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Gustav Franke

With Spain’s Toni Bou break­ing the his­tory books year af­ter year we de­cided to turn back the clock to the very be­gin­ning of the Trial World Cham­pi­onship story. It was not un­til 1975 that the FIM sanc­tioned the cham­pi­onship that runs in the present day, but who was the very first win­ner? It was Ger­man rider, Gustav Franke. Words: The au­thor of this ar­ti­cle is St­ef­fen Ot­tinger, with the trans­la­tion by Matthew Hep­ple­ston sup­ported with words by John Hulme. The ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally printed in the Ger­man Tri­al­sport mag­a­zine pro­duced by Hans Greiner. Pic­tures: Tri­al­sport – Hans Greiner, The Nick Nicholls Col­lec­tion at Mor­tons Ar­chive, Brian Holder. Ar­chive: Gunter Sengfelder and Gustav Franke.

Gustav Franke is Ger­many's most suc­cess­ful tri­als rider of all time. In the 1960s he was recog­nised, in ad­di­tion to Sammy Miller and Don Smith, as one of the best in the world. Gustav Franke first saw the light of day on De­cem­ber 4th 1937 in Neu­dorf, near Grot­tkau in Ger­many. At the age of six-years-old he was de­ported with his par­ents and three sib­lings to Sile­sia, and the fam­ily moved into some barns near Furth.

Boxer or rider

In their new home­land, Gustav learned the pro­fes­sion of a car mechanic. Later he found his way to mo­tor­sport. "I orig­i­nally wanted to be a boxer, but my mother did not al­low this", he re­ported with a wry smile. His big new goal then was to have a mo­tor­cy­cle. He saved dili­gently, and in 1953 ac­quired a 125cc Her­cules with an ILO en­gine.

In 1957 he com­peted firstly in smaller com­pe­ti­tions such as the ‘Sol­i­dar­ity Trial’ hosted by the Vach Mo­tor Sports Club on a 175cc Puch. On May 1st 1960 Gustav won a gold medal at the sec­ond Ais­chgrun­der re­li­a­bil­ity trial. A few days later he took part in the ‘Bavar­ian Moun­tains Trial’. There were al­ready ex­cel­lent rid­ers in Ger­many such as Lorenz Specht, not to men­tion a few oth­ers such as Volker Kramer, Gunter Sengfelder and Siegfried Gienger at the start. By mid-June, af­ter the fifth Rother Area Trial, he fi­nally stood on the podium of a high-pro­file trial event. He fin­ished in third place in his class with a 196cc Ardie.

First tri­als vic­tory in the Bavar­ian moun­tains Bayrischzell, in ru­ral Bavaria, would be a good tri­als ‘patch’ for the young lads used to liv­ing in barns. He pur­chased a 250cc Zun­dapp from Hans Sch­licht, and his first no­table vic­tory came on April 22nd 1961 at the third Bavar­ian Moun­tains Trial. The Au­to­mo­bile Club Munchen, un­der its Sports Di­rec­tor Wig­gerl Kraus, or­gan­ised his next event and he pre­vailed against Er­win Sch­mider, Richard Heßler and Her­mann Bitzer, who were al­ready well known Ger­man tri­als rid­ers.

Af­ter the sec­ond-to-last trial of the Ger­man trial cham­pi­onship in late July 1961 Gustav Franke was third over­all in the over 200cc ma­chines class, and over the course of the year, he would ride to other no­table suc­cesses. Later, in March 1962, Gustav found him­self close to Brus­sels near the vil­lage of Water­loo as one of the par­tic­i­pants in the tra­di­tional trial ‘Lam­borelle’ in Bel­gium, and Ge­org Weiß the Zun­dapp Mo­tor­sport Man­ager be­came aware of him. He was dis­ap­pointed that he was not the win­ner of the ex­pert class for up to 200cc ma­chines but only the sec­ond-best Ger­man. Three weeks later he won the in­ter­na­tional two-day trial of Holzkirchen, beat­ing the reign­ing Ger­man cham­pion Her­mann Bitzer and the Swiss elite rider Ruedi Wyss. It was fol­lowed by more vic­to­ries in Gerold­seck, Schatthausen, the West­phalia-Lippe trial, and in Alt­dorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, as well as the two fi­nal rounds in Luneb­urg and Zirn­dorf.

