1954 – James Cameron the director of “Terminator“ and “Avatar” is born, Juan Manuel Fangio becomes Formula 1 World Champion and in Mattighofen champagne corks are popping: not even 18 months after production start the 1000th KTM motorcycle is build.
In autumn 1954, a KTM decorated with flowers and laurel wreath attracted attention because a board with the magic number “1000” was pinned at the handlebars of the R 125 Tourist.
Not even 18 months ago, the first KTM motorcycle was presented at the Vienna International Spring Fair – now the output figures had already reached the four-digit level. Not to forget, that this development happened at a time, when World War II dated back not more than ten years and motorcycles were considered as luxury goods.
In 1953, everything started with the R 100 when, at the end of the year, 20 employees built six motorcycles a day. But with these, the capacities of the quite young motorcycle manufacturer were fully stretched. In order to ensure further growth, Hans Trunkenpolz abandoned the spare parts production in favour of motorcycle production and located additional facilities in the nearby town Schalchen. Thereby it was possible to include a large capacity bike besides the R 100 into the model range. The R 100 performed with 3hp, the new R 125 already with 6,1hp. It was a smart move to equip the 125cc with a prominent epithet in addition to the pretty sober type designation. “Tourist” seemed to be the perfect choice since it reflected the leisure behavior during the first years of the economic miracle. The 125cc quickly became the “motorcycle for work and travel” and was advertised in the sales brochure with a maximum speed of 90km/h.
The Tourist was not only an enhanced R 100, but a completely new motorcycle. Instead of a rigid frame, the tail was fitted with a suspension. Equipped with swingarm, oil damped fork legs and a cushioned bench the Tourist was really comfortable. Small 16 inch wheels with wide tyres ensured optimum handiness. Also the engine was completely new. While the engine of the R 100 with pull starter and handshifted two-speed gearbox was a construction of the 1930s, KTM now relied on the state-of-the-art Fichtel & Sachs-three-gear-engine with foot control and kickstarter that was manufactured at the Austrian Rotax factory with official certification.
To make the performance and reliability of a motorcycle known to the public, long distance races were pretty popular in the 1950s. At that time there was no well-developed highway network. Most of the time, the route took the riders across country roads and through towns.
On 30th September 1954, three 125cc Tourist stood at the outskirts of Paris. The destination was Vienna, a distance of 1300 kilometres. Not only the distance, the timing was also pretty ambitious by the standards of the time. The group at least wanted to keep pace with the “Arlberg-Express”, a train that needed 24 hours for the same distance. What wouldn´t be an issue on today´s KTM 1190 ADVENTURE, was a real adventure back in the 1950s. The three riders, among them KTM boss Hans Trunkenpolz, had to race at full throttle wherever possible under adverse autumn weather on their KTMs that as a standard did not even reach 100 km/h. In the 1950s, it was impossible to think of proper beam light during the night stages, since the weak six-volt headlight suited more as navigation light than for illuminating the road. Very often the test riders needed to orient theirselves by the backlights of their support vehicles in order to keep the pace. Shortly after 10am the next morning the riders reached the Vienna city boundary. A broken fork leg on the bike of the company boss was the only defect that occurred during the race, apart from that the bikes only needed to be refueled.
And it worked out – the time of the “Arlberg-Express” was even beaten by more than two hours. A KTM Tourist that was faster than the express train from Paris to Vienna should be the right motorcycle for normal tourists that would ease into the weekend or holidays.
Erich Trunkenpolz, the son of the KTM founder, even competed at road races with a KTM Tourist. In KTM´s hometown Mattighofen he thrilled the audience, when he won the 125cc class for touring bikes on a standard KTM Tourist and subsequently finished second in the bigger 175cc class.
Unsurprisingly, the Tourist quickly became known as a fast and reliable bike. Of course this was as well noticeable at the sales figures. The flower-bedecked KTM Tourist with the number “1000” at the handlebars was the first production record, followed by many others in the following six decades.Photos: Leo Keller & ktmimages.com