Motorcycling Australia Museum

1973 Konig 500

From west of the wall

Kim Newcombe pulled up stakes in Auckland in 1963 and relocated to Australia, determined to fit in as much racing as his earnings would allow. With a well-travelled Greeves Hawkestone, to which he had fitted a BSA gearbox, Kim plied the scrambles tracks up and down the east coast, as well as dabbling with speedway on a Jawa. He found employment as an outboard engine mechanic at Jackson Marine in Melbourne – a job that also allowed him an occasional outing in a racing hydroplane. In 1967, his riding talents were recognised by Modak Motorcycles, who provided a 360cc Maico motocrosser – the beginnings of a German connection that would take him to the top of the 500cc Grand Prix ladder some years later.

By 1968, Kim had itchy feet again and approached Maico in Germany for a job, but there was none to be had. However his employer, Bob Jackson, managed to organise a place at the West Berlin factory owned by Dieter Konig, where the eponymous flat-four two-stroke engine was produced. Kim’s position was with the experimental department where the engines for hydroplane racing were prepared, and he soon found himself in the driver’s seat for selected rounds of the world championship. Around this time, German rider Wolf Braun had put a 500cc Konig engine into a home built cradle frame, and when an injury forced him onto the sidelines, Newcombe took over the bike. At the fearsome banked Avus circuit, Kim won – his first ever road race – and the die was cast.

The Konig factory had agreed to support Australian John Dodds for 1971, but the relationship was short-lived, and Newcombe became the main runner, concentrating on the German Championships. By 1972 he was ready for the big time and began the season in spectacular fashion by finishing third in the West German GP at Nurburgring behind the works MV Agustas of Agostini and Pagani. But a crash in Holland resulted in a crushed vertebra, the injury forcing him to seek specialist treatment in Britain, where he met up with his former Melbourne Maico team mate Rod Tingate. Rod was working for frame builder Colin Seeley at the time, and when Seeley closed his business in early 1973, Rod loaded his TR3 Yamaha and headed for France, where he linked up with Newcombe. The 500cc title had been revitalised by the new works Yamahas, ridden by Jarno Saarinen and Hideo Kanaya, but Newcombe finished third behind the works pairing at Austria. Two weeks later Saarinen was killed at Monza and Yamaha withdrew from the title chase. Seizing his chance, Newcombe won at Opatija, the first New Zealander to win a 500cc GP, and was second to Read’s MV in Holland, taking the lead in the championship. Read fought back and clinched the 500cc title at the second last round in Finland, and with two months before the last race in Spain, Newcombe, Tingate and the Konigs went to England for a series of international races. Silverstone in August was the highlight of the British season and had attracted the works MVs of Read and Agostini, Gary Nixon from USA, and all the British stars. Aboard the 680cc version of the Konig, Newcombe shot into the lead of the main Unlimited event, but six laps into the race he crashed at the very fast Stowe Corner and hit a concrete wall, succumbing to brain damage two days later. Tingate returned the equipment to the factory in Germany, and although Dieter Konig offered him Kim’s position in the development department, and the works ride, Rod decided to head for home. He did however, accept a 500cc engine from Konig, who was himself to die soon after in an aircraft crash.

Back in Melbourne, Rod Tingate established a reputation for superb engineering work on not just motorcycles, but all forms of motorised machinery including racing chainsaws. In between this hectic schedule, he always had an idea to replica Newcombe’s Konig, and gradually the project took shape. From original drawings, Rod built a new chassis which is based around a large diameter backbone tube with smaller tubes running from the steering head to the swinging arm pivot. The Konig engine itself presents quite a few engineering challenges. In a solo motorcycle, the engine is mounted with the cylinders fore and aft. Because the unit was originally designed to have copious quantities of cold sea-water to cool it, changes needed to be made when it was mounted in a motorcycle. A large capacity copper radiator is one component, but the motor also has a specially-cast magnesium water sump which bolts beneath the crankcases. This means that the exhaust pipes, which on the outboard come out the bottom of the cylinders, must exit from the top, and this presents problems in clearing the carburettor. Most of the racing motorcycle engines used down-draft Solex or Weber carburettors, but Newcombe’s  employed a pair of 42mm Tillotsen pumpers. As well as being more efficient, the American carbs allowed much more room for the expansion chambers, which are Siamesed from four exhaust ports into two pipes. A large diameter rotary valve sits atop the crankcases, driven by a toothed belt. Gearbox is an AMC, fitted with a five-speed cluster. The clutch, which is a lathe-type, is driven from the engine sprocket by a Hi-Vo chain. Rod cast and machined the Ceriani-pattern brakes himself, and Ceriani forks are used at the front. The voluptuously -sculptured fuel tank is another piece of Tingate craftsmanship.

Finished in the original yellow and black colours with Newcombe’s racing number 28, the Konig is a stunning looking motorcycle and a tribute to the tall Kiwi’s design flair as well as Rod’s legendary engineering ability. It’s is also a reminder of the days when a hand-built motorcycle, ridden by a man with just three seasons of road racing under his belt, led the might of MV Agusta in the 500cc World Championship.

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