THE MAK­ING OF MZ

Last time, MZ en­thu­si­ast Nigel Shut­tle­worth traced the mar­que’s ori­gins back to DKW. This month we en­ter the post-war pe­riod when the Iron Cur­tain de­scended and East Ger­man in­ge­nu­ity con­verted a two-stroke com­muter into an in­ter­na­tional win­ner…

Real Classic - - Off-road Classics -

Dan­ish en­gi­neer Jør­gen Skafte Ras­mussen’s car com­pany DKW went from strength to strength in the 1930s, even­tu­ally be­com­ing the largest man­u­fac­turer of mo­tor­cy­cles in the world. That com­pany moved to In­gold­stadt in West Ger­many af­ter WW2, even­tu­ally be­com­ing part of the Volk­swa­gen em­pire which con­tin­ues to thrive to­day.

Be­hind the Iron Cur­tain things were not so jolly. Al­lied bomb­ing had se­verely dam­aged three of the four Auto Union fac­to­ries. The Soviet mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion com­pleted the job by ex­pro­pri­at­ing all use­able ma­chine tool­ing that was left, and took the blue­prints and even the skilled en­gi­neers back to the Soviet Union as war repa­ra­tions. On 1st July 1946 the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment of the DDR ( Deutsche Demokratis­che Repub­lik) na­tion­alised all pri­vately owned com­pa­nies and formed the In­dus­trie­ver­band Fahrzeug­bau (In­dus­trial As­so­ci­a­tion for Ve­hi­cle Con­struc­tion), more com­monly known as IFA. This brought to­gether no less than eigh­teen ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing truck, bus, trac­tor, car and mo­tor­cy­cle com­pa­nies.

Among these were EMW (Eise­nacher Mo­toren­werk), the pre-1945 BMW fac­tory at Eise­nach which went on to pro­duce the Wart­burg car with a three cylin­der DKW en­gine that had only seven ma­jor mov­ing parts: three pis­tons, three con­rods and the crank! Barkas vans also used the three cylin­der DKW two-stroke en­gine. Mul­ticar was orig­i­nally ADE-Werk and, as part of the Hako GmbH Group to­day, is the only sur­viv­ing ve­hi­cle maker from the for­mer East Ger­many. Tra­bant ve­hi­cles were made in the old Audi Zwickau plant un­til 1991.

The mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers which formed part of the IFA group were Sim­son, based in Suhl, which had come through the war rel­a­tively un­scathed, and the old DKW fac­tory at Zschopau, which was only lightly dam­aged by bomb­ing but lost most of its ma­chin­ery to the Soviet Union.

By the time pro­duc­tion was restarted in the east in 1950, Auto Union had al­ready reg­is­tered the DKW brand in In­gold­stadt. So although the first mo­tor­cy­cles which came off the pro­duc­tion line at Zschopau were in ef­fect the pre-war DKW RT125, they were mar­keted as the IFA RT125. That brand­ing con­tin­ued un­til 1956 when the com­pany was re­named VEB Mo­tor­rad­w­erk Zschopau, or MZ for short. The same 125 model con­tin­ued in pro­duc­tion as the MZ RT125 un­til 1962, ful­fill­ing an es­sen­tial role as cheap-to-make, cheap-to-run trans­port for the work­ing man.

In 1952 MZ launched the rev­o­lu­tion­ary BK350, an air-cooled trans­verse two-stroke twin with a four-speed gear­box and shaft drive. The en­gine was a de­vel­op­ment of a 250cc DKW wartime de­sign which is re­ported to have been in­tended as a starter mo­tor for jet en­gines in air­craft.

De­spite the strait­ened times in which the new com­pany found it­self, with lit­tle ma­chine tool­ing, a lim­ited num­ber of skilled en­gi­neers who had sur­vived the war and piti­fully small fi­nan­cial re­sources, IFA went rac­ing, with Wal­ter Kaaden as head of the com­pe­ti­tion depart­ment. In 1950 the fac­tory en­tered a mod­i­fied RT125 with a re­versed ex­haust in the Ger­man cham­pi­onship but with­out suc­cess. Pri­vate en­trant Daniel Zim­mer­mann mod­i­fied his RT125 to ro­tary disc valve in­duc­tion and IFA saw the po­ten­tial in this set-up. It im­me­di­ately patented his de­sign as its own, although it did give gave Daniel a job in com­pen­sa­tion.

