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What Degner brought to Suzuki

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#1 Michael Ferner

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Posted 11 February 2024 - 12:32

On the wonderful http://www.iom1960.com/ website of former Suzuki engineer Hiroyuki Nakano, there's a page dedicated to Ernst Degner and the two-stroke technology transfer from East Germany to Japan, relevant to the recent "douchebag" discussion here on this forum. Machine translated, here are a few salient points from the article:
What Degner brought to Suzuki

Ernst Degner (East Germany) was the ace of the East German MZ team, but immediately after the 1961 Swedish Grand Prix, he defected to West Germany (September 17) and joined the Suzuki team (November 1). In 1961, Suzuki's racers continued to have troubles, but Suzuki won the 50cc class title in 1962.
For this reason, an article in Cycle Sounds magazine 2003-2 also states that "Degner designed Suzuki's 50cc, 125cc and 250cc machines." Also, more recently, THE BIGGEST SPY SCANDAL IN MOTORSPORT HISTORY (by Mat Oxley, Haynes 2009) proposes the theory that "Degner brought the secrets of the MZ to Suzuki, and as a result, Suzuki was able to win."
However, despite the fact that Degner came to Japan on November 1, 1962, the 125cc single-cylinder RT62 and the 50cc single-cylinder RM (which are said to have been Degner's brainchild in the book) already existed, and it is ignored that it was difficult for Degner to be involved in the layout and design of these engines. [picture refernce:] On the right is the RT62 exhibited at the 1961 Tokyo Motor Show (October 25 ~ November 7).


- Did no one at the time think anything when they saw the exhaust pipe of the MZ?
- Why was the 1962 50cc RM62 slow at the start of the season and fast after the improved engine was sent to the Isle of Man? Who designed and built the improved engine and exhaust pipe? Could it be that Degner was in Europe and designed and built an improved exhaust pipe?
- Why did Yamaha become faster? Could it be that Suzuki told Yamaha the "secret that Degner brought in"?
If you look at it this way, these "journalists" [are] weak in logical thinking. It seems that having a fatal weakness leads to the Degner theory as mentioned at the beginning.
According to Hiroyuki Nakano, an engineer at Suzuki on the other side, "The Dawn of Japan Motorcycle Racing," Degner's influence on Suzuki is as follows:


(1) Rear exhaust: The RT62 was designed with a forward exhaust, but it was changed to a rear exhaust for Degner. By the end of the '62 season, all of the engines were rear-exhausted, and the '63 50cc and 125cc twin-cylinders were also designed with a rear exhaust
(2) INA Bearings: RT62 crank large end bearings made by INA in West Germany (changed to Japan at the end of 1962 due to frequent problems)
(3) Forged piston: Adopted from MAHLE in West Germany (later changed to Sumitomo Metals)
(4) Cast iron sleeve cylinder: Changed from aluminum + chrome plated cylinders to cylinders in which cast sleeves are press-fitted to aluminum.
(1) is obvious to anyone from the appearance, and (2) is only an overview of the MZ engine. It's like a Honda mechanic disassembling a Yamaha racer's engine and passing it on to a Honda engineer.
By the way, Tsuruo Toriyo, who was an aircraft engineer at Fuji Heavy Industries, wrote the following about the Wright brothers' patent controversy in his book "Challenge to the Sky: Propeller Aircraft" (2002 Grand Prix Publishing).

