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Ernst Degner - Famous East-German Motorcycle Racer
Name: Ernst Degner
Birth date: 22.Sep.1931
Birth Place: Gleiwitz, Germany 
Date of Death : 10.Sep.1983 
Place of Death : Tenerife 
Nationality: West Germany 
Gender: Male 

Ernst Degner was a famous Eastern-German motorcycle Grand Prix racer who rode for the East German manufacturer MZ/DKW from 1956-61, and also a trained engineer who had played an important development role for the make. He had a real chance of winning the 125cc World Championship for MZ in 1961,
but instead he committed Landesflucht - he moved to West-Germany, it is believed he escaped from the East Germany in the boot of a car - just before the last race of the season, the Argentine GP and so the title went to Australian Tom Phillis. He was signed by Suzuki who probably took with him the intimate knowledge and designs of the competitive bikes developed by MZ/DKW, and went on in his Grand Prix career, racing for the Japanese team in the World Motorcycle Championship until 1966. Degner won the 50cc World Motorcycle Championship in 1962, and in the same year he was the winner of the 50cc race at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, at his debut in the Mountain circuit. During all his career, Degner achieved 59 starts with 7 wins in 50cc class, and 8 wins in 125cc class. Degner’s post-racing career was held in West Germany, where he provided in service technical training to Suzuki dealership staff. He died on 10 September 1983 at the age of 51. 

The fast right bend before the underpass at Suzuka circuit was named Degner Curve after him: it was the spot at which Ernst Degner crashed his Suzuki while leading the 250cc in a All-Japan event in 1966, which effectively ended his career. Many historical sources give the reason for the official designation of the Suzuka's Degner Curve as "rider Degner was killed at Suzuka". Degner actually survived his fiery crash, naming the corner after him was really just a matter of Japanese graciousness. T.T. Stars of 1962 (3) - Ernst Degner, who won the 50cc TT. on the Friday of race week. His “predecessors;” in this series, Chris Vincent and Luigi Taveri, who won the Sidecar race on the Monday and the “125” on the Wednesday, reported in previous issues of this paper, complete the series of “STARS”. So now to round off the trio.
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1960 Ultra-Lightweight - Ernst Degner MZ 125cc 
Governors Bridge IoM.
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1966 Japan GP In front are Tommy Robb and Jim Redman on Honda's, Tarquinio Provini on Morini, a Yamaha (Ito) 11 Luigi Taveri. In the distance Ernst Degner wants to lift up his Suzuki 4 after falling.
Ernst Degner, who comes from Zschopau, East Germany, was 27 when he first rode in the Lightweight (125) T.T. of 1958, but he had previously been very successful on the Continent and was “German Champion” in 1957, with seven wins in the 125cc class, on MZ’s. Entering, on MZ’s of Course, both 1958 Lightweight TT. races, he was a non-starter in the “250,” but was fifth in the “125,” riding the first non-Italian machine to finish the race. Later he was third in the 125cc, class of the German and Swedish G.P’s, and he finished his season’s racing by winning the “125cc” East German Grand Prix. He started off well in 1959 by coming home second in the 250cc class of the Austrian Grand Prix, and third in the “125.” His luck was out in the T.T. for he retired on the ninth lap of both Lightweight races, after being well up on the Leader Board in each. On the Continent, however, he was in good form, winning the 125cc classes of both the Czechoslovakian and Italian G.P’s. Ernst opened the 1960 season by winning the 125cc races at Imola and in the Austrian and Saar G.P’s, with another first in the 250cc “Austrian.” He entered for both Lightweight T.T. races, and on the first practice period put in a lap at 82.44 m.p.h. which made him second fastest “125” of the day. On the next lap, however, he came off at the Bungalow and broke a bone in his foot, which put him out of the races. Recovering later in the season, he won the 125cc class of the Belgian and Czechoslovakian.
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Still on MZ’s, he started off well in the 1961 Championship series by winning the German Grand Prix and scoring “seconds” in the Spanish and French G.P’s—all in the 125cc class. He had to retire on the second lap of the 125 TT., and was a non-starter in the 250.

Certainly his luck was out in the "Island", but it returned to him on the Continent where he won the East German and Italian “125’s”, whilst he was second in the same class of the Ulster. He finished up the season as runner-up in the 125cc World Championships.
Changes in 1962, as regards both nationality and machines:  First of all, Ernst Degner became a WEST German, rather than an Eastern one, and then he rode Suzuki instead of MZ’s.