The ini­tial idea may have been Zim­mer­mann’s, but the real brains be­hind the rac­ing suc­cess which soon fol­lowed was that of Wal­ter Kaaden. He had been a lead­ing mem­ber of the de­sign team at Peen­emünde work­ing on the pulse jet en­gine for the Vergel­tungswaf­fen Ein (your granny would have called it a ‘doo­dle­bug’ and hid­den un­der the kitchen table when she heard the en­gine stop). Kaaden ap­plied the same sci­ence to the de­vel­op­ment of the two-stroke ex­haust ex­pan­sion cham­ber to con­trol the fresh charge com­ing into the cylin­der at the end of the down­ward stroke, thereby increasing fuel econ­omy and power at the same time.

With this tech­nol­ogy by 1961 MZ were achiev­ing 25bhp from a 125 sin­gle – that’s 200bhp/litre, an un­heard of power out­put 50 years ago and only ex­ceeded by about 10% by to­day’s Mo­toGP ma­chines. In 1961 works rider and de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer Ernst Deg­ner scored the first in­ter­na­tional win for MZ in the 125 class at the Sach­sen­ring Grand Prix, and fol­lowed that with a sec­ond place in the Ul­ster GP and an­other win in the Ital­ian GP at Monza. By the Swedish GP at the end of the sea­son he was within a few points of clinch­ing MZ’s first world cham­pi­onship as he rode off into the lead… and then steered into the welcoming arms of Suzuki who grate­fully re­ceived his knowl­edge of two-stroke tech­nol­ogy, plus most of an en­gine and ex­haust sys­tem in his suit­case back at the ho­tel.

The Ja­panese also ar­ranged for Deg­ner’s fam­ily to be smug­gled out of East Ger­many in the boot of a car, gave him a house, a huge dol­lop of lolly and a nice nine-speed Suzuki to win the 50cc world cham­pi­onship in 1962. Some com­men­ta­tors say that with­out Deg­ner’s tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion Suzuki would not have won the 1962 cham­pi­onship, Ja­panese mo­tor­cy­cle supremacy would have been de­layed for sev­eral decades and we would see far fewer UJMs on the road to­day. You can read about this fas­ci­nat­ing story in Matt Ox­ley’s great book ‘Steal­ing Speed’.

The other un­for­tu­nate re­sult of Deg­ner’s be­trayal was that the Zschopau fac­tory team was for­bid­den by the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties to leave the coun­try, and the only way MZ could race abroad was to lend the ma­chines to western pri­va­teers. Sev­eral top class Brits rode MZs and achieved suc­cess on this semi­works ba­sis, in­clud­ing Derek Wood­man, Mike Hail­wood and Alan Shep­herd, who won the 250cc class on the MZ wa­ter-cooled twin at the US grand prix in 1964. In­deed, Alan Shep­herd on the MZ went on to fin­ish third over­all in the 1964 250 world cham­pi­onship and Derek Wood­man fin­ished third in the 125 world cham­pi­onship the fol­low­ing year, beat­ing Ernst Deg­ner on the Suzuki into fourth place – bet Wal­ter was pleased with that win!

The pri­va­teers didn’t get paid as MZ was chron­i­cally short of for­eign ex­change, so the agree­ment was that the rid­ers kept all their win­nings and were given their rac­ing ma­chines at the end of each sea­son, to­gether with a choice of road bikes if they wanted one. Just think, Mike Hail­wood might’ve been seen buzzing around the lanes on an ES125 (or maybe not…). MZ con­tin­ued com­pet­ing in grand prix un­til 1975 but by then, with their huge re­sources, Ja­panese two-stroke de­vel­op­ment had leap-frogged the tiny East Ger­man fac­tory and Zschopau with­drew from rac­ing.

Back to civvy street. 1955 saw the launch of the sem­i­nal ES175 and 250, fol­lowed in short or­der by 125 and 150 ver­sions. The ES was based around the DKW pressed steel frame de­sign with a rear cast alu­minium sub­frame which lo­cated the shocks, a sin­gle cylin­der two-stroke (again a de­vel­op­ment of the DKW en­gine) and 6V light­ing. The front end sus­pen­sion was pro­vided by Ear­les lead­ing link forks, de­vel­oped by English en­gi­neer Ernie Ear­les and used by BMW, MV and oth­ers in the 1950s.