"The Wright brothers proved that mankind's long-held dream of flying freely in the skies was possible with the help of 20th-century industrial technology. ~It takes a lot of effort and energy to challenge something that may be impossible and search for an answer. This is because endless efforts must be repeated in order to prove that it is possible. If there is no answer, everything will be in vain. However, once it is found that it is possible, industrial technology can be developed as rapidly as if a dam had been cut. The first is that, as stated at the beginning of this section (the sentence above), we have been slow to realize that the achievements of industrial technology are much easier to catch up with those who come after us than our predecessors think. Regardless of patents, pioneers must look to the future and develop technologies one after another, and always maintain an advantage over their successors. If you don't make that effort, you will soon be caught up and overtaken.
Until 1957, it was common knowledge that four-strokes were faster than two-strokes, and only one post-war GP was won by a two-stroke racer (DKW) in the 1952 250cc German Grand Prix. However, in 1958 the MZ won its first victory in the 250cc class, and in 1959 it added more wins, demonstrating its superiority over other two-stroke developers. And when Suzuki and Yamaha came along, pursuing that direction, the MZ was "quickly caught up and overtaken."
Needless to say, MZ deserves a lot of credit for proving the potential of two-strokes. And rivals can't surpass MZ just by imitating it. To say that Suzuki and Yamaha, who followed, "stole the secret of the MZ" is nothing more than the nonsense of those who do not understand what industrial progress is like, and who are incapable of logical thinking, as mentioned above.
In my opinion, Degner's greatest achievement at Suzuki was that he had the know-how to finish, assemble and maintain parts for 2-stroke racing engines, as well as the know-how of riding 2-stroke racersBe. As for the latter, even if there was a problem with the Suzuki engine, it would have been difficult to determine whether it was because the rider had never ridden a first-class two-stroke racer or if the machine was bad, but if Degner rode and caused trouble, it would have been easier to judge that the machine was bad. And in 1962, Degner was the top Suzuki rider in handling the two-stroke engine. But as his teammates learned how to handle a two-stroke racer by running behind him, his absolute advantage faded away.


(...) It was about 2.5 months from the date of Degner's second visit to the date of his departure, and it seems that Degner's involvement in the development and results during this time was limited to the know-how of finishing and assembling parts as far as the engine itself was concerned. [H]e may have advised on matters that directly affect engine output, such as cylinder port geometry, rotary valve timing, exhaust pipe specifications, etc., but these did not directly lead to results.

The new RM62 cylinder and exhaust pipe were built and arrived in the Isle of Man on 28 May, and Degner was not involved in the production of these modifications.


There are also some photographs showing that, in 1961 already, EMC had copied the MZ exhaust faithfully, while Suzuki introduced a new shape in 1962, which by 1964 was copied by none other than MZ!


But the really important takeaway for me is, if Suzuki 'stole' the MZ 'secrets', why is it that Yamaha also went faster? No amount of 'logic' can explain that!


#2 kevins

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 14:37

Interesting topic, but unfortunately I have nothing to add, apart from this, which may or may not be as well researched.


#3 Michael Ferner

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 20:12

1) Too lazy to write an article, so a YouTube video instead: a visual cacophony of disjointed footage with neither reason nor rhyme, does he pay royalties? If not, it's probably larceny as well, because that's not 'fair use for educational purposes' by any stretch of the imagination!


2) The usual "Kaaden good, Degner bad" story that we have come to expect from pupils of the Mat Oxley school. Monochrome paintings are so much esier to compose...


3) No mention of DKW two-stroke research from before the war (okay, almost none - he tries to pronounce "Ladepumpe"...), on which IFA/MZ relied heavily, no mention of Daniel Zimmermann - it would destroy the simple aesthetics of the picture if the 'theft victim' was a 'thief' himself, wouldn't it?


4) Hiring people who have worked for rival companies is not industrial espionage, it's pretty standard business practice - what's so difficult to understand? Oh, yes, that's not spectacular enough, and doesn't sell books...


5) So the Suzuki company was lazy, and its engineers idiots - try and tell that to Mr. Nakano... No! Better read his website and see for yourself what those 'lazy' people accomplished!!


6) Again, the simple question: if Degner stole all the MZ secrets for Suzuki to benefit, how come Yamaha also overtook MZ within a year or two? Did Suzuki tell those secrets to its main rival???


