A pair of MZs
Iron Curtain cool
Once the world’s largest producer of motorcycles, DKW (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen), based in Zschopau in Eastern Germany, didn’t fare so well in the Second World War. Apart from being nearly obliterated by allied bombing, its brilliantly simple RT 125 was snaffled as war reparations to appear as the BSA Bantam, Harley-Davidson Hummer and several others, including vague Japanese knock offs. Prior to this, in 1932, DKW had become part of Auto Union as part of an economic reorganisation brought about by the Great Depression, an amalgamation of the Audi, Wanderer, Horch and DKW itself, which was by this stage making small cars as well as motorcycles. Throughout the 1930s, DKW developed supercharged two stroke racers that produced prodigious horsepower and made an unholy racket, and won the Isle of Man TT among many significant race victories. These engine were of the ‘lade-pump’ design, where an extra cylinder served as a compressor, feeding the compressed mixture to the firing cylinders. As a company, DKW was convinced that the conventional piston-port two stroke had reached the limit of its development, and henceforth concentrated on forced induction. Ironically, the piston-port RT 125 continued to provide a significant proportion of DKWs income. But by 1948, what remained of DKW’s manufacturing facility was under communist control and renamed IFA, still centred in the now Russian occupied Saxony region at Zschopau. Production of the RT 125 was restarted in 1950, but ironically, DKW had to compete with its own design under different names on world markets. Supercharging was banned post-war, but when Germany was re-admitted to international motor sport in 1951, DKW embarked on a racing programme that yielded the innovative and staggeringly fast threecylinder 350s. These were developed from a single cylinder 125 with a cylindrical rotary valve placed crossways behind the cylinder and gear-driven from the crankshaft. A similar 250 twin followed, but with only 22 hp it was no match for the four strokes from Moto Guzzi and NSU. The 350 was basically the 250 twin with an extra cylinder, in the form of a V3, and this was progressively developed each season until it reached 45 hp at 9,700 rpm in its final form, before the factory quit racing at the end of the 1956 season. The disc valve technology was developed, but not pioneered, by Walter Kaaden, an engineer from Chemnitz, who was also an enthusiastic racer. One of his first tasks after starting work at Zschopau was to convert an RT 125 to disc valve operation with a carburettor mounted on the end of the crankshaft, resulting in a power increase from 9hp at 7,000 rpm to 11hp at 8,000 rpm. In 1953, the state controlled Zschopau works were given a degree of autonomy and became VEB Motorradwerk Zschopau, or MZ. Kaaden’s disc-valve racer was rebranded as an MZ and given a four-speed gearbox for good measure. Very gradually, the restrictions on travel outside East Germany were relaxed, meaning that the MZ team, boosted by the arrival of Ernst Degner, was able to take in the occasional meeting in western Europe. Degner, who had an exceptional talent for diagnosing an engine’s performance, as well as being a very talented rider, even took in the 1956 Isle of Man TT, along with team mate Horst Fugner, where they finished fifth and sixth respectively in the 125cc Lightweight TT. When Rhodesian Gary Hocking joined the team in 1959, he gave the MZ factory its first Grand Prix victories, in Sweden and Ulster. By 1961, when such riders as Mike Hailwood and Alan Shepherd were part of the team, the 125cc MZ was putting out 25 hp at 10,800 rpm – the first engine of any kind to produce 200 bhp per litre. Although much work and what money there was available had been poured into the disc-valve racers, MZs range of road and off-road bikes remained simple piston-port singles, which owed much to the pre-war RT 125 ancestry. However if the mechanical workings were largely conventional, styling certainly was anything but. To the western eye, the range of
125, 175 and 250cc MZs were extremely unusual creations, with enormous mudguards, pivoted fork front suspension, huge seats and headlights, and quirky switchgear. The frames were also an unusual mixture of steel tubing, steel pressings and light alloy castings. The MZs did have one advantage – price, and in markets like the UK, sold very well.
In events like the international Six days Trail, MZ riders frequently covered themselves in glory, while their mounts gained a deserved reputation for ruggedness and reliability, as well as performance. There were several attempts to market MZ in Australia, all doomed to failure. In a market becoming used to Japanese sophistication, the MZs seemed not only ugly, but out-dated. One of the more successful efforts was in the late 1960s and centred around the ISDT models, which sold in small numbers.
