50 cc Grand Prix motorcycle racing

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1963 50 cc Kreidler Renn-Florett

The 50 cc class was the ultra-lightweight class in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, and formed part of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) World Championships from 1962 until 1983; when the class was replaced by 80 cc.

History and development of the class[edit]

The relative low cost and increasing availability of 50 cc motorcycles in the post-war period, spawned a number of club road racing events for this size of machine in the early 1950s. With the earliest events being held in Italy[1] and in the UK.[2] The potential of this class for providing entertaining but affordable racing was soon recognised with several national championships and in 1961 the FIM introduced The Coupe d' Europe, a series of international events for 50 cc machines, each with a minimum duration and run to established Grand Prix rules and regulations.[3] The series attracted a variety of entries, but the dominating force were the work's Kreidler team bikes. Based on a standard Kreidler Florett road bike, their single cylinder Kreidler Renn-Florett's featured lightweight frames, a special cylinder head and barrel, twin 16 mm Bing carburettors feeding the engine through rotary valves and improved suspension and brakes. By the end of the season, with the addition of rudimentary streamlining and the increase of carburettor size to 17 mm, the 9 hp (6.7 kW) four-speed two-stroke bikes could top over 85 mph.[4]

The 1961 Coupe d’Europe[edit]

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Date 30 April 7 May 14 May 4 June 9 July 20 August 16 September 15 October
Location Belgium Circuit de Mouscron West Germany St Wendel Saarland Germany Hockenheimring Belgium Zolder Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Opatija Netherlands Zandvoort Belgium Circuit Du Heysel Brussels Spain Zaragosa
Event 3me Prix De Mouscron Grosser Preis von Deutschland 3 me Prijs Zolder-Centrum X Premio Internacional Fiestas del Pilar
Winner Belgium Pierrot Vervroegen Germany Hans-Georg Anscheidt Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Miro Zelnik Germany Hans-Georg Anscheidt Germany Hans-Georg Anscheidt Germany Hans-Georg Anscheidt Germany Wolfgang Gedlich Spain Cesar Gracia
Machine Itom Kreidler Tomos D5 Kreidler Kreidler Kreidler Kreidler Ducson

World Championship Status[edit]

See 1962 Season, 1963 Season, 1964 Season, 1965 Season, 1966 Season, 1967 Season

In 1962, the FIM followed up the success of the Coupe d’ Europe by giving the 50 cc class World Championship status. As well as the works entries of existing European manufacturers like Kreidler and Tomos, this development also attracted entries from Japanese manufacturers with both Honda and Suzuki entering full work's teams. The Spanish Derbi factory also entered a single work's bike for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The Kreidlers were now fitted with three speed overdrives controlled from the twistgrip, which coupled to the standard four-speed gearbox gave twelve gears to help keep the engines at maximum power. Engine development also increased power to 10 hp (7.5 kW) at 11,000 rpm. The Kreidlers development would be hampered however by the factory's insistence that the race bikes remained fundamentally based upon their standard road machines.[5] Suzuki and Honda knew no such limitations.

Honda's commitment to four-stroke engines dated back to 1951 with the launch of its Dream E-Type[6]

Bedrich Fendrich practicing for the 1976 German GP on his Kreidler

prior to this all Honda's bikes were two-strokes. The change and long-term commitment to the more sophisticated four-stroke technology came either directly from founder Soichiro Honda[6] or indirectly due to pressure from managing director Takeo Fujisawa, who was said to be appalled by the noise and smoke that two-stroke engines produced and the additional hassle that Honda customers faced by having to mix oil with their fuel.[7] Honda began their first 50 cc GP season with the RC110, announced at the Japanese Motor Show in 1961. Powered by a single cylinder, four-valve engine, and with gear driven double overhead cams, giving about 9 hp (6.7 kW) at 14,000 rpm. It was introduced with a five-speed gearbox, but by the time of the opening GP in Spain, the bikes were upgraded to six gears. Even so, they were badly outperformed. Rider Tommy Robb suggested that more gears might be the answer and was amazed to find a week later at the French GP that the gearbox had been expanded to eight speeds. This still wasn't enough to compensate for the machine's relative lack of power and three weeks later at the Isle of Man TT, nine gears were fitted and the rev limit increased to 17,000 rpm with output now up to around 10 hp.[8] In that season, the machine's designation was changed to RC111, but Honda's records are unclear as to what precise change in the development this signified or when it was used.[9]

In contrast, the Suzuki team were committed to two-stroke technology and their single cylinder RM62 machine featured rotary valve induction and an 8-speed transmission and produced about 10 hp (7.5 kW) at 12,000 rpm. Ernst Degner who had defected from the East German MZ team to Suzuki the previous year, brought with him the secrets of MZ's two-stroke tuning success which undoubtedly helped him and the Suzuki team to secure the inaugural 50 cc World Championship.

