The opening of the KTM Motohall was a hugely important day for Europe’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer. The “Friends Opening” was attended by 400 guests, including Roger DeCoster, KTM Motorsport Director for North America, whose protégé Cooper Webb had won the fourth AMA Supercross Championship for KTM just days before at the Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas. Another American, without whom KTM might not have become what it is today, also traveled to Mattighofen for the event. John Penton, now 93 years old, set things in motion in the late 1960s when he placed a major order with KTM for the production of light enduros with 100cc and 125cc.
In the mid-1960s, interest in the motorcycle slowly began to pick up once the great crisis at the end of the 1950s was over. Unlike many motorcycle manufacturers in German-speaking countries, KTM survived because it didn’t make the mistake of trying to compensate for the decline in sales by producing a car. And also due to the fact that the motorcycle also gained a sporty image when Japanese manufacturers entered the European market. Instead of being seen as a conventional way of getting to work, the focus had turned to the thrill of the 2-wheel ride. The KTM program did also contain a “proper” motorcycle with 100cc and a Sachs four-speed engine, sold as the “Hansa” in the USA, but the 50cc vehicles were initially the center of attention in the model range. Due to driver license regulations, these were suitable for both for everyday use and for young motorcycle enthusiasts.
The “Hobby Automatic” was launched in 1969 as the new entry-level model – “the new formula for the perfect ride” according to the KTM brochure at the time. “No need for technical knowledge”. And it delivered on its promises. The 2-hp Sachs engine with centrifugal clutch and 1-speed transmission made for a carefree ride.
When it came to weather protection, the various Comet models with fan or airflow-cooled Puch engines couldn’t keep up with the Ponny II moped, which now had a Puch four-speed engine in the “Super 4” version, but the Comets were also reliable everyday vehicles.
KTM presented a super-hot motorcycle with the Comet 504 Super – narrow fenders and a chrome-plated 10-liter specially shaped fuel tank made for an unmistakable line. While the German competitor models still had an undamped fork or an antiquated-looking front swingarm, KTM fitted an oil-damped fork in the Comet 504 S. Coupled with the two slender silencers and the special airflow-cooled KTM cylinder instead of fan cooling, the Comet 504 S was the undisputed star among KTM’s motorcycles.
However, the highlight of KTM’s 1969 program was the KTM Penton 125, which brought in the bulk of the 25% increase in sales compared to the previous year.
Two years before, John Penton, an American motorcycle dealer from Ohio, contacted KTM because he was looking for a manufacturer for lightweight offroad and motocross bikes that lived up to his expectations. The first prototypes were ready by the end of 1967 and one year later, the small offroad bikes passed the acid test in the USA and at the “Sei Giorni”, the International Six Days Enduro in San Pellegrino, Italy. As soon as the Penton riders, including Penton’s sons Jack, Jeff, and Tom, identified weaknesses on tough offroad races in the American New England states, solutions were sought in Penton’s workshop, which were immediately incorporated into the series in Mattighofen. Of course, this did not escape the notice of engine manufacturer Fichtel & Sachs in Schweinfurt and it came as no surprise at the International Six Days Enduro in 1969, when ultra-modern, aluminum cylinders were used on the Penton bikes, while the bikes from German Sachs subsidiary Hercules still had to make do with the old cast iron cylinders. Five gold medals, six silver and two bronze medals for the American and European riders that started out on KTM Penton is more than a respectable result for the tough International Six Days Enduro in the Allgäu Alps around Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
While John Penton’s (initiator of KM Penton) team triumphed no less than 38 times in the 100cc and 125cc class, Arnaldo Farioli won the Italian 125cc offroad championship and Jouka Laaksonen became the Finnish offroad champion.
If you would like to take a closer look at this piece of motorsport history up close, we recommend a visit to our KTM Motohall in Mattighofen, where you can marvel at a 1969 Penton, along with many other victorious bikes.
The KTM Motohall is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Closed on Mondays.
Photos: KTM | Penton