A day on the green
At the 2015 Macquarie Towns Show day on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Windsor in Sydney’s north west, I spotted not one, but two examples of the MZ ES series, produced from 1956 in 175cc, 250cc and 300cc form. You could hardly miss them; David Cameron’s vivid red ES250/2 with its bright, white seat, and Michael Cook’s 175/2, finished in a more sober all-white décor. Both these bikes are in the “/2” series, produced from 1967 – 1969. The ES series began with the 250, produced at a time when demand for cheap motorcycle transport in East Germany was high due to the scarcity of motor cars. The 175 followed a year later and the ES 300 came on stream in 1961. Alongside the larger 175/250/300 machines, which shared many components and the basic engine design, the ES 125 and ES 150 were also produced from 1962 to 1977, and were actually MZ’s biggest sellers, with around 340,000 built. The 150 in particular was a volume seller, due to licencing laws that allowed 16 year olds to ride motorcycles of a maximum 150cc capacity.
At the time of its introduction, early 1956, the ES250 was a very advanced motorcycle, albeit with the rather curious styling that pervaded Eastern European motorcycles and cars of the time. With long travel swinging arm front and rear suspension, the ES 250 provided a plush ride, which was something of a necessity over the atrocious roads, many of which were unsealed and particularly treacherous in winter. To this end, the ES 250 featured enormous mudguards and a completely enclosed mid-section and drive chain. The headlight formed an integral unit with the fuel tank and thus did not swing with the handlebars. The twin exhaust port engine provided excellent torque and an output of 12.5 hp, but a single port barrel was introduced on the 1957 ES 250/0 version. By the time of the ES 250/1 in 1961, power was up to 16.1 hp, thanks largely to the availability of much better fuel and lubricants, allowing the petrol/oil ratio to be reduced to 33:1 and thus better preserving the octane rating. The ES 250/2 appeared in 1967 and featured what the factory called an “elastic” engine mounting system – claimed to be a world first on a production motorcycle. This consisted of two large rubber blocks on the frame cross member just ahead of the footrests. The exhaust system is also rubber mounted so that it moves in tandem with the engine. Simple but effective, providing an exceptionally smooth ride. The engine had revised bore and stroke for a slightly decreased capacity to 243cc and was now an angular, deep finned, all-alloy unit, with a needle roller small end bearing and able to cope with a 50:1 petrol/oil mixture, fed through a 28mm BFV carburettor. Power was up to 17.5 hp, with a top speed of 115 km/h. The ultimate version of the ES 250 was the ES 250/2 Trophy, produced from 1969 to 1973, with 19 hp and a top speed of 120 km/h. The “Trophy” gained its moniker from the continuous success of the MZs in the International Six Days Trial’s premier category, the Trophy contest.
Although rugged and quite bullet proof, the fourspeed gearbox is slow and clunky in operation, with the clutch attached to the crankshaft, Adler-style,
on a plain taper. Later transmissions, such as used on the ISDT Replicas, are more positive in operation with shorter lever throws and better spaced ratios. The De Luxe version of the ES 250/2 is even rarer, making David Cameron’s featured machine an unusual sight indeed, especially in Australia. “My MZ came from the Australian Motorcycle Museum at Nabiac”, says David, “where he had one very incomplete one stuck among his collection of incomplete bikes. This MZ and the other MZ on display came from England when the owner moved to Australia. After about a year’s negotiation and some horse trading, the MZ came into my possession. Though not the most attractive of motorcycles it appealed to me, and my daughters liked it. As for trying to see how many were in Australia, I contacted a seller from South Australia who had lived the importing story himself, bringing out three to Australia; mine was not one of his batch. “I joined various MZ forums on the net to get more info and find more MZs in Australia, with no luck. I assumed not many had made it out here. I did however find that the bike came from Kent in the UK. The restoration was fairly straight forward, with eBay getting a bit of traffic and various postal services making a profit. I was fortunate to find a friend in Germany who assisted with much of the shipping. Many of the German sellers were reluctant to export their parts, I think due to the complexity of international shipping and PayPal fees, for what may be a small item. Another thing to watch is the sales tax; under a certain amount there should be no tax on exports, which was a little hard to explain to some companies. The only real hassle came in getting the correct seat. After dealing with banks that all wanted a slice of the action, the seller would not send the seat. Eventually after tracking him down and a few phone calls the seat was on the way to my mate in Germany. “To get the bike usable some modifications had to be done; the electrics have been upgraded to 12V electronic ignition, I converted the headlight to H4
while retaining the East German headlight lens, the tail light and brake light were converted to LED, and the front brake cable was changed so it would operate the brake light. I relaced the wheels, a mate polished the cases and another did the major paint work. I still have the leg shields and the pannier rack to put on. Mick Cook (who owns the ES175/2 MZ featured here) contacted me just prior to the 2015 Macquarie Towns Show Day. Mick lives just a few short hours away and advised me of an owner in Victoria with a small collection. So much for thinking there was only a handful in Australia!”
