Feature: Classic Race Museum
MEMORIES ARE FOREVER
I’m an old man. What would I do with three million Euros?” These are the words of 80-year-old Frithjof Erpelding and the three million Euros ($4.3m) is the value of his collection of classic racing motorcycles.
That’s the value according to world-renowned auction house Sothebys, who made Erpelding an offer he quickly knocked back.
“I don’t need the money, and I enjoy my bikes – there are a lot of memories for me,” says Erpelding.
Those memories are available to the public, at the private Classic-Race Museum that Erpelding opened in the small village of Kaltenborn/Jammelshofen, nestled in the hills just 10 minutes from the famous Nurburgring race circuit in Germany.
Those who notice the small signpost and take the narrow and sinewy piece of tarmac that snakes down to Kaltenborn/Jammelshofen are in for a big surprise. Erpelding’s amazing collection is a combination of bikes and cars that he’s owned and raced, plus those he’s collected courtesy of his contacts in the racing world – and obviously a healthy bank account. Among the more collectable machines are a number from the old Communist-era Eastern Bloc, including factory MZs and Jawas.
“When the East Germans and Czechs came to race in the West, they needed help with things like fuel and tyres,” says Erpelding. “They returned the favour when it came time to sell their bikes.”
A successful businessman who operated a Honda dealership in Cologne, Erpelding has collected close to 200 bikes – the most valuable the ex-Bill Ivy Jawa 350 V4 from 1969.
Not content with just one of the rare Jawa V4 machines, Erpelding has another Jawa V4 – the one raced by Silvio Grassetti.
“ I had an offer of 180,000 Euro from someone in the US for one of them,” says Erpelding.
Jawa V4s aren’t the only model he has more than one example of, with Erpelding owning half of the Konig bikes ever built.
“They only ever built twelve, and I’ve got half of them – solos and sidecars,” says Erpelding proudly. “The engine was mounted differently in the solo to the sidecar – vertically instead of crossways to help cornering clearance.”
The Konig 500cc four-cylinder two-stroke powerplant started life as a powerboat engine, before finding grand prix fame in the hands of Kim Newcombe in solo form and then with 1975 and 1976 world sidecar champion Rolf Steinhausen.
New Zealander Newcombe was within one point of the championship lead when he was tragically killed aboard the bike in 1973. He was a posthumous runner-up in that year’s 500 title to the factory MV Agusta of Phil Read, with Read’s teammate Giacomo Agostini third.
The collection also houses one of the last Konig 500s built, an alloy-framed 1976 model with 120 horses.
It’s not just rare Eastern Bloc machinery and the numerous Konigs that grab the attention, with models as far-reaching as a rare 1972 Ossa Yankee 500 road racer, based on its twin-cylinder two-stroke enduro bike; factory OW31 Yamaha 750; brand new, never-started 1985 Honda RS250; multiple Suzuki RG500s; a Harald Bartol disc-valve Yamaha TZ250; Alex Hoffmann’s 1997 Yamaha TZ125; Walter Villa’s 1973 Harley-Davidson 350; 1980 Kawasaki KR250; 1963 50cc Honda CR110; even a Ford Thunderbird stock car used in the Tom Cruise Sound Of Thunder movie.
Erpelding was a pretty handy national-level rider in his day, commencing his racing career aboard a NSU Fox in 1950. What followed was a career on both two wheels and four wheels that has seen the German complete over 17,000 racing laps around the infamous Nurburgring – the original 21km-long, 73-corner one, not the current castrated version.
“I guess you could say I know my way around there pretty well – on two and four wheels,” says Erpelding. “I raced my Honda 800 sportscar there 65 times, and won 45 times. I had 105 horsepower out of the little Honda.
“My best car memory was when I was three and a half seconds quicker in the wet in my Mugen Civic than Hans Stuck in the factory BMW 3.5.”
Erpelding says his favourite bike is the Manx Norton he raced in the mid-60s – it once belonged to Geoff Duke.
My grasp of Deutsch is somewhat limited to say the least, but with Erpelding’s broken English I was able to learn more about his bikes than the display boards conveyed. Such as the 1952 MZ 125 with rotary-valve induction, the East German company leading the way in early two-stroke development. Or the German-developed Yamaha TZ250 with water-cooled crankcases, the power gains impressive despite added weight.
Every bike had a story, and Erpelding obviously enjoyed a walk down memory lane with a Deutsch-deprived Kiwi visitor who shared his passion. I’m pretty sure I detected a tear or two in the old German’s eyes as he fondly recalled past glories and happy memories. It’s no wonder he knocked back the Sotheby’s offer. Money can’t buy you love.
With a bar and coffee shop, as well as a zimmer (B&B) available for an overnight stay, the Classic-Race Museum is a must see for any motorcycle enthusiast visiting The ‘Ring’. If you can read Deutsch, log on to: www.classic-race.de