Dur­ing the af­ter­noon of the 30th Septem­ber 1962, Gustav Franke be­came the first Ger­man Tri­als Cham­pion. For the first time dur­ing the 1960s, there were awards in three en­gine ca­pac­ity classes: up to 100cc, 200cc, and over 200cc. Seven more na­tional ti­tles in the largest premier cat­e­gory fol­lowed un­til 1969 with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

Af­ter a foot in­jury, he was once more lead­ing the Zun­dapp team to the over­all vic­tory in 1971. He continued his ca­reer on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit in early March 1963 at the Bel­gian Lam­borelle trial, the ‘Mecca’ of trial events on the Euro­pean main­land. There he ap­peared in the fi­nal re­sult in the top ten. Be­hind the leg­endary win­ner, Sammy Miller were three more Bri­tish rid­ers in the top six, David Clegg, Bill Wilkin­son and Don Smith. Against the mighty Ariel of Miller, the three Greeves rid­ers were un­able to match Gustav Franke’s per­for­mance.

Pri­va­teer Vic­tory in Mont­be­liard France

Gustav en­tered two tri­als in France. In early June he went with Her­mann Bitzer, from Sax­ony Grossheim near Stuttgart to Mont­be­liard. There they were the only Ger­man starters at the event or­gan­ised by the MC Sochaux club, who also had en­tries from Bel­gians, Dutch and Bri­tish rid­ers in ad­di­tion to the lo­cals. More than 50 years later, Gustav told me about the un­for­get­table experience, re­call­ing the fol­low­ing de­tail: "The rain of the pre­vi­ous day had left more than half a me­tre of swell in the river Doubs where a sec­tion was marked. It dropped off nu­mer­ous steps into the deep wa­ter. I waded down the sec­tion in my leather boots as I was al­ready soak­ing wet. Be­fore the sec­tion ends, I felt a large high stone un­der the wa­ter. I asked the 18-year old Bel­gian rider, called Ickx, to stand on top of it so that I missed the rock, and this worked a treat". It was the same Jacky Ickx who later came to be­come twice run­ner-up in the For­mula One World Cham­pi­onship, win­ner of the 1983 Dakar Rally and the Le Mans 24 hour. Un­known to many is the fact

that he be­gan his mo­tor­sport ca­reer as a tri­als rider. Gustav was the only rider to clean the sec­tion. In 36 sec­tions he lost only 36 marks, but his rid­ing part­ner Her­mann Bitzer had to re­tire. It was the first for­eign suc­cess by Gustav Franke. He fin­ished in front of the French­man Claude Peu­geot and the Dutch rider Henk Vink. Jacky Ickx fin­ished eighth on a 100cc Zun­dapp. Gustav then took part at the end of the year in the tra­di­tional Saint-Cu­cufa Trial in the West of Paris.

At the be­gin­ning of 1964, in the mid­dle of the win­ter on Fe­bru­ary 12th, the Zun­dapp team rode in the Bel­gian Na­mur Trial, the first round of the Chal­lenge Henry Groutars Cup. This Cup was the fore­run­ner of the fu­ture Euro­pean and World Cham­pi­onships. Gustav Franke was there and caused a sen­sa­tion. He won on only 14 marks lost, rel­e­gat­ing the Bel­gian Mo­tocross Cham­pion Roger de Coster and Don Smith to the lower steps of the podium. For the first time, a Ger­man rider had de­feated the best of all the rid­ers from the allpow­er­ful United King­dom.

Two weeks later the Zun­dapp team moved on to the fa­mous trial at Lam­borelle. About 100 rid­ers had en­tered, but Gustav Franke won again ahead of Bill Wilkin­son, An­dreas Brandl and Don Smith. Don ‘Cig­a­rette’ Smith, a chain smoker who even smoked dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, hit back in the re­main­der of the chal­lenge. He won the French Cla­mart Trial on the first day of March, and three weeks later he reigned again in the Senne near Biele­feld in Ger­many. Brandl and Franke were well beaten. Smith won the in­au­gu­ral ti­tle of the in­ter­na­tional tri­als com­pe­ti­tions, head­ing the over­all stand­ings fol­lowed by the 26-year-old Gustav Franke.