7) MZ was not a pitiful, betrayed backyard company, it was a huge plant owned by a communist government with world domination aspirations, but poor management - in contrast to the author of this video, I have known the name MZ and its products for basically all my life - they were cheap trash produced in quantity in order to wangle forex for a corrupt government to survive, a government that spied on its citzens, imprisoned them and killed them in prodigious numbers


8) Thinking about it, the video footage is probably the best thing about it, because the 'narration' is so forgettable. Maybe it'd be fun to try and identify and date the tracks, bikes and people in it, with the sound off, of course!

Edited by Michael Ferner, 16 February 2024 - 20:14.

#4 LittleChris

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Posted 16 February 2024 - 22:14

Trackwise and in no particular order I'll go for Sachsenring, IOM Mountain Course, Dunedin, Brno, AVUS, Le Mans, Daytona, Oulton Park, Hockenheim, Mt Panorama,

#5 kevins

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Posted 17 February 2024 - 08:37

Michael, I did hint that the video my not be to TNF standard, but posted it anyway in the hope your thread might get some traction.

#6 serafini

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Posted 18 February 2024 - 17:03

For facts about Zimmermann, DKW, MZ, Kaaden and Degner: the authority is Ray Battersby, the author of the wonderful "Team Suzuki".

Over a period of, I guess, at least 40 years he interviewed all the major surviving players in the Degner defection story and has diligently researched the Zimmermann/Kaaden stories - and debunked much of the accepted history.

Just a few of his thoughts can be found in the "Motorcycle Racing Books" thread - see Suzukijo on 22 January 2010 

#7 Michael Ferner

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Posted 19 February 2024 - 14:22

Michael, I did hint that the video my not be to TNF standard, but posted it anyway in the hope your thread might get some traction.


:up:  No need to explain yourself, a variety of views is appreciated! In fact, the video didn't start off too bad, I thought it was quite informative in the beginning, but over time the style grated very much on me, combined with the fact that the author apparently thought that reading one book is more than enough to become an expert in the subject matter. Too bad many people today are too lazy to read books, and would rather watch this sort of videos on TV or YouTube, and even worse that those who make those videos are lazy, too!  :down:

#8 Michael Ferner

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Posted 19 February 2024 - 14:30

For facts about Zimmermann, DKW, MZ, Kaaden and Degner: the authority is Ray Battersby, the author of the wonderful "Team Suzuki".
Over a period of, I guess, at least 40 years he interviewed all the major surviving players in the Degner defection story and has diligently researched the Zimmermann/Kaaden stories - and debunked much of the accepted history.
Just a few of his thoughts can be found in the "Motorcycle Racing Books" thread - see Suzukijo on 22 January 2010

Thanks for the hint to the books thread, I missed that at the time! I took the liberty to copy those posts over here, for reference:

