Heinz Melkus

Heinz Melkus of Dresden was born in 1928 and from an early age developed a passion for cars and motor racing. Sadly world politics, ideologies and country boundaries at the time denied him the opportunity of strutting his stuff on a wider stage but behind the ‘iron curtain’ he became a legend and is a wonderful example of overcoming adversity with the limited resources available to him. He became the most popular racing personality in the German Democratic Republic.

The man behind the eponymous Melkus cars.

Heinz was to become a racing driver of considerable skill and an ingenious designer/constructor of a range of very competitive and innovative machinery that included sports and racing cars and it was in the cut and thrust of ‘500’ racing that he honed his driving skills and made his name.

His first ‘in house design’ was a JAP 500 powered machine, simply christened Melkus, that he constructed himself and started to campaign in the 1955 season against large fields consisting of cars mainly from the ‘established’ constructors.

Heinz took a second to Willy Lehmann at Dessau on 15th May, won at Dresden on the 22nd, failed to finish at Leipzig then third at Halle Saale Schleife in July and and a DNF Sachsenring on 14th August to finish fourth in the East German championship.

In 1956, he took his first outright win at Bautzen but DNF'd at Leipzig, Halle Salle and Dessau, so was placed third in the championship. Like his fellow countrymen, he struggled when the West Germans, Kurt Ahrens, Kurt Kuhnke and Theo Helfrich, or Dutchman, Lex Beels, tuned up in their Cooper Nortons but was always competitive against the local opposition.

On 9 June 1957 at the Bautzener Autobahnringrennen he proved the worth of his design and construction abilities and won his first significant ‘500’ event setting fastest lap in the 15 lap race as part of the bargain. A fifth followed at Sachsenring on18th August, one place behind Willy Lehmann's Scampolo then a fourth at Bernau on 15th September and seventh at Dresden finished the year.

Heinz rounds the straw bales in his highly successful Melkus JAP – this was his first ‘in-house’ design.

1958 was to be Heinz's best year, overall wins were still going to Ahrens, Meub and now Curt Lincoln but he took fifth at Halle Saale, third at Kiel and Wismar, second at  Bautzen and finally an overall win at Magdeburg on 3rd August. An eighth and a DNF at Sachsenring and Dresden gave him the East German Championship ahead of Lehmann. 500 racing continued into 1959, but with no formal championship, we only have one appearance for Heinz, a sixth at  Halle Saale Schleife on 26th April.

Cooper sandwich, 1958, Kurt Ahrens Snr leads Oswald Karch #14 and #81 Heinz Melkus (Melkus Post JAP) with Jos Savenier on the outside line at the Halle Saale Scheiferennen.

As Formula Three morphed to the 1000 cc limit he started to develop and race cars of his own design powered by Wartburg motors and in 1960 he won the East German Formula Junior Championship in his Melkus 60 Wartburg. He continued to upgrade and develop his racing cars season by season and also construct ‘customer’ cars to swell the grids. His efforts and driving skills were to enable him to win the East German Formula Three crowns for 1967, 1968 and 1972. But this took a lot of hard work and the ambitious and determined young man started modestly. Heinz participated in his first race driving a ‘special’ constructed from parts of a VW 166 amphibious vehicle. His next project was also unusual – fitting a Veritas sports car in with an aeroplane engine which amused the cynic - until he won his first event.

An early outing circa 1951 in his unique VW Amphibian based racer built from parts of the discarded WW2 war machine.

The unique aero engine Veritas


 

Before the establishment of the Berlin wall in 1961 prevented drivers from the German Democratic Republic competing against European challengers Melkus and cars of his design competed in German events against the likes of Cooper, Lotus, Lola and Stanguellini driven by the likes of Jim Clark, Trevor Taylor, John Love, Peter Arundell, Tony Maggs and Jo Siffert - giving a good account of themselves in formula junior events.

Heinz’s first major business venture was to establish a driving school in Dresden in 1955 that became one of the largest in the city and it was not long before he had established a factory in an adjacent building to construct sports and racing cars.

Heinz powers his superbly built Melkus-Wartburg formula junior single seater of the 1959/60 era.

In 1969 Heinz Melkus unveiled his Melkus RS1000 – a classic sports coupe with gull wing doors. This impressive machine was virtually hand built and a tribute to his drive and enthusiasm faced with the difficult political conditions that existed at the time in the GDR.

The Melkus RS1000

 

A passion for cars and a fertile mind – Heinz ponders another performance enhancing idea.
 

 

 

 

 

Melkus achieved an outstanding record of some 80 wins in the 200 races that he competed in between 1950 and 1977 and these included the main event of the highly coveted ‘Friendship of Socialist Countries Cup’ in 1965. Heinz Melkus died in 2005.


His sons and grandsons carry on the family tradition and continue with a successful racing programme and the development of exotic sports cars.


Our thanks to the Melkus family, Fabian Matteus and Rob Young  for help with this story. All photographs reproduced with kind permission of the Melkus family.

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