How Ernst Degner Sold MZ Two-Stroke Secrets to Suzuki Motorcycles
Learn how Ernst Degner sold Suzuki Motorcycles the secret that would make them World Champions during the height of the Cold War in “Stealing Speed: The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsport History.”
The compelling story of how Japan's biggest motorcycle manufacturers stole a Nazi rocket scientist's engine secrets from behind the Iron Curtain. In 1961, with the Cold War at its height, East German motorcycle manufacturer MZ was using World War II rocket technology to win Grands Prix, only for rider Ernst Degner to defect and sell the secrets to Suzuki. The following year Suzuki and Degner made history by winning the world title.
Cover courtesy Haynes Publishing
Ernst Degner is about to sell MZ's two-stroke engine secrets to Suzuki Motorcycles for the title of World Champion of the Grand Prix. Degner contemplates signing the contract and organizing the freedom of himself and his family from East Germany during the height of the Cold War in this excerpt taken from chapter 7 of Stealing Speed: The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsport History (Haynes Publishing, 2010).
Jimmy Matsumiya placed the needle on the record and the needle found its groove.
I’m burning like a flame dear
I’ll never be the same dear
I’ll always place the blame dear
On nobody but you…
He turned away from the gramophone player, lit a cigarette, sat down in the corner of the modest little hotel room and waited. Moon-faced Jimmy Matsumiya was what his contemporaries might have called a ‘hep cat’: Cambridge-educated, urbane Anglophile, eye for a nice piece of cloth, liked to hang out in jazz clubs. He was also Suzuki’s fixer in Europe, paid to navigate his employers through the strange ways of the western world. Now Matsumiya was all set to pull off the biggest industrial espionage heist in motorsport history.
There was a quiet knock-knock at the door. Matsumiya got up, opened the door and Ernst Degner quickly brushed past into the room. As they shook hands the German looked slightly agitated.
“Hello Mr Matsumiya. We’ve got ten minutes,” said Degner, turning this way and that, not sure where to sit. Matsumiya sat down on the small bed and invited his visitor to take the only chair.
“So, what’s your news, Mr Degner?” he asked. “What have you and your friend decided?” Their voices were strangely strained – they were trying to be quiet but at the same time trying to make themselves heard above the jazz music.
“In general we are quite happy with the terms, Mr Matsumiya. We think we are nearly ready to sign, but there are some important details I would like to discuss with you.” Degner talked as he watched the comings and goings in the hotel driveway, keeping well back from the window.
“That’s excellent news, Mr Degner,” replied Matsumiya. “I have some news: our company president Mr Suzuki says he is prepared to agree to your proposal, but as you say, there are a few details that need attending to.”
“Very good,” said Degner.
The co-conspirators were meeting in Matsumiya’s room in the Fernleigh hotel in Douglas, where the Suzuki and MZ teams resided during Isle of Man TT fortnight. It was June 1961 and they were here to finalise exactly what they wanted from each other. Degner had had enough of life in the communist GDR and wanted to defect from East to West, so he wanted money, and lots of it. Matsumiya wanted a quick way out of Suzuki’s nightmare machine problems, so he needed the best two-stroke know-how in the world and he was prepared to pay for it.
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