An aside: I can­not for the life of me think why BMW re­verted to Ear­les forks when they were one of the very first man­u­fac­tur­ers, along with Dan­ish Nim­bus, to use teles in the mid-1930s. Ear­les forks work well on out­fits but give a ter­ri­ble ride on a solo; in­stead of div­ing when the front brake is ap­plied, the forks lift as the bike tries to ride ‘over’ the front wheel, giv­ing ab­so­lutely no feel what­so­ever to what the tyre is do­ing. I know, I had a BMW R60 for a while back in the day which was com­fort­able but the steer­ing was hor­rid. The styling of the ES was rather ‘un­usual’ too; the tank / seat unit was car­ried for­ward to en­close the square head­light, giv­ing rise to the nick­name ‘ TV lamp’. And some un­kind peo­ple said that ‘ES’ stood for Eisen Sch­wein, or Iron Pig. In 1960 MZ went into tri­als com­pe­ti­tion with an off-road ver­sion of the Iron Pig, the ES175/G and 250/G, still with Ear­les forks but with a larger front wheel and high level ex­haust. By 1963 the ETS250/G ap­peared with teles in­stead of Ear­les forks and an im­proved en­gine. The East Ger­man tri­als team were equipped with the new model and (when al­lowed out of the coun­try) started to win the pres­ti­gious In­ter­na­tional Six Day Trial Tro­phy. They made win­ning a bit of a habit, year af­ter year. In­di­vid­ual gold medals all round and the Tro­phy went to the MZ-mounted team in 1963 in Cze­choslo­vakia, 1964 in the DDR, 1965 Isle of Man, 1967 Poland and 1969 West Ger­many.

The MZ ETS/G was pro­duced in 175, 250 and 350cc ver­sions – light weight, torquey en­gines, ut­terly re­li­able. In 1969 the fac­tory launched a road ver­sion, the ETS250 Tro­phy Sport with a very par­tic­u­lar tank cap en­graved with each year that MZ had won the ISDT Tro­phy.

By the end of the decade the ES Iron Pig was com­ing to the end of its run and the TS se­ries was launched in 125, 150 and 250 en­gine sizes. The mil­lionth MZ came off the line in 1970, an ETS250 Tro­phy Sport. By then the com­pany was ex­port­ing to over 100 coun­tries and mak­ing 100,000 units per an­num.

On the fi­fi­first first ve ver­sion of the TS250 with four- speed gear­box and tele­draulic forks, the bar­rel fins were rounded off, the fins on the head were ver­ti­cal and quite deep. The large petrol tank (still re­quir­ing pre­mix) was set off with chrome side­pan­els and black rub­ber kneepad in­serts. It was quite a pretty lit­tle bike, very light and with suf­fi­cient power to hit 75mph. An in­no­va­tive de­sign, the en­gine was sus­pended on rub­ber mounts at the back of the gear­box and there was no front down­tube on the frame. As on the ES mod­els be­fore, the chain was fully en­closed and ran in rub­ber gaiters – a lit­tle bit of lube and pe­ri­odic ad­just­ment and the chain on any twostroke MZ will last over 30,000 miles. The TS125 / 150 model was less rad­i­cal with a nor­mal down­tube (again pressed steel frame) and four­speed box, also with the fully en­closed chain.

In 1972 MZ ac­quired Stoye Side­cars and be­gan at­tach­ing them to the ES250 (which con­tin­ued in pro­duc­tion for three years along­side the new TS se­ries) mak­ing a very suc­cess­ful out­fit which is quite rare to­day but much sought af­ter. In 1974 the TS250/1 Supa5 ap­peared with a five-speed gear­box. In 1978 the bar­rel and head were re­designed with a squared-off shape, which was main­tained with the new ETZ line-up in 1982, now with a sep­a­rate oil pump and 12V electrics. Un­for­tu­nately the square cylin­der and camel-back shape petrol tank make this a re­ally rather bizarre look­ing beast which is less pop­u­lar than the older TS mod­els. The ETZ 125, 150, 251 and 301 mod­els lasted un­til 1993 when MZ went into re­ceiver­ship and the ETZ de­sign and tool­ing was sold to Ka­nuni mo­tor­cy­cles in Turkey, where the 301 is still pro­duced to­day. Long live the smell of twostroke in the morn­ing, I say!

Mean­while back in 1969 in Sh­effield a Royal En­field Dealer called Wilf Green was left with noth­ing to sell when RE folded. Wilf ne­go­ti­ated with Zschopau to im­port MZs into the UK. He started with the ES150 and quickly

added the ES250. At first they were viewed with a great deal of scep­ti­cism and not a lit­tle amuse­ment, but with the ISDT suc­cess, in par­tic­u­lar in the 1965 IoM event, the name soon be­came well known among UK buy­ers.

The cheap and re­li­able get-to-work twostrokes proved pop­u­lar and within five years Wilf had over 170 deal­ers and was es­tab­lished as the fifth largest im­porter of for­eign bikes in the UK. He had moved out of his Royal En­field shop to a large in­dus­trial unit, and re­mained the MZ im­porter for 22 years. I bought my first MZ in 1974 for com­mut­ing, a yel­low TS250, and a jolly good lit­tle bike it was.

