspension controlled by rubber bands. Auto Union had always argued that as the pumping cylinder was an integral part of the engine they were technically not supercharged.”
Visually, the three bikes could be distinguished by their rear suspension. Kluge’s ‘number one’ machine and the second bike ridden at Lobethal by Fredricks had curved tubular rear sub frames with swinging arm suspension working inside plunger style spring units. The spare bike had a rigid frame. At Lobethal, the raucous DKWs ran riot, with Fredricks (who was competing in his first road race, although he was an accomplished speedway and scrambles rider) following home Kluge for a 1-2 finish in the 250cc event in a race time just short of one hour. The 350cc race was run concurrently and Kluge took out that as well after an entertaining dice with Frank Mussett’s Velocette until the British machine expired on the final lap, much to the delight of the huge German spectator turn out. Two weeks later, on January 5th, 1938 at what was known as The Weatherboard Circuit at Learmonth, north of Ballarat, Kluge took over the number two bike as Von Oertzen did not want to risk the rotary valve bike in the dusty conditions, while Fredricks rode the practice bike. The track was dirtsurfaced in its entirety, and the pair had little difficulty in the races. Kluge described it as “a well organised meeting but the roads were atrocious”. On 14th January, 1938, the DKW squad was in the Australian Capital Territory where Kluge set up an Australian 250cc record of 94.25 mph for the flying quarter mile on a stretch of The Federal Highway in Canberra, just eclipsing Tom Jemison’s previous record. He wanted to attempt the flying one mile record as well, but this had to be cancelled owing to rain. On 31st January, 1938, the DKW team was at Phillip Island for the Victoria TT on the dusty 6.5 mile road circuit. Again, the 250cc Lightweight and 350cc Junior events were run concurrently, and Kluge again led home Friedrichs in the smaller class, but could finish only third to the Velocettes of Mussett and Don Bain in the Junior.
Following Phillip Island, both ‘race’ bikes were loaded onto a vessel in Melbourne and returned to Germany. Eric Williams says archive footage of this exists, which destroys the myth that one or other of these special machines remained here. What is certain is that the practice bike with the rigid frame remained in Australia. By this stage Geelong dealer Frank Pratt had secured the DKW agency and placed orders for the new ‘works’ replica 250cc production racers (the SS250) that were to be available later in 1938. Von Oertzen gave permission for Pratt to retain the practice bike on the provision that it be returned to Germany once the production racers arrived.
Eventually, one of the new SS250 racers did arrive at Geelong, painted black and red, and just to confuse matters, Pratt had this redone in the works silver décor. This had the swinging arm/plunger rear suspension, but with straight, instead of curved tubing to the spring boxes. It also had a conventional, rather than ‘pistol grip’ fuel tank. Pratt raced the SS250 at Phillip Island in 1940, while Pratt’s usual sidecar passenger, Ted Groves, rode the rigid frame bike. By 1939, with the threat of war imminent, port authorities were deliberately delaying the refuelling of German ships, perhaps in the hope of confiscating them. Kluge had actually agreed to return to Australia for the Bathurst races in 1939, but that trip was cancelled as tensions increased. Curiously, Sydney firm Hazell & Moore ran an advertisement in the March, 1939 issue of The Australian Motorcyclist advertising a ‘practically new and never been used for racing’ ‘Real Road racer Super Charged Twin Two-Stroke DKW’, which ‘cost nearly £300, now available for only £120’. To further muddy the waters, a full page story appeared in the June 1939 issue of the same publication, stating that the Sydney firm Eric Moore Pty Ltd had secured the DKW agency and that a big shipment was due in the second half of 1939. This shipment was supposed to include the latest versions of the SS250 racer, but whether any actually arrived is doubtful. The publicity also stated that Kluge would return to Australia for a series of races including Lobethal in December 1939 and Phillip Island in January 1940, bringing with him “three genuine ‘TT’ DKW motors… which will be left behind in Australia and will appear at Bathurst next Easter (1940) ridden by one of Australia’s most famous TT riders”. Not surprisingly, given the declaration of war on 3rd September, 1939, none of this subsequently occurred*. Kluge, who had sensationally won the Lightweight Isle of Man TT in 1938 (only the second ‘foreigner’ to do so) was called up for military service and as a sergeant, was stationed at Leipzig at the School for Army Motorisation. In 1943 he was released from this role to enable him to work in Auto Union’s test department, but after the war, the Russians denounced him as a Nazi and imprisoned him until 1949. Although he resumed racing for DKW in 1950, Kluge suffered a serious accident at Nurburgring in 1953 which finished his career. He died from cancer in 1964. During the war, the Von Oertzens fled to Java, but were captured and interred in separate prisoner-ofwar camps. Post-war, Oertzen wasted no time in setting up in business again in South Africa as the importer for Volkswagen, and arranged for his Melbourne friend Lionel Spencer (Regent Motors) to become the Australian VW agent.