Primarily to facilitate the use of a sidecar, the biggest version of the ES range, the ES 300 (displacing 293cc from 72mm x 72mm bore x stroke) appeared in 1961 and continued to 1964. Power was 18.5 hp but the engine produced considerably more torque than the 250. However it was plagued with overheating and vibration, and prone to cracking the frame and other components, and was dropped from production in 1964. At the other end of the scale sat the 175cc models, produced from 1957 to 1972. Like the 250, the 175 also evolved through ES 175, ES 175/0, ES 175/1 and finally, ES 175/2. The first model appeared almost simultaneously with the 250 in 1956 and varied only slightly, mainly in the tin ware, and was thus a bit over weight for the capacity. Initially, the 175 (172cc) produced 10 hp, but this was increased through subsequent models to 14.5 hp, albeit with a steadily increasing weight which went from 141 kg to 155 kg. Like the 250, the internal dimensions were altered in the /2 model of 1967 and also featured the ‘elastic’ engine mounting. The final 175, the ES 175/2 Trophy rolled off the production line in 1972, six months before the 250 ceased production. Michael Cook’s ES 175/2 shares its stable with a beautifully restored ISDT Replica 250. “I bought my bike off eBay from a fellow in Victoria who imported it and a couple of others from Germany,” says Michael. “It was blue and cream then, but after a run in with a roundabout and gutter I decided it would look better black and cream minus dints and scrape marks. I was riding from the NSW Central Coast up to Grafton for Christmas to show off my newly painted bike but before I left, the 44-year-old crank seals went, so I put the engine out of my MZ TS250 in and off I went via Gloucester and Armidale. Luckily a lot of the parts from 1968-1978 are interchangeable. I also did a similar trip with my son the following year but this time doing more dirt road sections and the MZ had its work clothes on; single seat, ETS headlight and 22 litre tank, different guards. My impressions are they like the smaller poorer brother of the BMW R80 G/S that they share the shed with. They are well made and well thought out solid little bikes. Parts are easy and cheap from Germany over the internet. I have been to the Singleton Rally a couple of times with my mate Temple Eyre who has an ETS 250 and we have both won The Most Unusual Award on separate occasions. Also at The Pelican rally on the Central Coast the ES was voted the ugliest bike of the rally! If you ride an MZ you can’t take things too seriously. The Germans nicknamed the ES the iron pig.”
MZ has had a torrid history, several times seemingly destined to join the ranks of defunct manufacturers. But along the way, it produced some very fine motorcycles.
TOP CENTRE Owner David Cameron likes to clean his hubs clean. TOP RIGHT Side stand pivots from rear brake anchor. ABOVE CENTRE MZ was justifiably proud of their achievements in the ISDT. ABOVE RIGHT MZ had a very strong market in UK, from whence this one came.
LEFT Where to carry your bear skin. ABOVE Extra long gear lever with extra long throw.
Fully sealed rear chain is a very worthwhile feature. Chunky looking all-alloy engine. Michael Cook’s ES 175/2 at the 2015 Macquarie Towns Show Day at Windsor NSW.
1964 125cc version of the fabulously successful ISDT MZ. The ultimate version of the 250/300 single, a 1990 model with lightweight sidecar. Regular contributor and arch MZ enthusiasts Andrew Duncan enjoying his 250 in the NSW Southern Highlands.
ABOVE & TOP RIGHT Lovely ISDT Replica 250 purchased by Michael Cook from his neighbour and fellow MZ enthusiast Temple Eyre. RIGHT Michael Cook’s ES 175/2 as delivered in its blue and white colour scheme.