In 1983 the two mil­lionth MZ mo­tor­cy­cle rolled off the line, an ETZ250 and ev­ery­thing looked rosy for MZ and the DDR. Ex­cept… along came Gorby and per­e­stroika and the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and… the end of MZ as we knew it. Within a few months of the wall com­ing down MZ’s mar­ket had com­pletely dis­ap­peared. Those East Ger­mans who still had work would rather travel to the of­fice in a bat­tered Polo from the other side than sit in the rain on a smelly two-stroke. In 1990 MZ was pri­va­tised and Wilf Green’s ser­vices were dis­pensed with. (He went back to Royal En­fields; this time as­sem­bling the CKD 350 Madras-made Bul­lets which were be­ing im­ported into the UK by Ba­va­nar.)

Back in the east, MZ went through a roller­coaster ride. In 1993 the com­pany went into re­ceiver­ship but was bought in turn by a suc­ces­sion of rather du­bi­ous (ie. pen­ni­less) own­ers. For a time in the noughties un­der the new ti­tle Mo­tor­rad und Zweirad­w­erk GmbH (aka MuZ), it seemed as though Zschopau might suc­ceed. Two-stroke pro­duc­tion was sold off to Ka­nuni and a range of four-stroke mod­els was launched, such as the Sko­r­pion with a 660cc Ténéré en­gine, the now very rare Saxon Coun­try ad­ven­ture bike with a 500 air-cooled Ro­tax mo­tor and some mod­els with MuZ’s own en­gines. The RT125 (not the old DKW one of course!) was a jewel of a bike with a wa­ter-cooled four-stroke sin­gle which ap­peared as both trail and road mod­els, and the 1000cc par­al­lel twin in tour­ing and sport form was an ab­so­lute cracker.

Un­for­tu­nately the com­pany con­tin­ued to suf­fer from a lack of re­sources as it had done since IFA days, and Ger­man engi­neer­ing with high qual­ity man­u­fac­ture could not make up for the lack of cap­i­tal. The doors fi­nally closed for good on De­cem­ber 12th 2008. The Zschopau fac­tory build­ing is still there and is now a night club called MZWerk – well it would be called that, wouldn’t it?

NEXT TIME: why it’s a good idea to buy an MZ which you find ly­ing on its back in the gut­ter…

Be­fore he did a moon­light flit in a west­ward di­rec­tion, Ernst Deg­ner proved that MZ could win in the world grand prix arena. This shot sees him on the Isle of Man in the late 1950s aboard a 125 Pho­tos by Nigel Shut­tle­worth, Mor­tons ar­chive, Bon­hams...

MZ ruled the ISDT roost in the mid-1960s. Here Peter Uh­lig on his 175 dukes it out with Manx­man Roger Kelly aboard an En­field in the 1965 ISDT

MZ were part of the GDR’s na­tion­alised mo­tor in­dus­try which in­cluded Wart­burg among 17 other mar­ques Be­low: Un­der the bon­net of the Trab­bie: an­other en­gine de­vel­oped from DKW’s 600cc mo­tor

An­other fa­mous two-stroke four-wheeler man­u­fac­tured by IFA: the Tra­bant, seen here in its mil­i­tary liv­ery

Above: The Wart­burg Knight two-stroke three-cylin­der en­gine owed an aw­ful lot to DKW’s pre-war de­sign

Smooth and sim­ple: the IFA/MZ BK350, an air-cooled two-stroke hor­i­zon­tally op­posed twin Left: Once the post­war Euro­pean or­der was es­tab­lished, MZ car­ried on pretty much where DKW had left off. This is the 1956 in­car­na­tion of the stal­wart RT125 com­muter

The ES250 Tro­phy, aka the Iron Pig, with its un­mis­take­able head­lamp fair­ing, the TV Lamp

MZ ac­quired Stoye side­cars in the early 1970s; here’s one at­tached to an ETS250 Tro­phy

By the 1980s the MZ two-stroke had evolved into the ETZ with 12V electrics, sep­a­rate oil pump, square cylin­der and hump-back petrol tank

Above: By now be­gin­ning to look al­most con­ven­tional,. The TS250 was still ba­si­cally the same 4-speed stro­ker sin­gle

Team MZ at the 1959 TT. Ernst Deg­ner is hun­kered down by the front wheel and in­spired de­signer Wal­ter Kaaden stands be­hind him in the nat­tily checked jacket

Left: More re­cently, MZs were fit­ted with Ro­tax four-stroke mo­tors. The hand­somely or­ange ma­chine is a Saxon Tour Coun­try 500, aimed at the town and coun­try set, while the more con­ven­tion­ally styled model is a Sil­ver Star. Both ex­cel­lent rid­ing ma­chines

Be­low: The RT125 re­turned in 2002 as a light­weight low-cost com­muter, this time fit­ted with a 4-stroke en­gine

Above: But who­ever thought it was a good idea to unite the MZ brand with a 1000cc four-stroke par­al­lel twin? The ear­lier ‘work­ing bike’ ethos was long gone

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