The ex-Helmut Fath, Horst Owesle, 1968 and 1971 World Championship-winning
1966 URS 498cc Racing Sidecar Outfit
Engine no. 'GUSTAV'
In the 19 years of Grand Prix sidecar racing from 1953 to 1971 inclusive, only Helmut Fath successfully challenged the dominance of BMW. An intense and single-minded man, Fath was one of Germany's greatest sidecar-racing exponents. World Champion in 1960 with BMW, he looked set to retain his title in 1961 having won the Spanish GP, only for tragedy to strike at a non-title event at the Nürburgring. Fath's passenger Alfred Wohlgemuth was killed in the crash and the seriously injured Fath spent 12 months in hospital and would not be fit to race again for five years.
While out of action, Fath provided a tuning and preparation service for BMW Rennsport engines, including those of Florian Camathias. The Swiss rider's engines were renowned for their speed and there was some resentment of Fath at the Munich factory, which sometimes struggled to match him. This antipathy perhaps explained why Fath was rebuffed when he approached BMW seeking works support for his return to racing.
Fath decided to go it alone, and with assistance from Dr Peter Kuhn of Heidelberg University and fellow racer/engineer Horst Owesle, the project took shape in Fath's forest workshop outside the town of Ursenbach, from which it took its name: URS. Although similar in outward appearance to the MV and Gilera fours, the eight-valve URS motor incorporated several unusual design features, not the least being its two separate crankshafts (set at 90 degrees) driving a common countershaft that had the contact-breakers for the twin-plug ignition mounted on its right-hand end. Kuhn's expertise and the use of special valve springs enabled the URS to rev at up to 15,000rpm, an exceptional figure for a 500cc four with two relatively large valves per cylinder. Bore and stroke dimensions of 60x44mm were chosen and Bosch fuel injection employed, the first successful use of such a system on a racing motorcycle. Although larger, heavier and possessing a higher centre of gravity than the rival BMW flat twin, the higher-revving URS four made 84-88bhp compared to the BMW's 65-70, which would prove more than enough to make up for those apparent handicaps. By July 1964 a prototype engine had been produced and later that same year made its track debut as a solo machine ridden by club racer, Paul Smetana. Unusually, Fath chose names rather than numbers for his engines, which were called 'Emil', 'Freidrich', 'Gustav' and 'Heinrich'. It is believed that only these four were built as complete engines, though parts were manufactured for several more. 'Gustav' was the most successful, usually being reserved for timed practice and the actual races.
After a shakedown debut season in 1966, Helmut Fath duly gained his revenge two years later, beating BMW-mounted Johann Attenberger to take the 1968 sidecar World Championship for a second time. It was the first occasion since 1953 that a non-BMW-powered machine had won and the only ever victory by a competitor riding a home-built machine. During that momentous season, Fath and passenger Wolfgang Kalauch had finished five out of six Grands Prix entered with the URS, securing three wins. There were two Grands Prix held in Germany that year, the first at the Nürburgring and the second at Hockenheim, and Fath won both to rub salt into the BMW factory's wounds. For a low-budget team using a home-built prototype to beat the might of BMW was a phenomenal achievement, and Helmut Fath deservedly was voted MCN 'Man of the Year' for 1968.
The 1969 World Championship was closely contested by Fath and the 1967 World Champion and BMW star, Klaus Enders, both men having won two Grands Prix by the midpoint of the season. Passengered by solo star Billie Nelson at the penultimate Grand Prix in Finland, Fath had pulled out a winning lead before a fractured oil pipe forced him to retire. Enders took the win and a 2-point lead in the Championship.
Fath and Nelson then decided to compete at a local non-championship event two days later. They led the sidecar race from George Auerbacher and Klaus Enders but with only two laps to go again suffered a split oil pipe. Fath thought he could reach the finish but the URS engine was soon out of oil and seized, causing the outfit to spin out of control. Both rider and passenger were thrown onto the track, Fath sustaining fractures to his ribs and right leg, with Billie Nelson suffering a broken leg and ankle. With Fath out for the rest of season, the World Championship was handed to Enders on a plate.
