As a result, Suzuki’s 1962 season was a far cry from the one two years before. The zippy new 50 scored Suzuki’s first-ever world championship point at Barcelona in May, then won the company’s first world championship race at the Isle of Man. Four months later, Degner nabbed the 50 world title in Argentina and Suzuki also won their first 125 GP. The once- beleaguered Japanese manufacturer was finally a serious contender and Degner was on top of the world.
But then Degner’s life took a nosedive. It began with a horrific crash in 1963 that resulted in severe facial burns. When he finally got back to racing in 1965, he shattered his leg at the Italian GP, and in 1966 he suffered head injuries at the Japanese GP. Sadly he spiralled into a deep depression, his relationships ended and he became addicted to pain killers. He died alone in 1981 at the age of just 53. His official cause of death was listed as a heart attack but there are those who believe that the Stasi got their final revenge…
And what became of poor Walter Kaaden? He could have become a bitter and twisted old man, angry that he was so cruelly betrayed and that his brilliant design was stolen and used, with no credit given to him. But he was very much a get-on-with-it sort of person, as his history demonstrates. Instead, he forgave his old colleague. I like to think he got some pleasure out of seeing how his passion and life’s work helped to build an industry. As for the two-stroke, it went on to completely dominate GP racing and ensured that four-strokes did not win a single world title after 1975.
Of course, the rules changed after that and in 2001 the MotoGP age began, where two-strokes were limited to 500cc while the four-strokes could measure in at 990cc. The result was that by 2003 there were no more two-strokes on the top tier world championship grid, but the reason behind the departure was not that Kaaden’s vision had been wrong. Rather, the motorcycle industry in general began to turn away from two-strokes as government regulations rendered them obsolete on the streets and manufacturers began to place more emphasis on four-stroke development that they could apply to their consumer models. Times may have changed but the impact of Kaaden’s genius lives on.