Eric Williams says he was told by Don Bain, “someone in Queensland brought one (a DKW racer) out from Germany for his outboard racer, but its weight and lack of revs (the split single only revved to 4,700) made it more suitable for the proverbial anchor, and he’d scrapped the rest!” When racing began again in Australia in 1946, so did the confusion surrounding the DKW racers. Certainly, the Kluge practice bike was in operation, ridden at various times by Jack French and Bill Day and later by the Jamieson brothers, Bill and Laurie. It also appears that the SS250 imported by Pratt was also raced frequently, firstly by Frank Pratt himself at Phillip Island in 1940, and later by Laurie Jamieson at Nuriootpa in 1949, by Pratt’s business partner Norm Osborne, and many others. It is thought the SS250 went to Darwin in the early ‘fifties where it was raced by Charlie Lack.
Around 1956, the SS250 surfaced again in a typically unusual series of events. Allan Saunders from Albion Park, near Wollongong NSW, was working at he Tullawarra Power Station with a chap named Arnie Coglan, who hailed from Newcastle. Both were keen clubmen racers (Allan had won the Senior B Grade at Bathurst in 1954 on his Triumph Tiger 100) and Coglan happened to mention that he had a racing 250 that he wished to sell, conveniently housed at the time at nearby Dapto. “I thought that I wouldn’t mind a 250,” recalls Alan Saunders, “because the Lightweight class at the time was pretty competitive. Arnie said this was an ex-works bike, a DKW, and I paid him one hundred pounds for it, which was a fair bit of money at the time. Doug James, who was a very successful pre-war racer and owner of a motorcycle shop in Wollongong told me that I would have trouble with fuel, because the DKW team that came to Australia (Kluge) had a chemist to mix the fuel which was done immediately before a race. Doug also said that he thought I wouldn’t be able to race the DKW in the 250 class because it was supercharged, but I thought I’d give it a go – they wouldn’t put me in gaol would they? The first meeting I did on it was at Mount Druitt and Doug was right – it blew a piston. I wrote to DKW to see if I could get a piston but hey couldn’t help, although they did give me some tuning information. The bike sat around for some time until I got in touch with Sid Willis, and took the barrel and the damaged piston to him. Sid made a piston and also some blanks, which I still have. During the time it was out of action I considered pulling the motor and gearbox out and putting something like a JAP in to use on Short Circuit. I’m glad I didn’t because the DKW motor would probably have been thrown out.” With the engine back together, Allan Saunders entered the DKW for Bathurst in 1958. “Practice was on Friday and it was running fairly well, but the race was Saturday morning and it was a typically misty Bathurst day and it just wouldn’t rev out, it was way too rich.” Eventually Alan got the DKW running reliably, using a 16:1 petrol/oil mixture using Castrol R as recommended by the DKW factory. He raced