In Ger­many, as in the two pre­vi­ous years, Gustav was again the best, again in the premier over 200cc cat­e­gory and thus for the third time be­came the Ger­man Trial Cham­pion. In the course of the year, he par­tic­i­pated in nu­mer­ous re­li­a­bil­ity rides, with suc­cess. At the end of the sea­son, he was third in the Ger­man off-road cham­pi­onship in the 75cc. He also won an ISDT gold medal.


It would only be the peo­ple from his lo­cal town who knew of his ded­i­ca­tion and his ex­cep­tional tal­ent. He trained hard, al­most ev­ery day, not only on the mo­tor­cy­cle but also in the gym, im­prov­ing both his fit­ness and con­di­tion. The diet was also tuned to­wards his sport. Fur­ther­more, if he rode to the start in the rain, Gustav would al­ready be drenched, and he would change quickly into dry cloth­ing so that he could start the first sec­tion in at­tack mode, be­ing both highly con­cen­trated and ‘re­laxed’. He also copied some tricks from the English.

In the win­ter months, when the ter­rain and the rivers be­came very slip­pery, he would look for out­door shoes which of­fered max­i­mum ad­he­sion to th­ese sur­faces — and then put th­ese soles onto his rid­ing boots!

Gustav Franke takes on the ‘Trial King’ Sammy Miller As in the pre­vi­ous year, in 1964 he, along with his team­mate Gunter Sengfelder and An­dreas Brandl, went to Paris. On Novem­ber the 15th they were at the start of the ‘13e A. M. S. C. In­ter Trial de Sain­tCloud-Saint-Cu­cufa’. For Gustav Franke, it should have been his most sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess, where he suc­ceeded for the first time in de­feat­ing the tri­als legend Sammy Miller. Cer­tainly, Gustav had al­ready made a name on the in­ter­na­tional trial scene, and Miller was at that time al­ready a three-time win­ner of the Scot­tish Six Day Trial and had won the Lam­borelle Trial in Bel­gium from 1959 to 1963. At the end of the event, he was in a tie-break sit­u­a­tion with Miller, and he won the com­pe­ti­tion thanks to the bet­ter po­si­tion in the last sec­tion with 160 par­tic­i­pants from nine coun­tries. It was like a bomb go­ing off in the world of tri­als!

The chal­lenge started again on Fe­bru­ary 21st 1965, back in Paris, this time in Cla­mart, all of 10km as the crow flies from Saint Cu­cufa — and he also won. This time con­fi­dently, in front of Bill Wilkin­son, Al­fred Lehner, Don Smith, Gunter Sengfelder and An­dreas Brandl. 20,000 spectators watched the re­mark­able per­for­mance of the Ger­man Zun­dapp rider. A week later the next com­pe­ti­tion was held in Bel­gium, at Braine-le Chateau near Brus­sels. And, again, the win­ner was Gustav Franke, and he was fol­lowed home by his fel­low coun­try­men and team­mates Siegfried Gienger and An­dreas Brandl. In the fi­nal re­sult it was three Ger­mans on the podium; be­hind the win­ner of the Henry Groutars Cup Gustav Franke were An­dreas Brandl and Gunter Sengfelder, and in fourth place was an­other Zun­dapp rider, the Bel­gian Jacky Ickx. Dur­ing the rest of the sea­son, Gustav won first the in­ter­na­tional trial Sancerre in the Loire Val­ley in Cen­tral France again, as well as many Ger­man na­tional tri­als.

In 1966, he won for the sec­ond time the Chal­lenge Henry Groutars Tro­phy, the pre­de­ces­sor of the Euro­pean and Trial World Cham­pi­onships. On Oc­to­ber 3rd, the third sea­son of the Chal­lenge Henry Groutars Tro­phy be­gan with the in­ter­na­tional trial of West­falen-Lippe at Biele­feld. Be­cause of a dis­pute af­ter the 1964 event Zun­dapp had not re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to com­pete at the fac­tory. How­ever, Gustav Franke wanted to de­fend his cup, and so he had to at­tend. The ex­pec­ta­tions were high, and he duly won from Hans Cramer on a Maico. In the mid­dle of Novem­ber, the sec­ond event took place with the in­ter­na­tional Saint Cu­cufa Trial near Paris. This time the Bri­tish shared the tri­umph among them­selves. Sammy Miller, now on a Span­ish Bul­taco, won ahead of Don Smith and

Gor­don Blake­way. Gustav strug­gled with an in­jury, and for his 13th place fin­ish he re­ceived five points and de­fended the over­all lead. The fi­nal event of the com­pe­ti­tion was on Jan­uary 23rd 1967 in Di­son, close to Liege. Don Smith won this con­test, and Gustav Franke once again beat Sammy Miller who was only four marks be­hind. The sec­ond round was the de­cider, in front of more than 10,000 spectators. Gustav won with 14 marks lost to Smith on 22 and Miller with 31. With this re­sult, Gustav Franke won, for the sec­ond time, the Chal­lenge Henry Groutars in front of Smith.

