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Competitor Profile: Gus Kuhn

TT Career Summary

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Gus was born in 1898 in Birmingham, though his grandfather had come from Germany. During the First World War he served in the RNVR and RFC. As a Levis rider he won the first Victory Trial to be staged by the Birmingham MCC in 1919 and the following year finished second in the 250cc class of the Junior TT. In 1922 he rode a Sun in the 250cc Lightweight class but over-lightening of engine components gave rise to excessive vibration, which caused the fuel lines to fracture. Nevertheless Gus and L J Lord finished in 12th and 13th places after wrapping handkerchiefs around the fuel pipes to staunch the leaking. He competed in 1924 and 1925 TT’s on Douglas, Omega and Velocette (DNF every time!) but had better luck in 1926 when he finished 5th in the Junior on a Velocette.

He took part in the first speedway meeting in the UK at High Beech in 1928. As he now had a wife and four daughters to support he spotted that this could be a lucrative career move. He joined Stamford Bridge as Captain and they won the first Southern League championship in 1929. When Stamford Bridge closed in 1932 he transferred to Wimbledon where he stayed until 1937. He then did a stint for Wembley and became captain of the Lea Bridge team. He represented England in 1930 at the first International ‘Test Match’ against Australia and often rode for his country in the thirties.

He seems to have been ‘up for anything’ on two wheels. He rode the Wall of Death and in a publicity stunt racing against a roller-skater! He was always his own mechanic and was very popular, both with the fans and his fellow riders. In the fifties he was still riding trials.

He started his own motorcycle business in South London in the thirties and in 1948 a young officer recently demobbed from the Paras joined the firm to manage it for Gus, who had little interest in business. He fell for the boss’s daughter and went on to take the company to greater success.

When Norton introduced the Commando in 1968, Gus Kuhn Motors decided to take it racing and so started the second phase of Gus Kuhn’s association with the TT. Sadly, Gus had died in 1966, ironically while his daughter and family were on the IoM for the races, and so he did not see this chapter of his story.

Quote from Speedway News May 16th 1936 “A wily master of track-craft, a brilliant mechanic, a darned hard man to get past (and not only because of his portly figure), and above all a thorough sportsman and a jolly good fellow.”

Gus gave an interview that was published in the 29th September 1929 edition of The Modern Boy, under the heading of Daredevils of the Speedway. “….and that reminds me of a very narrow escape I had. It was the 1920 TT and I was careering down the mountainside at one hundred miles an hour, when a piece of my crankshaft and the flywheel flew twenty feet into the air. As machine and I disappeared into a ditch by the roadside, that flywheel bounced and made a three-inch hole in the road, bounced again and made a hole in the pavement, finally bouncing over the spectators’ heads and finding a resting-place in a field, where two hours later it was found.

“Well, I skidded into the ditch, and but for that lucky skid I would not be alive to tell the tale. The flywheel would have come down right on my head. Ambulance men came hurrying to the spot with their stretcher all ready, for everyone thought I was finished. When they found my bike in the ditch, but no Gus, they were sure. But when, later, they came into a local inn, and found the missing man standing at the counter drinking lemonade (sic!), they were not quite so confident.

“I may say that my flywheel adorns that inn even to this day and is pointed out as an historic relic.”

I wonder if the flywheel is still there today.

Valerie Davey

October 2006

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