Every year in the first week of June this small island in the Irish Sea is transformed into a place that motorcycle fans simply must visit. The Tourist Trophy, the toughest motorcycle race in the world, has been held on the Isle of Man since 1907. For 30 years only British riders on British machines won this race, but 75 years ago Ewald Kluge became the first German to break the spell. In his memory, Audi Tradition is taking part in the Classic TT on the Isle of Man from August 23 to 26.
Kluge was 29 years old in June 1938, when he gained the victory in the Tourist Trophy that has made him a legend. Admittedly, we should not forget Omobono Tenni, who won the 250-cc class the previous year and was therefore the first non-British winner on a non-British bike. But in that year Kluge was already leading the field when forced to retire because of a technical defect. Tenni completed the 424-kilometer race in 3 hours, 32.06 minutes, with a 37-second lead over Stanley Woods on an Excelsior. Kluge’s victory a year later was the end of a proud era for the British. On his 250-cc DKW Kluge, who came from the German city of Dresden, not only recorded a new overall time of 3 hours 21.56 seconds for the race – an average speed of 125.56 km/h – but also set a new lap record and thoroughly demoralized his competitors. He crossed the finishing line a remarkable eleven minutes ahead of the runner-up, Ginger Wood.
As a tribute to the memory of Ewald Kluge, one of the greatest riders in the history of Audi motorsport, Audi Tradition is taking part in the “Classic TT” on the Isle of Man from August 23 to 26. For the ‘parade laps’, about 60 kilometers long, AUDI AG’s Historical Department is entering a completely reconstructed DKW SS 250 dating from 1938. The actual bike ridden by Ewald Kluge no longer exists. All the DKW ULD 250 bikes entered by the factory, with their charge-pump rotary-valve engines, can no longer be traced. DKW was incidentally the first motorcycle manufacturer in the world to offer private entrants what we would today call ‘production racers’. Instead of being called ULD, they were badged ‘Super Sport’. Rolf Waldmann will ride a motorcycle of this type for Audi Tradition on the Isle of Man. Twice world champion runner-up, he has his own entry in the motorsport hall of fame: with 20 Grand Prix victories, he is the most successful rider never to take the champion’s title in the history of the World Motorcycle Championship.
At the time Ewald Kluge was racing there was no World Championship, only European Championship race series. His 1938 victory on the Isle of Man was the highlight of his highly successful career. Of the fourteen races he entered for in that season, the DKW rider won twelve and came in second twice. His unrepeatable string of trophies: European, German race and hillclimb champion and the very rare “Champion of Champions” accolade granted only to those who finished the season with the highest possible number of points. At the end of the 1930s, Ewald Kluge was the leading light on the German motorcycle scene. He took the European championship title twice, in 1938 and 1939, was German champion four times and a member of the German team that won the Silver Vase. Auto Union, for whom Kluge rode throughout his competition career, even sent him out to Australia in 1938, to help promote the local market for the former Saxon manufacturer.
After an ocean voyage lasting more than 40 days, Kluge entered for four races and won them all, including victory on his 250-cc bike in a 350-cc race.
Motorsport success did not come easily to Ewald Kluge. Born on June 19, 1909 in Lausa (Saxony), his mother died while he was still a child. He trained as a mechanic, and, as a cab driver in Dresden, saved his earnings determinedly and bought his first racing bike in 1929. Five years later his outstanding results came to the attention of DKW, which engaged him for cross-country events. In 1936 he became a member of the factory team. Called up for military service in 1940, he was a prisoner of war in Russia from 1946 until 1949, when he returned home in very poor physical condition. Faced with the need to earn a living in the difficult post-war years, he left his much-loved Saxony and moved to Ingolstadt in 1950 with Auto Union, to whom he remained loyal his life long, and started from scratch to ride motorcycle races again.
Ewald Kluge, nicknamed the ‘Panther’ on account of his precise riding style, had to abandon his competition career because of a severe accident. He was already 44 years old at that time. In the 1953 Eifel race on the Nuerburg Ring he crashed at high speed and shattered the bones in his thigh. The leg was saved, but he was hospitalized for almost a year and never raced again. His greatest wish, to ride one more time on the Isle of Man, was never fulfilled. Ewald Kluge died in his new home town of Ingolstadt on August 19, 1964, just 55 years of age. After his accident he worked for Auto Union, a modest, always friendly colleague who did his best to encourage young people and modestly refrained from mentioning his victories or complaining about the blows that fate had dealt him.