The Japanese withdraw[edit]

After the withdrawal of Japanese firms from the 50 cc category at the end of 1968, cost-saving technological restrictions were introduced, the Spanish rider Angel Nieto came to the fore, and between 1969 and 1976, won the championship six times. His season long battle for the 1972 championship with Dutchman Jan de Vries, being perhaps the closest fought championship in any form of motor racing. By the end of the season both riders were tied with equal points, an equal number of wins and an equal number of second-place finishes and the championship winner was determined by adding together and comparing the times for the six races in which the pair had been placed. Nieto was calculated to have won the title by 21½ seconds from his rival.

50 cc GP World Champions[edit]

Year Champion Country Motorcycle Second place Country Motorcycle Third place Country Motorcycle
1962 Ernst Degner  East Germany Suzuki Hans-Georg Anscheidt  Germany Kreidler Jan Huberts  Netherlands Kreidler
1963 Hugh Anderson  New Zealand Suzuki Hans-Georg Anscheidt  Germany Kreidler Ernst Degner  East Germany Suzuki
1964 Hugh Anderson  New Zealand Suzuki Ralph Bryans  Ireland Honda Hans-Georg Anscheidt  Germany Kreidler
1965 Ralph Bryans  Ireland Honda Hugh Anderson  New Zealand Suzuki Luigi Taveri   Switzerland Honda
1966 Hans Georg Anscheidt  Germany Suzuki Ralph Bryans  Ireland Honda Luigi Taveri   Switzerland Honda
1967 Hans Georg Anscheidt  Germany Suzuki Yoshimi Katayama  Japan Suzuki Stuart Graham  United Kingdom Suzuki
1968 Hans Georg Anscheidt  Germany Suzuki Paul Lodewijkx  Netherlands Jamathi Barry Smith  Australia Derbi
1969 Angel Nieto  Spain Derbi Aalt Toersen  Netherlands Kreidler Barry Smith  Australia Derbi
1970 Angel Nieto  Spain Derbi Aalt Toersen  Netherlands Jamathi Rudolf Kunz  Germany Kreidler
1971 Jan de Vries  Netherlands Kreidler Angel Nieto  Spain Derbi Jos Schurgers  Netherlands Kreidler
1972 Angel Nieto  Spain Kreidler Jan de Vries  Netherlands Kreidler Theo Timmer  Netherlands Jamathi
1973 Jan de Vries  Netherlands Kreidler Bruno Kneubuhler   Switzerland Kreidler Theo Timmer  Netherlands Jamathi
1974 Henk van Kessel  Netherlands Kreidler Herbert Rittberger  Germany Kreidler Julien van Zeebroeck  Belgium Kreidler
1975 Angel Nieto  Spain Kreidler Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Piovatici Julien van Zeebroeck  Belgium Kreidler
1976 Angel Nieto  Spain Bultaco Herbert Rittberger  Germany Kreidler Ulrich Graf   Switzerland Kreidler
1977 Angel Nieto  Spain Bultaco Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Kreidler Ricardo Tormo  Spain Bultaco
1978 Ricardo Tormo  Spain Bultaco Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Kreidler Patrick Plisson  France ABF
1979 Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Kreidler Rolf Blatter   Switzerland Kreidler Patrick Plisson  France ABF
1980 Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Kreidler Stefan Dörflinger   Switzerland Kreidler Hans Hummel  Austria Kreidler
1981 Ricardo Tormo  Spain Bultaco Theo Timmer  Netherlands Bultaco Stefan Dörflinger   Switzerland Kreidler
1982 Stefan Dörflinger   Switzerland Krauser Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Garelli Claudio Lusuardi  Italy Villa
1983 Stefan Dörflinger   Switzerland Kreidler Eugenio Lazzarini  Italy Garelli Claudio Lusuardi  Italy Villa


  1. ^ Dobson, Peter (Spring 1987). "Moped Racer". Classic Racer. 1 (17): 51.
  2. ^ Woolley, Brian (Summer 1986). "Early 50 cc racing". Classic Racer. 1 (14): 30–32.
  3. ^ Walker, Mick (March 1987). "Classic Archives - racing 25 years ago". Motorcycle Enthusiast: 36–37.
  4. ^ "Kreidler Racers 1959-65". zweitakte.de (German language). Retrieved 9 February 2007.
  5. ^ Dobson, Peter (Summer 1990). "GP Kreidler". Classic Racer. 1 (30): 39.
  6. ^ a b "E-Type, The early days of the Honda four-stroke (1951)". world.Honda.com. Archived from the original on 29 January 2007. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  7. ^ Oxley, Matt (2001): The Challenge & Dream of Honda 500 Grand Prix Motor Cycle Wins. Hazleton Publishing Ltd. p.38
  8. ^ Oxley, Matt (2001): The Challenge & Dream of Honda 500 Grand Prix Motor Cycle Wins. Hazleton Publishing Ltd. p.39
  9. ^ Oxley, Matt (2001): The Challenge & Dream of Honda 500 Grand Prix Motor Cycle Wins. Hazleton Publishing Ltd. p.146