Home arrow VMCA Newsletters arrow Volume 2, Number 3 - July 1, 2005 arrow Racing Legend Ernst Jakob Henne Dies
Racing Legend Ernst Jakob Henne Dies PDF Print E-mail
Written by BMWVMCA NEWS   
Thursday, 31 July 2008

Racing legend Ernst Jakob Henne dies (Reprinted from Official BMW News Files)

     MUNICH (May 24, 2005) Former BMW works driver Ernst Jakob Henne died on Sunday night at his home on Gran Canaria at the age of 101. In the 1920s and 1930s, he achieved endless victories, championships and speed records on two wheels; he was also on the list of winners of many international races on four wheels. 

    Holger Lapp, Head of BMW Mobile Tradition, was personally moved by the death of Ernst Henne: "Ernst Jakob Henne was not only a versatile, successful racing driver who gained the respect of his competitors and the admiration of his fans through his sporting successes. He was also an extremely fair sportsman who was also very popular off the racetrack because of his model behaviour. I am happy to have known this extraordinary personality in BMW history on a personal basis." 

     Ernst Jakob Henne was born on 22.02.1904 as the fourth child of a master saddler in Weiler near Wangen im Allgau. In 1919 he started his apprenticeship to become a motor vehicle mechanic, before becoming an independent motor cycle mechanic. On 1 July 1923, he was amongst the starters in a motorcycle race in Muhldorf, almost by accident, and immediately achieved third place in his class on his first time out. In autumn 1925, he made his first major international appearance in the Monza Grand Prix, placing sixth in the 350 cc class.  

     After this success, he signed a contract with BMW as a works driver. In 1926, he also became the official representative of BMW Motorcycles, and also became one of the original BMW automobile representatives. Ernst Henne achieved his first victory for BMW on 2 May 1926 in the "Karlsruher Wildparkrennen". He came first in the Eifel Race in the same year, thus also winning the German Championship, which was still decided in one race in those days. 

     Henne lined up one success after another. At the end of the 1920s, he was regarded as one of the best, most versatile motorcyclists in Germany. He had proved, during his races, that he was master of all disciplines, from short to long distances, from asphalt to rubble tracks. Searching for new challenges, he took part in the International six-day races at the beginning of the 1930s. In 1933, 1934 and 1935 he won the team event with the national team, which was in actual fact a pure BMW team.  

     But Ernst Jakob Henne, whose sporting ambition drove him to his limits again and again, had set himself another goal: He wanted to gain the absolute world speed record for motorcycles for Germany. Once the BMW Board of Management had given the go-ahead, a compressor engine, which had already been started, was fully developed. The frame and the facing were made in Henne's own workshop.  

     On 19 September 1929, the moment had come: Ernst Henne chased the record for the first time with a 750 cc compressor BMW. He was successful at the very first attempt: Ernst Henne broke eight world records that day. Not all of them were officially recognized, but the most spectacular stayed: at a speed of over 216 km/h, Ernst Henne was the fastest motorcycle rider in the world to date.


Foto: Ernst Jakob Henne auf seiner BMW R 80 G/S, April 1981

    A competition with other riders burst into life, with speeds increasing all the time. In 1932, Henne reached 246 km/h in Hungary; on the new motorway in Frankfurt, he reached 256 km/h in 1935, and just one year later he achieved 272 km/h on a fully enclosed bike. Because of its characteristic shape, the driver and his motorcycle soon became popularly known as "Henne and his egg". 

     In 1936, the racing driver made racing history in the automobile sector too. In the Eifel Race, he drove the first BMW 328 prototype and not only won the two-litre class without compressor, but also, with an average speed of 101.5 km/h, achieved the best time of all the sports cars that had started. With the BMW 328, he then went on to win the Belgian Grand Prix des Frontieres in Chimay and the Bucharest Grand Prix. 

     On the morning of 28 November 1937, Henne finally reached the ultimate high point of his career: he achieved an officially certified speed of 279 km/ with the "Egg", reaching an incredible 280 km/h on his return. After this, Ernst Henne stopped chasing records, but his record remained unbroken until 1951.

     After the Second World War, Ernst Henne developed a contract workshop for Mercedes-Benz vehicles and became one of the largest dealerships in Germany. His company became part of DaimlerChrysler AG in 1997. In 1991, he also founded, with a considerable proportion of his assets, the Ernst-Jakob-Henne Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to support people who are innocent victims of suffering. Ernst Jakob Henne, who withdrew increasingly from public life in recent years, lived with his second wife in the Canary Islands from 1996 on, and celebrated his 100th birthday here on 22 February last year.   

 Ernst Henne Dies at 101 

February 22, 1904 - May 23, 2005

Daredevil who set world motorcycle speed records and raced cars for Mercedes before becoming a successful businessman 


     ERNST HENNE was an orphan who by sheer grit and huge talent made himself the fastest man on Earth on two wheels.

He first broke the world motorcycle speed record on September 19, 1929, at 216km/h (134mph) on a bike which he built with a specially designed 750cc BMW engine. Eight years later he set his final record with a BMW engine at 279.5km/h on November 28, l937. That stood for nearly l4 years.

     Henne’s ascent to world champion was one of the toughest obstacle races in the history of motor sport. His father, a Bavarian saddler, died when he was 3, his mother two years later. He was brought up by peasant foster parents who already had six sons. By the age of 8 he was selling eggs, meat and vegetables around Bavarian villages to earn pocket money to pay for an apprenticeship. That he achieved by the age of l4, and at l5 he passed his motorcycle driving test, with this advice from his examiner: “The art of good motor cycle driving lies in keeping your speed down.” He proceeded to ignore it with a vengeance.

     At 20 he was running his motor mechanics business and began driving for BMW in his spare time. Just before his 22nd birthday, when riding his bike on ice, he skidded and suffered a double skull fracture. He was in a coma for nine days, and some papers were already publishing his obituary. But as soon as he regained consciousness he discharged himself from hospital. He was being driven home on a horsedrawn sleigh through heavy snow, when it capsized and he sustained fresh head injuries.

     Less than four months later he was back on the track for BMW and won his first race. He also won the German championship that summer for the first time. By the late l920s he was master of every track, every surface and every distance And he had won not only the devotion of his German fans, but also the respect of his British opponents, especially Graham Walker, Herbert Le Vack and Eric Fernihough. He won almost every race in defiance of rain, fog, falls and burst tyres. Safety in the l920s and l930s was minimal, he recalled. “Many of my mates lost their lives on the track.”

     In the early l930s he also began to race cars for Mercedes. And after the war he became one of Germany’s biggest Mercedes dealers, with a staff of more than 600.

     When he was 87 he used part of his fortune to set up a foundation to help individuals fallen on hard times. He spent his last years, mostly as a pedestrian, in Grand Canary. He is survived by his second wife Martha and a son and daughter from his first marriage to Magdalena, who predeceased him.

(From: Rider

Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 July 2008 )
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