it at Mount Druitt and again at Bathurst in 1959, finishing tenth in the Lightweight TT. Thereafter the DKW, now 20 years old, lapsed into retirement and is still in Allan’s possession. The Kluge practice bike ended up back in South Australia where it eventually blew up while being raced at Sellick’s Beach. The sand and salt had not been kind to the electron-alloy crankcases either. “I fluked catching the then-owner short of cash and bought it in a fairly bad state,“says Eric Williams. “As a mid-level competitor lacking the benefit of trade contacts it took a while before finally getting it going. Jack French had bought it after the war and later came over with the engine and frame numbers and photos, confirming it was Kluge’s practice bike.” After a lengthy restoration, the DKW was ridden at Historic events by Williams, as well as ex-Moto Guzzi works rider Keith Bryen at Amaroo Park and by South Australian star Bill Horsman at Adelaide Raceway. Fittingly, a 78-year-old Les Fredricks demonstrated the DKW at the 1988 Lobethal Reunion, forty years after its first appearance there. The DKW was displayed alongside Juan Manuel Fangio’s Mercedes Grand Prix racer at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Adelaide, and attracted some tempting offers (one of more than $120,000) which Williams considered. “I thought about it for about a year, then the stock crash hit and I finally sold it for less than half what I’d been offered to Steve Hazelton (in Goulburn, NSW)”. Hazelton held onto the bike for around 20 years, but finally sold it in 2013. “I really wanted to keep it in Australia,” Steve told me last year, “but I had very little interest (from Australia) when I advertised it. So in the end, I accepted a sale overseas.” Thus ended the Australian saga of a tale that has grown in depth and degrees of distortion for more than 75 years.
MAIN Les Fredricks on the‘Number Two’ bike at Lobethal. Note the alloy shrouds covering thecarburettors. LEFT Ewald Kluge, German Champion and DKW works rider. ABOVE Baron Klaus-Detlof von Oertzen.
ABOVE (L&R) The engine of the Number One Kluge machine, with the supercharger operating through a rotary valve. LEFT Mysterious ad for DKW road racer that appeared in March 1939. Ewald Kluge, Baron Von Oertzen and Mr Green, the Victorian DKW agent, in Canberra January 1938.
Start of the Lightweight TT at Phillip Island in 1940, with Ted Groves (11) on the Practice Bike and Frank Pratt (14) on the SS250, still in its black décor.
RIGHT Frank Pratt on the new SS250 in 1939. FAR RIGHT Ted Groves on the “Practice Bike” at Phillip Island, 1940. The “Practice Bike” foreground, and the repainted SS250 at the 1940 Geelong Speed Trials.
Laurie Jamieson on the “Practice Bike” at Woodside in 1947. Bill Day on Sturt Street, Ballarat in 1947 on the Practice Bike. Bob Elsbury dicing with Norm Osborne on the SS250 at Ballarat, 1947. At Woodside in 1948, Albert O’Hara on the ‘Practice Bike’.
LEFT The Practice Bike at Fishermen’s Bend, August 1948 when it was ridden by Norm Osborne. RIGHT Laurie Jamieson on the SS250 during the Australian TT at Nuriootpa, 1949.
Norm Osborne with the SS250 at Bonnyvale, near Queenscliffe, Victoria, circa 1946.
At Bathurst in 1959, A. Saunders aboard the 20-year-old SS250.
LEFT Charlie Lack on the SS250in Darwin, around 1954. BELOW The SS250 in the pits atBathurst in 1958, when it was ridden by Alan Saunders
Les Fredricks on Eric Williams’ bike at the Lobethal Reunion in 1988. The Practice Bike during the time when it was owned by Steve Hazelton in Goulburn. BELOW Eric Williams’ bike at Amaroo Park in 1977 when it was ridden by Keith Bryen.
LEFT Crankshaft and front ‘pumping cylinder from the “Practice Bike” during Eric Williams’ painstaking restoration, early ‘sixties.RIGHT Studio shot of the Practice Bike following Eric Williams’ restoration. BELOW Keith Bryen on Eric William’s DKW in 1977.