After the Berlin Wall had been built in August 1961, Degner arranged an escape for his family from the GDR in the boot (trunk) of a car on the weekend that he himself was racing in the Swedish motorcycle Grand Prix. In that race, he could have secured the World Championship, but his engine failed, and he defected via Denmark to (West) Germany. After this was discovered, the East Germans accused him of deliberately destroying his engine.

The Japanese company Suzuki hired him (and his knowledge), and in 1962 Degner won Suzuki's first World Championship in the 50cc class.
Ernst Degner, (on the left) defected from East Germany and joined the Suzuki team in late 1961. Degner was an excellent rider but also a brilliant engineer. During the winter 1961—1962 Degner helped Suzuki to develop a new generation of Suzuki two-stroke racing machines.
Ernst Degner, (on the left) defected from East Germany and joined the Suzuki team in late 1961. Degner was an excellent rider but also a brilliant engineer. During the winter 1961—1962 Degner helped Suzuki to develop a new generation of Suzuki two-stroke racing machines.
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The Suzuki Company entered him for the 50cc, 125cc and 250cc T.T. races. His first of these should have been the “250,” but in common with both the other Suzuki entries he was a non-starter. 

Then came the 125cc race. In practice Degner had figured on the Leader Board three times, and was always fastest of the Suzuki’s, his best lap being at 83.65 m.p.h. In the race he averaged 84.14 m.p.h. for the three laps, again leading the Suzuki’s and, indeed the only one to finish. This put him in eighth place, with a Silver Replica. 

It was very different in the “Wasp” race. Degner was second fastest in the first two practice periods, and fastest in the third and last one, his lap al 73.72 m.p.h. putting him at the head of the Leader Board over half-a-minute ahead of Luigi Taveri on his Honda. 

The two-lap race itself started at 11 a.m. on the Friday, and at 16.4 seconds after 12 noon, Degner had won it at 75.12 m.p.h., with a record lap in under the ½ hour—29 mins. 58.6 secs. to be precise, at 75.52 m.p.h. Fancy a lap at ‘75 miles an hour on a 50cc machine; forty years previously Walter Handley raised the 250c.c. lap record to 51 m.p.h.
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That was Ernst Degner’s first 50cc Championship race victory, but he went on then to win the “Wasp” class of the Dutch T. T. and the Belgium and German G.P’s—four in a row. There was no 50 c.c. class in the next Championship race—the Ulster of August 11 th —but Degner rode in the “125” and had the bad luck to crash and injure a knee, which put Him out of the East German and Italian events
This let Hans Anscheidt into the Championship lead with 35 points against Degner’s 32. But, and it was a big “but”, Degner’s 32 points had been scored in four races, whilst Anscheidt’s 35 were spread over six races. There were two more events to come—the Finnish and Argentine G.P’s—and only the riders’ best six performances of the season were allowed to count.

Any points that Ernst scored would be added to his 32, but if Hans scored only his best six would count. Ernst had a good chance... And luck was with him. The Finnish Grand Prix was not run until 22 /23 September and by then he was fit enough to compete. He came home forth scoring three points, whilst Anscheidt was third with four points. 

This made Ernst’s total 35, with Anscheidt’s 36 out of a total of 39. One more race to come, the Argentine G.P. of 14th October. Hugh Anderson won it, on a Suzuki, but Degner was second and Anscheidt third. This gave Ernst 41 points, whilst Hans. Out of his total of 43, could count only 36. Degner, in spite of his accident in the Ulster, had won the first-ever 50 c.c. World Championship...
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  • Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Caree
  • Active years                           1957 - 1966 
  • Teams                                    MZ, Suzuki 
  • Grand Prix Championships      50cc - 1962 
  • Wins                                      15
  • Podium finishes                      38 
  • Career points                         269 
  • Pole positions                         N/A 
  • Fastest laps                           N/A 
  • First Grand Prix                     1957 125cc German Grand Prix 
  • First win                                1959 125cc Nations Grand Prix 
  • Last win                                 1965 50cc Belgian Grand Prix 
  • Last Grand Prix                      50cc Ultra-Lightweight TT 1966 Isle of Man
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The Suzuki team in Spain 63 - Itoh, Degner, Ichino, Morishita,
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Ernst Posing with his Suzuki 50cc and 125cc
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The Suzuki bursts into flames and Ernst Degner is in them, trapped under the Suzuki!
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Degner, Hailwood and Hocking
at the Isle of Man TT
Return to Racers
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After surviving horrific burns following a terrifying crash at Suzuka Circuit, the double-apex right-hand curves past the esses were named for him. Due to his burns he became dependant on medication, and it is suggested that he died from an overdose.
  • The Degner Story-1St
Listen to the Ernst Degner Defection
BBC Radio4
  • The Degner Story-2Nd
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