see Ray Battersby's reply to my comments on STEALING SPEED, printed below.
Erich Wolf - inventor of the expansion chamber exhaust
Suzukijo has tempted me out of my box by seemingly reading between the lines of the 1961 Degner defection. The essential secrecy of this story - where those involved lived literally in fear of their lives - has provoked a great number of myths and legends. It has cast Ernst Degner as the baddie and Walter Kaaden as its genial and genius goodie.
For many years, I have toyed with the misinformation and rumours that have circulated about Degner and his defection. These myths and legends have not been challenged by the surface-scratching research of Degners many biographers over the last forty eight years. They have been content to regurgitate the errors of other writers to produce a rounded, plausible, interesting story. A professional writer does not have the time to conduct a great deal of original research. It is easier to read what others have written and then to form an opinion.
A good example of this recycling of errors is contained in the excellent MZ history written by Jan Leek who says that Walter Kaaden designed the 4S 293 missile. Actually what Jan meant to type was the HS 293, a typo not spotted by later authors who have repeated the same error.
Yes, we all love a story of mystery and intrigue so it is all too easy to believe what has been dished up so far. To a world so easily persuaded to part with confidential banking data by simply not applying the litmus test "Does it sound right?", it is small wonder these myths and legends still circulate.
Here is an example of a truth-defying myth. Degner deliberately blew up his MZ 125cc engine in Sweden in 1961 so that he could get on with his defection. RUBBISH. Here is a man who can win his first World Championship in this race and still defect afterwards as planned, not as the runner up but as the World Champion! Think how much more Suzuki would have paid Degner to join them as the reigning 125cc World Champion. In fact his DNF would not have allowed a speedier defection because the Kristianstad paddock was in the centre of the circuit with no bridge or tunnel to the outside world. So after his DNF, Degner had to wait with his car in the paddock until the race was over. And if he had been so keen to defect, why did he not turn left into West Germany instead of driving aboard the ferry to Sweden that weekend?
One of the most hurtful myths to the Degner family is the manner in which Ernst Degner died in 1983. According to web and printed media, he died in no less than five different ways, all incorrect; he died in a car accident, he was shot, he slit his own throat, he died of a drug overdose, he was assassinated by the STASI using a lethal injection. The truth is that he died of a heart attack.
For over thirty years I have studied the story of the Degner defection by meeting with those who were there at the time and have a story to tell. These have included Ernst Degner, Jimmy Matsumiya (his confederate), Messrs Ishikawa, Matsui and Nishi (of Team Suzuki), Frank Perris (rider), Mick Woollett (journalist) and Ralph Newman (Avon tyres) who were all staying in the Kristianstad hotel when Degner fled. I have interviewed Gerda Degner, his widow and their sons Boris and Olaf. I have questioned the widow of the man who smuggled the Degner family across the border in the boot of his car and I have heard the only tape recording of her late husband describing what he did and how he did it during an in-depth - though private - interview.
But the more I research this story, the more myths I come across. And these myths surround Walter Kaaden too. He is cast as being betrayed by his friend Ernst and often given the sobriquet genius or father of the modern two-stroke. And yet if you believe that he invented the expansion chamber, the rotary disc valve or the boost port, you would be wrong. Whilst these were all invented (and sometimes patented) by German engineers, they were all in the public domain before Kaaden used them and in the case of the rotary valve and the boost port, whilst Kaaden was still wearing short trousers.
People who have interviewed Kaaden told me that he was a nice man with an affable, avuncular personality. But he surely was not quite as clever as modern non-technical historians would have us believe.
For example, it is said that Kaaden worked at Peenemunde during World War II designing the V1 (Flying Bomb). I am uncertain that Kaaden ever worked at Peenemunde - though he may have been involved in some way with the HS 293 guided missile. This missile was actually invented by Professor Herbert Wagner at the Henschel aircraft factory at Berlin-Schoenefeld - not Peenemunde. It was in the Wagner team that Kaaden worked during the war. But when it all ended, why was Kaaden not snatched up by Von Braun or Herbert Wagner as they assembled their engineering teams for work in the USA? And after being passed over, what made the engineer Kaaden decide to set up a wood-working shop instead of an engineering workshop? These are the imponderables that will need to be filled with educated guesses.
Suzukijo reproduces an intriguing photo of a row of expansion chambers as fitted to early IFAs (IFA was not renamed MZ until 1956). What does this photo prove? In my view not as much as the above photograph proving that the first racing motorcycle to be equipped with an expansion chamber was actually a 1951 DKW 350-3. This futuristic machine was designed by their chief engineer, Erich Wolf, who also invented its expansion chambers. It revved to over 10,000 and was a potent racer.
The following season (1952) Kurt Kampf - IFA's racing manager - copied the Wolf design and fitted an expansion chamber to an IFA racer. Kaaden succeeded Kampf as race manager at IFA the following year (1953) and continued the work of Kampf on expansion chambers. But who mentions the important parts played by Wolf and Kampf in the story of Walter Kaaden?
And here is the reason; we all like to see David slaying Goliath so our natural sympathies lie with poor old Walter Kaaden and his MZs, running on a shoestring budget and giving the mighty Honda the scare of its life.
Here is another truth. The guy who drove the Degner family over the border into West Germany lived in fear of his life. For the rest of his life. His wife told me that he always slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow because of his fear of STASI retribution. No wonder the people involved have kept schtum for so long and allowed the truth to be enveloped in a fog of histrionic rumours. To this day, Mrs Petry is reluctant to discuss the fine details.
The above casts a weak light into the murky depths surrounding the Degner defection. Yet there are other technical and historical truths that need to be told. One day, I hope to set the record straight, once and for all by publishing an account of what I believe to be the truth. Until then, I am resigned to being vexed by the myth-ridden scribblings of others.
Ray's reply is reprinted above, never in my dreams would i think Ray wuold have replied to my post.
the degner defection story is fascinating, having Ray add his comments to my post, wow.
Stealing Speed, had lots of background information about the time period, and it gives you a feeling for the situation involved.
Rays book "Team Suzuki", has much more detail about the people and actually what happened.

