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.
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.