Outboard Motor Powered GP Racer – 1974 König 500

In Race, Sweden by Tim HuberLeave a Comment

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The König 500 and Kim Newcombe will be forever intertwined, as you can’t tell the story of one without the other. The tale of the Kiwi and his outboard motor-powered GP racer is an unlikely one, boasting equal parts triumph and tragedy. Born in New Zealand in 1944, Newcomb was raised in Auckland where he discovered two passions early on: the first being his wife Janeen, and the second being motorcycle racing.

Kim and Janeen married young, and when Newcombe was just 19 the couple packed their bags and relocated to Australia — a larger country that afforded far more opportunities in motorcycle racing. From an early age, Kim demonstrated remarkable talent and control on any two-wheeler he tried, successfully competing in various dirt track races around Australia (and his native New Zealand).

It was while working as a marine engine mechanic in Melbourne during the tail-end of the 1960s that Newcombe first stumbled upon the König (German for “King”) outboard motor — a compact 494cc, two-stroke, flat-four boxer. A few years after discovering the König mill, Kim actually met Dieter König, the force behind the racing outboard motor. The meeting resulted in Kim being offered a job at König’s West Berlin factory. So Kim and Janeen packed their bags once again and set off for Germany.

Not long after starting work at König, an interesting opportunity reunited Kim with two-wheelers. A local German racer by the name of Wolf Braun had cobbled together a one-off bike comprised of a half-liter König four stuffed in a custom frame. Unfortunately for Braun, an unexpected injury put an abrupt end to him further developing the König-powered scoot. Braun’s misfortune however prompted Dieter König to assign Kim to the racer.

Kim eventually completed the project, though it required an enormous amount of work. After all, the König motor wasn’t designed to power a motorcycle! Seeing as the original König lacks a transmission, the Kiwi had to tack a chain-driven primary onto the lefthand side of the outboard motor, linked to a (six-speed Norton) gearbox and clutch. Like most outboard motors, the König’s cooling system utilized the water it sat in, forcing Kim to develop a unique radiator system for the German motor. Kim also employed an interesting liquid-cooled magnesium sump fixed to the underside of the engine in order to keep the crankcases from overheating.

Just before 1970, Kim completed the very first König motorcycle prototype. The outboard-powered GP racer sported a number of features that were pretty cutting edge such as rotary disc valve induction and expansion chamber exhausts. Making 68 horsepower in its first iteration, the König 500 was later tuned to make a cool 85 ponies (at around 10,000rpm) — a decent output considering the bike’s roughly 250lb weight. The half-liter König did unfortunately suffer from some pretty major reliability issues early on, though Kim did his best to keep these problems at bay.

Dieter König arranged to have John Dodds pilot the company’s first bike, while Kim would serve as the lead mechanic/engineer/crew chief. It wasn’t long before Dodds threw in the towel — citing the König’s reliability problems — leaving the seat open for Kim. Despite having zero experience road racing (not to mention not even possessing an FIM race license), the Kiwi was something of a natural, winning his very first GP event, a race at the Avus circuit in Germany. The podium at Avus was just the first of many, and Newcombe and his unconventional oil-burner went on to secure a ridiculous amount of wins, all while maintaining and wrenching on the bike himself.

Kim would get another season in under his belt, operating as a do-it-all, one-man team, before finally bringing on an old friend, Rod Tingate as a dedicated mechanic for the two seasons that followed. While this obviously freed up a lot of time for Kim, he was still a somewhat novice GP rider and was largely unfamiliar with many of the circuits. Plus the New Zealander was facing off against factory works bikes piloted by seasoned professional racers, including the likes of Giacomo Agostini. After putting in a solid season in ’72—which included a podium at the West German GP at the Nurburgring—a crash at the Dutch GP left Kim with a broken vertebrae, sealing his season’s fate, and finishing in 10th place overall at its close.

By the start of the ’73 season, Kim was fully healed and back in action, but by then the word had gotten out; “the König 500 was FAF”. Naturally, people wanted more. Seeing a blatant business opportunity, König’s owner and namesake started up motorcycle production, churning out both over-the-counter, ready-to-go racers, and DIY parts kits. BMW supposedly made a pair of König-powered prototypes in ’72, both of which were comprised of stretched R90/6 frames wrapped around watered-down König flat fours paired with BMW transmissions and driveshafts. The Bavarian brand reportedly even kicked around the idea of producing a road-going König-powered model, though ultimately the company’s higher-ups pulled the plug on the two-store project. Back to Kim though.

In the first race of the ’73 season Kim came out swinging, securing podium after podium and catching the world’s attention. The König was supposedly faster than the mighty MV triple on the straights, and with Kim at the helm, it looked like a new champion was emerging. When Kim took first place at the Yugoslavian GP, it was the very first time the Kiwi led the league in points. As the season started to wrap up, Kim accepted an invitation to compete in a series in England. The first race was held at Silverstone, and Kim had brought along a specially prepped 680cc version of the König.

On August 11, 1973, Kim started what would be his final race. While leading the race, Kim crashed at Stowe Corner, struck a wall, and was pronounced dead three days later on August 14th, 45-years-ago to this very day. At the age of 29, the Kiwi was dead, just one point shy of claiming the 500cc world championship title. He finished overall in second place that year just behind Phi Read (and ahead of Agostini). Supposedly, after Kim’s death, Dieter König wanted nothing more to do with the motorcycle project, putting an end to the project, despite being objectively promising.

When production ended in the mid-1970s, only around 100 examples were produced, making Königs very rare and very valuable machines. Rod Tingate, Kim’s mechanic, would later build one hell of a replica of Newcombe’s racer that’s worth checking out. There’s also a 1976 Konig 500 example on display at the Barber Motorsport Museum. If you aren’t able to get your hands on an original Konig, worry not, for there’s a father and son team based in the UK that currently offer modern replicas of the outboard motor-powered racer, albeit for what I assume is a steep price.

This particular example is a 1974 John Wright Bailey König 500 that has supposedly been fully restored. The seller says the four-cylinder, opposed-piston engine was run back in 2016, but has been sitting static since. The seller also claims the bike’s dry weight is just 219lbs, and it reportedly makes 100hp, though I think the actual figures are closer to 254lbs and 85hp. Either way, this is undeniably one seriously special bike.

You can find this restored 1974 John Wright Bailey König 500 racer for sale here on Craigslist in Los Angeles, California with a price of $65,000.

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