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Bike Review - Posted 7th June 2013
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König 500 Racer

For a few years in the mid-1970s, a motorcycle Grand Prix racer powered by a speedboat engine threatened the supremacy of the MV multis...

Keep your eyes peeled at major motorcycle gatherings like the Manx Grand Prix and Goodwood's Festival of Speed. The monster green machine you see here is expected to make some public appearances in summer 2013, to celebrate its joining the Sammy Miller Museum collection. The Museum Trust has been searching for one of these extremely unusual beasts for many years, and finally secured this 1975 König 500 in May 2013.

Apologies for the small pictures; we can only work with what we get...

The first prototype König racer took to the track 44 years ago - also in May, oddly enough - at Hockenheim. König enjoyed considerable success building two-stroke motors for speedboats in the 1960s, and at the end of that decade they transplanted their four-cylinder water-cooled flat-four 500cc engine into a motorcycle. That statement makes the process sound a bit easier than it actually was. For one thing, a speedboat doesn't require all those gear ratios and primary drive niceties which had to be grafted on to the König motor to use it in a motorcycle.

The four Mahle pistons initially ran in 54mm by 54mm cylinders, arranged lengthways in the chassis as a pair of flat twins mounted alongside each other on a common crankcase. The result is a long wheelbase bike (think Ducati twin rather than Moto Guzzi, or fore-and-aft Douglas not postwar transverse); low and narrow but not exactly wieldy.

When engines were black and white... View of the engine from the right side of the bike. The front cylinder heads are on the extreme right of the picture, the rear heads just in front of the gearbox on the left of the picture.

Two BVF carbs fed petroil to the pairs of cylinders; a single disc valve controlled induction and the siamesed exhausts met in a substantial expansion chamber located above the gearbox - which, like the first clutch fitted to the König - was borrowed from a Manx Norton. Overall the package was an intriguing mixture of old and new tech; cutting-edge two-stroke experimentation mated to traditional Britbike transmission.

The chassis was rather more conventional: Ceriani forks and drum brakes attached to a substantial steel spine frame with swinging arm and twin shocks. It all added up to a little more than 250lb dry; astonishingly light for a machine of its class.

Piared cylinders, fore and aft...

The early engine output around 68bhp at 9000rpm but was hampered by overheating, as you might expect with the cylinder crammed in lengthways. The small radiator didn't provide sufficient cooling so König experimented first with a larger radiator in 1970, and then swapped back to a smaller rad with a forced air flow - which facilitated a smaller fairing and better aerodynamics. Output grew to around 75bhp and the gearbox was uprated to a bespoke six-speeder.

A major redesign for 1972 saw the motor remodelled to 50mm stroke by 56mm bore, giving 493cc. The crank was uprated to include four main bearings, and the carbs were replaced by a 45mm Solex twin-choke item. Various belts drove the water pump and rotary disc valve, while the transmission featured a plethora of chains - up to three triplex chains in the primary drive, for instance.

Borwn and Jazzy - that shirt can only have come from the seventies... Kim Newcombe
Suitable Sidecars on

New Zealander Kim Newcombe campaigned the revised König that summer, starting at the Nurburgring where he was up against the likes of Agostini on an MV and Dave Simmonds on a factory Kawasaki triple. Only the Italians stayed ahead of the König which Newcombe brought home in third place - beating the Kwak and a horde of Husqvarna. By 1973, Newcombe had won a Grand Prix aboard the König and was running in second place in the overall world championship (just behind Ago; just ahead of Phil Read), but he was sadly killed at Silverstone before the season finished.

Meanwhile, versions of the König had been adapted for sidecar racing and a 680cc engine was in use. Tuned König motors were developing around 90bhp at 10,000rpm, and the 1975 solo 500 was tested at Paul Ricard where it near-as-dammit matched the lap record. König-powered sidecar outfits excelled at all levels of the sport for a short while, notching up two sidecar world championships… but by 1977 the fully-funded factory opposition had adopted many of the König's ground-breaking technical innovations and presented them in less compromised packages. So the small German firm withdrew from competition.

The example which will be on display at the Sammy Miller Museum is a 1975 machine fitted with a five-speed Quaife gearbox, described as being 'in excellent and original condition.' The Museum also hosts another 340 motorcycles from all eras - many of them boasting substantial racing and trials history.

The König 500 engine's potential was so astonishing that BMW experimented with a couple of prototypes in 1972, dropping the motor into an adapted R90 chassis. Now that would have been a truly remarkable roadster! Mick Walker reckoned that 'even though König's time at the top was short, it scored some excellent results at the highest level. Consequently, it has earned a permanent place in the history of motorcycle road racing.'

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The Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum opens daily from 10am at Bashley, New Milton, Hampshire B25 5SZ. The exhibits change frequently and are accompanied by displays of motorcycling memorabilia. The museum complex includes a 40-seater café, craft and gift shops, animals and a children's play area. 01425 620777 / 616644 / sammymiller.co.uk

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: RC RChive / Sammy Miller Museum


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