Volker Rauch Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Photo Gallery

As seen through the lens of one of the world’s great racing photographers…

Volker Rauch photographed Grand Prix racing. His pictures showed the sport and its practitioners as it, and they, never before had been seen. Working mostly in black and white, using his beloved 35mm Leicas, Rauch made photographs that smack the viewer in the eye with their rightness of composition, exposure, and sharpness, with their sheer artfulness.

For a time, Rauch was like the fictional Roy Hobbs in Bernard Malamud’s classic novel of baseball and life, The Natural. He simply was the best there ever was. Respected and rewarded, he lived racing’s high life, wearing the finest clothes, driving the fastest cars, chasing the most beautiful and expensive women. He revolutionized racing photography and set professional standards that still are being recognized and reached for.

And then, two years ago, he killed himself. He left a widow, a daughter, a cadre of baffled and brokenhearted friends, and an estimated 100,000 photographic images of roadracing’s giants, made during racing’s golden age on the great and classic racetracks in the world. —Jon F. Thompson, Cycle World, May 1995

Mike Hailwood
The sun’s angle highlights Mike Hailwood’s classic “nutcracker” face. He is seen here on the four-cylinder 500cc Honda RC181 of 1967. How can we know, since this photo has no information card stuck to it? We know it’s at least 1966 because of the oil-cooler slot we can see in the fairing, and the ’66 bike had black fork sliders instead of these aluminum ones.Volker Rauch

The action in 1966 and ’67 was between Honda and MV Agusta’s improvised 500cc triple. At Assen in 1966, the MV’s displacement was 384.9cc and Ago was second, 2.2 seconds behind Redman’s Honda. Not bad for a little runt! According to whom you believe, the MV was next enlarged to a 420, then to 474 for the last race of 1966. Another source has it first at 377, then a 398, and, at the end of 1966, 491. In any case, after that, it was a full 500. What these numbers tell us is that horsepower alone wasn’t the key to 500cc wins.

Remember these days and their races as you prefer. Ago and MV Agusta, the giant killers, prevailing over mighty Honda in the 500cc title chases of 1966 and ’67? Or Honda’s broadband effort to win every class? Or Hailwood’s hard-fought win in the 1967 Senior TT? No matter our emotions, what was happening here was the beginnings of modern chassis evolution. Honda stayed with the classic mold, scaling its designs up and running into strange new handling problems. MV Agusta moved rider and engine forward, keeping wheelbase short, to gain the ability to throttle-up early in corners and to accelerate harder than could the longer, lower Honda.

Moto Guzzi 350cc
This is the factory Moto Guzzi 350cc horizontal single, in this case with the small multitube chassis and transverse “beer-barrel” welded aluminum fuel tank located above the gearbox and cylinder but behind the steeply downdraft large-bore induction system; note the big Dell’Orto carburetor just behind the steering head.Volker Rauch

Behind and below the tank can be seen the 11-inch external flywheel, whose reverse rotation canceled much of the wheels’ disinclination to fast direction-changing. An external flywheel was preferred by the English proprietary engine-builders Blackburne in the 1920s, and it was recognized as a means of making the crankcase much smaller and lighter. The presence of a battery (top right corner) suggests that what appears to be a magneto below it is just a contact-breaker set.

The apple-sized bowl with a bit of string dangling from it at top left contains the sponge kept moist by soapy water, used by the rider to wipe the ever-accumulating engine oil from his goggles. The string assures that the sponge will not be lost: Its use was essential in those days of exposed valve springs and constant oil loss from open primary drives; the Guzzis, of course, had unit construction with primary drive by gear.

The extreme light weight of these singles—about 215 pounds, in this case—combined with intentionally wide-range engine tuning gave them strong acceleration. British 350cc singles, developed over many years for the Isle of Man TT circuit, were heavier and their engines were tuned more for top speed than for acceleration.

DKW engine, chassis, and swingarm
(Left) This is the short-leading-link front end and front brake of the DKW 350cc three-cylinder two-stroke. Yes, this is a hydraulic four-leading-shoe brake; see the duplicate cooling scoop on the far side? All that brake to handle the stopping force of a skinny 2.75 x19-inch tire’s footprint? (Right) This shows the oft-described but seldom pictured swingarm-driven fuel pump used by Moto Guzzi to lift fuel from the very low across-the-frame drum fuel tank up to the height required by the single tremendous 42mm carburetor of this 350cc single. Note that the fuel pump is an ordinary automotive unit, driven not directly, but through the friction of an old Hartford-type suspension damper.Volker Rauch
DKW engine
Left side view of a DKW engine, chassis, and swingarm. Large backbone tubes like this one were much in vogue in the middle-1950s. Interesting that this one ends not in tubes descending to the swingarm pivot, but in a rigid diaphragm. Additional seat tubes rise behind it.Volker Rauch

Custom-machined coil-over-damper suspension units are visible, as are the complex arrangements for plumbing the rear brake. It looks like there’s a proportioning valve and, unseen in this frame, is a steel brake pipe running forward along the frame’s backbone tube. Surely, this is a unified braking system.

Swingarm tubes are quite large, indicating experience with the ill handling of floppy chassis. Kawasaki in 1970–’71 would test three chassis for its 500cc H1R racing triple, one with the stock 1-1/8-inch tube, another in 1 inch, and a third super weight-saver in 7/8 of an inch. The latter was so frightening to ride that humane technicians sawed the engine mounts out of it. Lighter is not necessarily better.