more from Ray, about the degner influence....
Now as to Degner. The truth is that virtually all of the modern two-stroke's performance features - the sort of things that pushed it to an unbeatable performance level in GP racing from 1962 to 2001 - were all inventions of German engineers in the 1920s and 1930s. After the war, the West was simply too proud and arrogant to acknowledge the contribution made by these pioneering engineers and down-played the part they played. "Dammit. Why should we give the vanquished nation any credit. We won the war, Let's plunder their design offices." Which of course, they did with relish and the result was the BSA Bantam, the Saturn rocket and various jet fighter planes.
Degner's defection in 1961 with the MZ's secrets (which Kaaden had - how shall I say this kindly? - 'borrowed' from other manufacturers, most notably DKW and the privately built ZPH racer), placed these concepts in the hands of a company with a massive budget to capitalise on them. This was Industrial Espionage on a large and outrageous scale but few people outside of Suzuki racing fanatics know anything about it.
So Degner revealed to Suzuki all about Mahle's forged alloy pistons, INA's caged needle-roller small-end bearings, the Schneurle (boost) port, the rotary disc valve and the expansion chamber. Once Suzuki knew the basics about these topics they set to work with a zeal. Degner would never have known the formulae for designing an expansion chamber; it was Murai-San who tried various shapes and sizes on the race-shop dyno who worked it all out for himself. So it was Degner who put Suzuki on the right track but it was Suzuki people who worked out the details and continued the quest for more power (and reliability).
And guess what? Today, these same Japanese engineers who were happy to worship at Degner's knee in 1962 are in denial. There are Japanese forums where they gather to explain that they never needed Degner anyway; they could have done it all without him! Well, all I can say is there are very few engineers honest enough to say that he copied a basic design from a competitor. They want to take the credit for themselves.
So once Suzuki had debriefed Degner over the Winter/Spring of 1961/62, apart from any debt of honour, they didn't really need him any longer. They had the means to do it all for themselves. Here's a modern example. Suzuki's TSCC four valve cylinder head design was invented and patented by the late Vincenzo Piatti, an Italian engine designer and a good friend of mine. His licensing contract with Suzuki included a clause that he was never to claim that he had invented TSCC! I know this to be true because I've read Piatti's contract. In fact, at the press launch, Suzuki paraded one of their own engineers - Shirasagi-San - as its inventor. This illustrates just how proud Suzuki were/are and how far they go to shed the image of simply copying other people's ideas.
Now, your own machinery. There is no doubt their engine features were heavily influenced by Degner but I have never heard of these particular versions of production machines. Suzuki, and most Japanese companies, have operated the 'need to know' system for decades so it's perfectly possible that they would issue a race-shop developed performance kit for say, Thailand, and never mention this kit to any European distributor. That's the way they are. For example, how many people know that Suzuki used to race a single seater racing car - in Japan of course. I do know that the race shop built special machines to suit the needs of local markets such as Indonesia.
sorry if this is in the wrong catagory, motorcycle racing books, I am new to forum, and didnt quite know where to put it.

I do have quite a few GDR books and magazines from the (mostly early) fifties in my archive, but haven't yet found the time to give them more than a cursory browse. Not sure if they will yield more info on this, but will report back when I find out.