Classic Bike Guide
Who was Gus Kuhn?
Speedway star Gus Kuhn was born on October 17, 1898, in Birmingham. He was of primarily English descent, though his paternal grandfather was German. He served in both the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).
Gus was riding motorcycles long before speedway became a popular sport. In the early 1920s he was riding lightweight Levis motorcycles in trials, hill climbs and scrambles all over the country.
He also enjoyed some success in the Isle of Man
TT, riding a Sun in the Lightweight TT of 1922, one of Coventry’s Omega motorcycles in the 1924 Ultra Lightweight TT, and a Velocette and Douglas in the 1925 Junior and Senior TT races. His best finish was fifth in the Junior TT of 1926 on a Velocette.
Gus was a competitor in the first speedway event to take place in Britain at High Beech in 1928. With all of his off-road experience, Gus decided that speedway riding would be a good career move and joined Stamford Bridge, becoming team captain, where he won almost every race he took part in.
Stamford Bridge closed in 1932, and from here he joined the Wimbledon Dons, where he stayed until 1937. In 1932 he had started his own company, Gus Kuhn Motors, in Clapham, with bigger premises acquired postwar.
Gus still competed in the occasional trial or hill climb before ill health caused him to slow down in the late 1950s. He passed away on August 30, 1966, at the age of 67.
Gus Kuhn Motors go racing Nortons
Although the Gus Kuhn Commando is the best-known bike to bear his name, Gus himself had died before the Gus Kuhn Motors race team had success with the mighty twins.
The team had considerable success in the late 1960s and early 1970s – successes that led to the creation of road-going versions of the racer. The team was led by Vincent Davey, who started working at Gus Kuhn’s shop in 1950 and married Marian Kuhn, Gus’s daughter. In 1966, following his father-in-law’s death, Vincent took over the business as managing director.
A visit to the Barcelona 24-hour race in 1968 got his racing juices flowing and Vincent asked the talented young racer Mick Andrew if he would ride for the Gus Kuhn Motors.
Mick’s debut for the team saw him come second at Lydden on a newly-introduced Norton Commando. Vincent sourced some pure racing bikes for the 1969 season, buying an AJS 7R 350 and a Matchless G50
500 from Colin Seeley. A Norton Commando frame was
“Gus decided that speedway riding would be a good career move and joined Stamford Bridge, becoming team captain, where he won almost every race he took part in.”
sourced at the same time, and a racing Commando engine was built to go into it.
Mick Andrew came fourth in the 1969 Production TT and won the production race at the Hutchinson 100 at Brands Hatch aboard a Commando. The team’s Seeley G50 with Tom Dickie in the saddle was third in the Senior TT, and he was fourth on the AJS in the Junior race.
By the end of 1969 the Kuhn team was running four Commandos, a fifth Commando-engined Seeley, and the two singles. The success of the Gus Kuhn Commando on the track had been noted by motorcyclists in pursuit of pure speed for the road, and this led to the production of road racers and café racers, as well as the sale of performance parts for the Norton twins. Would-be buyers pored over the glossy catalogue, with the company offering everything from complete bikes and frame kits to racing throttles. The catalogue would eventually offer four complete models – there was a naked Sports café racer, a Street racer with a nose fairing, and a Tourer that went better than it looked, burdened as it was with a large handlebar-mounted touring fairing and a massive fivegallon glass fibre tank. There was a Super Sports model with the same tank, clip-ons, and rear sets but no fairing, and both the Tourer and the Super Sports came with new-fangled disc brakes.
On a winning streak
Meanwhile, the team was sweeping all before it, winning 23 of the 28 races entered during the first season, and when Norton started racing too, the grid at many a meeting became a Norton playground. Despite the way the Kuhn team promoted the brand, it still had to buy racing parts from Norton. The racers were bedecked in the team’s signature Fireflake Green paint scheme.
The Kuhn engines were tuned by Jim Boughen, who’d been employed in the AMC race shop for several years. Kuhn mechanics Frank Kately and Dave Sleat were responsible for building the racers in a cramped corner of the workshop.
The Kuhn machines that the aspiring racer could buy had skimmed, gas-flowed heads and high compression pistons. A factory Norvil Triple S camshaft was fitted, along with specially polished but standard conrods.
After such a successful start for the racing team, a tragic road accident cost Mick Andrew his life. He was working as a mechanic for Gus Kuhn Motors. While testing a Commando on the road outside the shop, he crashed into a car and was killed instantly. He was 24.
Despite the tragedy, the Kuhn team enjoyed a successful 1970 season, with Pat Mahoney and his teammate Barry Sheene racing a Kuhn machine at the Barcelona 24-hour race... until the gearbox broke.
The Gus Kuhn Motors squad was a big supporter of F750 racing when it came to Europe in 1972 and even provided American Daytona 200 winner Don Emde with a Commando for Transatlantic match races. In 1973 it started racing BMWs before going back to Norton for 1974, but with the British motorcycle industry collapsing, Gus Kuhn Motors took on agencies for MV and BMW and eventually became an exclusive BMW dealer. It raced BMWs and in 1978 Chas Mortimer gave the team its swansong – taking a Gus Kuhn Suzuki GS1000 to sixth in the Formula 1 TT won by Mike Hailwood on the Sports Motorcycles Ducati. The team did not return in 1979, and Gus Kuhn Motors itself closed in 1989.