While recuperating from his injuries, Helmut Fath forged an alliance with Freidl Münch and his American backer, George Bell, a deal that promised to bring in the financial resources that the URS project had always lacked. However, the new partnership was soon in disarray and a disillusioned Fath quit after the West German GP in May 1970, though Horst Owesle, Dr Kuhn and Paul Smetana chose to stay. He never raced again. In total Helmut Fath had won 11 Grands Prix - six with the URS - and two World titles, a record only bettered at that time by Max Deubel and Klaus Enders.
Although Fath was no longer involved, the URS was still competitive and it was decided that race engineer Horst Owesle, who had competed in German national events but lacked Grand Prix experience, would take up the challenge of racing against seasoned BMW campaigners like George Auerbacher, Seigfried Schauzu and Enders. Horst would not disappoint in his first season on the URS, with 5th place in the Isle of Man TT, 2nd at the Dutch TT, and 4th in both Czechoslovakia and Ulster, leaving him 7th in the 1970 Championship. Despite George Bell's backing, the Münch team lacked co-ordination so towards the latter end of 1970 John Blanchard was appointed team manager.
In 1971 Horst Owesle and passenger Peter Rutterford brought the URS once more to the fore, winning the World Championship with three Grand Prix victories and two 2nd places, leaving Seigfried Schauzu on the works-supported BMW runner up. It was just reward for Horst Owesle, who had played such a significant part in the development of the URS.
Many years later in 1989, with the entire URS sidecar and solo project under John Blanchard's control, Colin Seeley got the opportunity to test the original sidecar outfit that had carried Fath and Owesle to their World titles, and which had been restored by Blanchard. 'Not having ridden a racing sidecar outfit since my racing retirement in 1967, and with the URS having its sidecar on the right-hand side, caused some doubt in my mind,' Colin confessed. 'My first outing with a brave Andy Peach in the sidecar took place at Brands Hatch in August that year and it was certainly a steep learning curve in those first few laps! John Blanchard offered me the chance to demonstrate the Fath-URS at certain events in 1990, and with Owesle's World Championship-winning passenger, Peter Rutterford, as my partner I enjoyed riding this 80bhp 13,000 revs, four-cylinder outfit. In fact, I lapped the Brands Hatch short circuit as fast as I had on my Rennsport BMW back in 1966. The highlight of our efforts was performing at the Hockenheim Circuit at a classic event in front of Helmut Fath and Horst Owelse. On that day we finished ahead of the opposition on the URS, which is such an awesome and unique racing sidecar outfit.'
The current owner purchased the World Championship-winning URS sidecar outfit directly from John Blanchard in 1992 (together with the Seeley-URS solo, Lot ???) and has since paraded and raced it at numerous events and race circuits throughout Europe. A quantity of spares came with the two machines, sufficient to build a few more engines. These spares are offered as separate lots, so unlike some classics of the period this one could be raced without fear that a blow-up would render it a permanent non-runner.
The URS comes with copies of related press cuttings and magazine articles spanning many years, including Colin Seeley's account of his rides on the machine. Also included are eight Delft and Mettlach ceramic tiles, in presentation picture mounts and complete with certificate of authenticity, which were presented to Helmut Fath at the Dutch TT; two mounted posters showing engine details and racing successes of URS-engined machines; a signed and numbered, framed print of a Rod Organ painting: 'Home Made Champion'; a framed photograph of Helmut Fath and Wolfgang Kalauch after winning at Hockenheim; and technical data relating to the URS engine.
World Championship-winning racing motorcycles are rare enough but the URS' achievement winning this most prestigious title on two separate occasions, with three years between them and two different riders surely will never be repeated. This is a possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the discerning collector to own this legendary racing motorcycle, which is unique in so many ways.