Guzzi V-8
A long telephoto lens captured this view of the Guzzi V-8 without its streamlining at the 1957 German GP. This tremendous liquid-cooled powerplant filled the chassis in a way that foretold the future; a notable visual fact of production bikes of that time was that you could look right through them. By the left hand of the horizontal mechanic, we can see the “diaphragm.” which, with the fairing in place will plug it, forcing all internal airflow to pass through the rectangular coolant radiator.Volker Rauch

Closely adjacent and on the rear surface of that diaphragm is one of two coil boxes. Each of the two circular contact-breaker assemblies on the cam box head ends contained four mechanical breakers to provide sparks for that bank of four cylinders. Between them is one of two cylindrical float bowls—one on the left, one on the right—which never properly served the eight carburetors interdigitated between them. In a later version of this engine, each carb received its own tiny float bowl, which worked better.

The front end is Guzzi’s style in that period, a short leading-link fork with its spring/damper units mounted to the fronts of the tubes. Girder forks were reckoned obsolete, but telescopics were still under suspicion.

The complexity is daunting, but truly scary is the chassis, or rather, lack of it. Chassis-tube thickness, including the large backbone and the structure of the fork, was 1mm. This backbone-plus-twin-tube-cradle design had been workable in 250s—Yamaha’s 250cc TD1 production racers were given similar designs—but for a machine making more than 70 hp, the tenuous connection between the two wheels, including the three-pieces-of-pipe swingarm, was apparently not enough.

We’d like to think this bold gamble met with some reward but this 178-mph wonder never won a GP. Why not? Failures included main-bearing cap studs, water pump, big-end bearing cages, tappets. There were crashes and broken wires. The V-8 needed more engineering than Guzzi could give it and, just as the program came more prosperous, Italians were switching from bikes to cars. It was the same all over Europe.

Phil Read
(Left) Why do photographers always make us face the sun? Here is Phil Read—the first rider to win world titles in the 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc classes—in the great years. (Right) A rotary-valve MZ or IFA with rear-facing exhaust port and flat-slide carburetor seen at the 1958 Rhein Cup. This was the future, but who knew?Volker Rauch
MV Agusta 250cc twin
German GP, June 26, 1955: This is Luigi Taveri’s four-stroke MV Agusta 250cc twin, which used to be pretty okay—36 hp at 12,000 rpm; titles in 1958, ’59, and ’60—before Honda came to the party with 45 hp at 14,000 revs. It took a year or so for Honda to stop its engines from overheating and seizing, but once in the range, Mike Hailwood (1961) and Jim Redman (1962 and ’63) were champions, and MV presently withdrew the twin.Volker Rauch

All the same, this is classic machine beauty: gear-driven DOHC, open-air Dell’Orto carbs, and a chassis famously copied by Yamaha for its RD48 factory twin and subsequent TD1 production racers (I have such a frame in my shop). And acres of cooling fins. NSU took the top two places this day, followed by Cecil Sandford on a Moto Guzzi, then Taveri on this MV twin.

Arturo Magni
(Left) The late Arturo Magni of MV Agusta checks the temperature of engine oil, being warmed by an electric immersion heater at the 1957 German GP. In those days of single-grade oils, the high viscosity of cold oil could result in sluggish or absent circulation, leading to engine damage during warm-up. So the oil was preheated to 80 degrees Celsius, or 176 degrees Fahrenheit, before being decanted into the race engines immediately prior to starting. (Right) A lad at work on an NSU Sportmax 250cc single with locomotive rod drive to its SOHC. The eccentrics on which the rods were carried were timed at 90 degrees to each other to prevent the drives getting stuck at top dead center (TDC) or bottom dead center (BDC).Volker Rauch
Tarquinio Provini
Italy’s tremendous ace Tarquinio Provini riding the 250cc Benelli four in a classic pudding-bowl helmet and four-pane goggles at the 1964 German GP at Solitude. On this day, he would be fifth behind Phil Read’s winning Yamaha RD56, Jim Redman on a Honda four, Mike Duff on a second Yamaha, and Giacomo Agostini on the marvelous single-cylinder Morini. There are really two races here: the major manufacturer race between Yamaha and Honda, using the latest technology, and an Italian manufacturer race between two small but gifted and experienced firms, using the technology of the previous era.Volker Rauch

Benelli’s characteristic “double-bubble” fairing can be seen in this photo, as well as the usual-for-the-time outboard motor magneto and its ignition wires pointing forward from the front of the crankcase, Ceriani brake, fork, and suspension units—and the completely unprotected phone pole in the background, which would never be tolerated near today’s race circuits.

Giant motorhomes, parked epoxy-resplendent tractor-trailer transporters in a long perfect row? Hospitalities opposite? Not even a whiff. These folk rolled the bike into this trailer and once at the circuit could unroll sleeping bags on the comfy hay and sleep for free. If privacy was required, just raise the tailgate, unroll the tarp over the top, and you’re snug. That suitcase could be a prop from Death of a Salesman.Volker Rauch
Moto Guzzi V8
Yes, he’s concentrating, but I think I also detect anxiety! This is Ken Kavanaugh on the fearful Moto Guzzi V-8 at Hockenheim in 1956, seated far back in the style of that time “for traction,” they said; perhaps, given the hard rubber of the day, they had a point. When MV Agusta moved both engine and rider forward on its triple in 1966, it was a quiet but highly significant revolution, much like that accomplished by the McCandless brothers in 1950 when they did the same for the Manx Norton.Volker Rauch

In 1967, I would see what happened when a powerful 500—Mike Hailwood on the Honda RC181—with too little weight on the front accelerated off or corners: violent chassis weave. Weight to the rear was the name of Guzzi’s V-8, and the resulting instability had top riders lining up not to ride it. Dickie Dale said at one point that all the candidate riders were on the injured list.

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