Scot­tish Six Days Trial

In late March 1966, at the trial in the French Sancerre re­gion where he de­fended his vic­tory of the pre­vi­ous year, his thoughts moved to par­tic­i­pa­tion in the in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous Scot­tish Six Days Trial. Carl Jurisch, who had taken part in this most his­toric of all trial com­pe­ti­tions in 1938 as the first Ger­man, pro­vided him with sus­pen­sion units from his pro­duc­tion line and Gustav was asked to test them. Fi­nally, Gustav was able to go, and on May 2nd he started the event along with 200 other com­peti­tors. Un­for­tu­nately, he crashed on the sec­ond day, hurt­ing him­self, and from then on he rode more con­ser­va­tively — he above all wanted to sur­vive the full six days. Dur­ing the event, he had some tech­ni­cal prob­lems with his Zun­dapp. He was re­pair­ing the ma­chine on ev­ery oc­ca­sion, in­clud­ing se­cretly on the ferry cross­ings when all the pas­sen­gers on board started to dis­em­bark. Don Hitch­cock, from Lon­don, as­sisted him as he was one of the rid­ers near him, and he helped him to fit a new fly­wheel.

In the end, he fin­ished in a re­spectable 40th po­si­tion. Af­ter more than 1,500 kilo­me­tres and 60 sec­tions, he fin­ished, los­ing 114 marks and win­ning the Best Over­seas rider award.

Today, 50 years af­ter the event, he told me in a long con­ver­sa­tion: "De­spite the ter­ri­ble weather in the north of the is­land this was one of my most beau­ti­ful sports ex­pe­ri­ences. For a com­peti­tor, it has a spe­cial charm to com­pete in the Scot­tish Six Days Trial, but it is also a huge chal­lenge”. Gustav Franke had earned many new ad­mir­ers with his ap­pear­ance in the SSDT.

Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship

Al­ready, as a pre­lude to the 1966-67 sea­son, he fin­ished just be­hind Don Smith in some com­pe­ti­tions, and this was fol­lowed on Oc­to­ber 2nd in Oberiberg with the third In­ter­na­tional Swiss Alpine Trial where Gustav fin­ished third to the lo­cal rider, Ruedi Wyss. Seven days later the sec­ond high­pro­file com­pe­ti­tion of the sea­son took place in the Bel­gian mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Di­son. Smith won again, and Gustav was beaten by his friend Gunter Sengfelder by a sin­gle mark to fin­ish in third po­si­tion. Af­ter a break of two weeks, he went to the West­phalia Lippe Trial close to Biele­feld. The first day counted for the cham­pi­onship. An­dreas Ban­er­jee won on the 100cc Zun­dapp beat­ing Smith, Franke and Sengfelder in the process.

On April 9th 1967 the fi­nal round took place in Sancerre, France. Af­ter win­ning the two pre­vi­ous years, you'd think it would be an easy vic­tory for Gustav Franke. But this time it did not go en­tirely to plan as the new young ‘Hot­shot’ from Great Bri­tain Gor­don Far­ley had ar­rived; he was only 21 years old. Gustav beat his long-time com­peti­tor Don Smith into third place, but Far­ley took the over­all vic­tory.

The tro­phy they all wanted to win. The Chal­lenge Henry Groutars Tro­phy was the pre­de­ces­sor of the Euro­pean and FIM Trial World Cham­pi­onships. In late March 1966 at a trial in the French Sancerre re­gion his thoughts moved to par­tic­i­pa­tion in the in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous Scot­tish Six Days Trial.

SSDT 1966: All the way from Ger­many, com­pet­ing in the most fa­mous trial in the world. SSDT 1966: Never mind the ma­chine prepa­ra­tions, check out the tra­di­tional short pants!SSDT 1966: Un­for­tu­nately he crashed on the sec­ond day, hurt­ing him­self, and from then on he rode more con­ser­va­tively.

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