If you have read your copy of the spring 2019 JOURNAL (No.78), you will no doubt have been waiting on tenterhooks for the second installment of Gatti's (Andreas Gattwinkel) excellent, in-depth piece on the history of Hoffmann Werke, Germany's first Vespa producer!
As promised and not wanting to keep you waiting any longer, part two follows below which focuses on the Hoffmann Vespa renaissance, brought about by a small but dedicated group of German experts and enthusiasts; passionate and keen that this chapter of Vespa history is kept open..
A STEP TO NOW
“Since the beginning of the classic scooter revival, the Hoffmann Vespas in Germany were like unicorns - a myth which on occasion could be seen at some Vespa meetings; parts were different and difficult to find. Just a few enthusiasts started in the late 1970s/80s with restoring Hoffmann Vespas and reproducing parts, or helping with used parts. One person who was the main godfather of Hoffmann Vespa was Peter Witzel, who died in 2017. Without his help, no Hoffmann Vespa would be on the road as it is today. In the year 2000 and after fifty years, Peter and some other friends of Hoffmann had the chance to celebrate 50 years of Hoffmann Werke in the old Lintorf factory, which was empty at that time. The old user and main holder of the military part of Hoffmann, had left the building. Up until then and for many years, ‘Hoffmann’ had belonged to the military company Diehl - so it was the first Vespa Hoffmann meeting in decades. Thirteen years later, a small group of Hoffmann owners around the Frankfurt area had the idea of a new Hoffmann meeting, which took place in the ruins of an old castle. That was a light in the dark and with the advent of social media, email and forums like GSF (German Scooter Forum), it was just the beginning. Another small but pleasant private meeting at the house of Thomas Knickmeyer, near Frankfurt, was held a year later in autumn 2014. The group around Thomas and his friend Matthias, grew up more and more, all from around the Frankfurt area. The next meeting, which they told us at that autumn meeting, was to be held at the historic bicycle race circuit in Darmstadt, in spring /summer 2015 - no question, I had to be there. I remember when I heard it; I thought...oh...that could be boring; riding around in a circle for a full weekend. But I had to change my mind 180 degrees months later.
THE FAMOUS ZEMENTBAHN RENNEN AND BIRTH OF THE HOFFMANN RENNSTAFFEL
The bicycle circuit of Darmstadt was built in the late 19th Century but was restored a few years ago. It is an oval 333m in length with banked curves, sloped at a thirty degree angle. Surfaced with concrete, it is permissible to pass on the right side, but if you pass on the left, a flag is raised signalling your disqualification from the race.
The meeting was coming closer and the joy of seeing all the friends again was growing. Matthias, who is an expert in Hoffmann Vespa history, made plans for a small museum that would be on show in the centre of the oval track. His passion, attention to detail and presentation made for an impressive display; some of the Vespas were in the (Hoffmann Friends Frankfurt) own collection, others had to be requested. Also displayed were three vintage Hoffmann bicycles - we also tried to race these on the course...ha ha! Hoffmann Freunde Siebengebirge (Friends with Hoffmann motorcycles) were there with a club tent and three Hoffmann motorcycles, plus others who were selling parts and so on. Coming from the western middle and north of Germany, my good friend Frank and I planned to travel together. Matthias asked us to bring and present some of our Hoffmanns, so a big Mercedes Sprinter van plus trailer was rented. This was needed to transport my HB model which I was riding, plus a later HB with a 1954 speedo system, a Hoffmann bicycle, a child’s Pedal-Hoffmann Vespa toy from the 1950s and another Hoffmann Vespa which had been found in a canal in my home town of Münster a few years ago. While the firemen were searching for old bombs from the Second World War, their metal detectors were blinking but instead of a bomb, they found a Hoffmann, which had lain on the canal bed for around 50 years! Frank brought three HC models in the Sprinter - a golden original condition one, a rare red one he was riding at the event and a green Hoffmann-sidecar combo that had been perfectly restored.
When we arrived setting up had just begun, so we helped where it was needed. The main meeting was on the Saturday but we were allowed to test ride on Friday. Before we could take to the circuit, every scooter was checked, including higher air pressures in the tyres as the centrifugal force presses the scooters down on to the concrete. It looks very easy but the thirty degree incline is more as someone will expect when hearing the number. The first circuits were ridden slowly... then steadily faster and faster. The feeling when leaning in the bends is strange; after some rounds you are nearly horizontal, so that the left floorboard is scraping the concrete. And the fun was there; I remember that I took around 40-50 laps on free practice..... like a kid on a fairground! More participants arrived, including Roger Smith who was a guest of Matthias since a few weeks before with his damaged Hoffmann engine, receiving it back in time for the race. Just the condenser hadn´t been changed, which later failed during the weekend. As well as riding practice, Friday was spent building the Hoffmann city and members’ reception area inside the oval.
After Friday, I started Saturday with a smile on my face. The weather gods were also on our side, enabling the races to start. Groups of around 10-12 people were made, each rider with a GPS tracker on board, to record the results. To test ride is one thing... to race is much more fun! After some time, you know which scooter or rider is as fast as you and the thrill of trying to pass your opponent is brilliant! I remember I was fighting; making my body smaller (if you see me you will laugh) to reduce the wind. I was fighting for millimetres to pass; sometimes faster in the bends, but because you could only overtake on the right side and with more metres available to ride on the straights, your opponent could be quicker. The lap times were noted on walls, so that everyone could see how good he or she was. The groups were mixed, so that quicker and slower groups were put together. It was all for fun but the ambition to be quicker than your friend was always there. After a full day of circle riding the evening was spent with a nice meal for all those who started. The scooters were placed inside the oval, and were guarded at night. Despite it being a Hoffmann meeting, other tubular handlebar models were allowed to take part; meaning three V98s, Douglas, Messerschmitt, Italian, Motovespa, Allstate and Hoffmann Vespas were also present.
This event also marked the beginning of the now famous ‘Hoffmann Rennstaffel’. The Hoffmann Rennstaffel consists of 57 members with tubular handlebar Vespas, from each producer up to 1957 (the end of tubular handlebars). There are members from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In total, members have more than 350 tubular handlebar models between them, including examples of nearly every V98, Italian, Hoffmann, Messerschmitt, Motovespa, Douglas and ACMA models. A historic clubhouse near Frankfurt was also found, where private or public Vespa parties and meetings could be held and a few models are always presented there. The Hoffmann Rennstaffel and its members can now regularly be seen at many European classic Vespa races and meetings.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
For all those who weren´t at the Darmstadt event; in 2020 you have a second chance - details will be announced soon in 2019. Also in 2019, Hoffmann Freunde Siebengebirge (Friends with Hoffmann motorcycles) will hold a meeting in a part of the old Hoffmann factory, where Hoffmann Vespas will be guests. Lastly and of interest to owners of all Vespa handlebar models is the German website www.rohrlenker.de rohrlenker is the German word for tubular handlebar. Every handlebar owner is welcome and the website carries information on upcoming events, as well as details about the clubhouse. If contacted by email - email@example.com the Frankfurt members will gladly provide information and help with your query”.
Words and photos by Andreas Gattwinkel.
Thanks also to Darmstadt based photographer, Ernie Troelf, who took some excellent shots at the 2015 meeting and gave permission for their use in this article - www.ernie-troelf.de
Paul Hart (VVC JOURNAL editor)