A History Of
The MZ Motorcycle Factory
In 1906, Danish entrepreneur Jorgen Skafte Rasmussen bought an empty textile mill in the small Saxony town called Zschopau and started making steam valve equipment. In 1917 he revealed to the world his Dampkraftwage (Steam Powered Car) and the trademark DK W became known to the world.
In 1920 he started producing motor -assisted bicycles and by 1929 they were producing 60,000 motorcycles a year, making them the world’s largest motorcycle producer. Production continued until 1932 when the four factories of Audi, DKW, Horsch and Wanderer merge during the great depression to form the Auto Union. The interlocking flooring to badge remains in use today on Audi cars. Each ring representing one of the four firms of the union.
In 1930 9D JW revealed the RT125 model, fitted with a new motor designed by Mermann Weber: a humble single cylinder; three speed unit construction engine, that subsequently went on to achieve automotive greatness.
After the end of hostilities in 1945, the occupying Soviet forces nationalised the Zschopau factory, erasing the DKW name from the Chemnitz register of companies. Under the threat of prosecution, the former DKW directors fled westward to set up protection once more in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
The Zschopau factory resumed production of the RT one model and the shaft drive twin cylinder BK 350 models under the new name of IFA (Industrieverwaltung Fahrzeugbau) and in 1956 the company was renamed to Motorradwerk Zschopau, or MZ for short.
Around the world, the RT 125 design was taken as war reparations and put into production in Britain as the BSA Manton, by Harley Davidson in the US and the other countries around the world, notably Poland, Russia, India and Italy. If ever there was an award for the most influential motorcycle ever built, the RT one must have a claim to that title, being the machine that helped put the world back to work.
During the 1960s the MZ factory constantly developed their ES range of lightweight machines from 125cc through top 300cc. In 1970 the 1 millionth motorcycle road off the production line in the form of an ETS250 Trophy Sport which can still be seen on display in the Schloss Augustusburg museum in Saxony.
By the late 1960s, MZ motorcycles were making inroads into the British market, gradually increasing their share due to the hard work of Sheffield-based MZ concessionaire Wilf Green. In the early 1970s the ES and ETS models were replaced by the TS range and thanks to a multitude of complimentary motorcycle press reviews, and expanding dealer network and a competitive price, sales really started to take off.
For most people the outstanding memory of the most successful years of MZ production is likely to be the utilitarian TS250/1, also known as the Supa 5. Introduced in 1976, featuring a five-speed gearbox, the Supa 5 had it all. Whether commuting, cruising comfortably at motorway speeds for hours on end, or even taking their owners on continental tours, it was all in the days work for the five-speed TS250/1.
By 1983 the ETZ models were in production as the 2 millionth machine was built. Fitted with 12V electrics, disc brakes and automatic oil injection as standard, the ETZ brought to an end the practice of mixing oil in the fuel tank whilst filling up.
Following the fall of the Birling wall, the fact he was privatised in 1990, continuing with two-stroke production with the Saxon 251, Tour and Fun models until the factory went into receivership in 1993. The two-stroke designs and manufacturing technology were eventually sold off to the Turkish Kanuni factory, bringing an end to the “zweitakt” era atZschopau.
After a buyout, MZ started production of their first for-stroke machines, the 500R range of road and then euro bikes, utilising the 500cc Rotax motor. This same motor was used in the Seymour-Powell designed award-winning Skorpion, although it was replaced by the watercooled Yamaha 660cc motor for the production machines.
With Malaysian investment, and you lightweight four-stroke motor was developed for use in the RT125 roadster, Super-Moto and Moto-X range. The Yamaha 660cc motor being once again pressed into service in the dual role Baghira and Mastiff Super-Moto inspired motorcycles.
In 2004 MZ launched the new flagship machine featuring their in-house designed 1000cc parallel twin motor. The MZ 1000S received favourable reviews for its angular styling, high level of component specification and its sporting handling. It’s racetrack inspired cassette type gearbox pushing the envelope for roadgoing machines. Unfortunately, despite the motor proving its durability in 24-hour racing, sales remained low in the UK.
The 1000S, SF (Street Fighter) and ST (Sports Tourer) models struggled to compete on a level playing field with the large Japanese manufacturers and their well-established dealer networks. In December 2008, the new MZ factory at Hohndorf closed its factory gates and sadly, production of motorcycles in Saxony ceased after 88 years.
The MZ legacy still lives on though, in the motorcycles that remain bearing the MZ tank badge and which are still being used everyday both in the UK and throughout the world.
And The Race Track
throughout the 1960s MZ developed their lightweight two-stroke motor is by competing at the highest levels in road racing and International Six Day Trials. Development was led by their chief engineer Walter Kaaden, now considered to be the father of the modern two-stroke engine.
Kaaden was responsible for perfecting disc valve technology, expansion chamber development and exhaust induction supercharging techniques that made the early 1960s MZ 125 and 250 machines such formidable opponents on the track. These developments change the whole face of racing, forcing other manufacturers to develop their own two-stroke race machines in order to compete.
Despite being on the very cusp of securing the 1961 125cc GP World Championship, MZ factory rider Ernst Degner defected to the West during the Swedish GP. A trained engineer, Degner took the technological secrets of Kaaden’s designs with him to Japan and the following year Suzuki secured their first world championship using this technology in the 50cc class.
Despite developing the technology, MZ never had the financial resources to invest in it as the Japanese could and Suzuki went on to claim 125cc successes in subsequent years.
This setback didn’t stop NZ from competing at the highest levels, even when international politics conspired against them. Alan Shepherd’s victory in the 1964 250cc Daytona GP is one of the great racing stories of triumph over adversity. Despite the MZ race team being denied access into the United States and Alan having to collect the machine from the DDR using his own van, amazingly he triumphed ahead of the two works Suzuki riders.
Six Day Trials Success
Although so often the bridesmaids on the Grand Prix circuit, the same cannot be said of the MZ factory’s performance in the ISDT competition. To put it bluntly, they dominated it for almost a decade. Look on the fuel caps on any of the ES machines from the early 1970s and you will see the MZ were rightly proud to be crowned world trophy winners every year from 1963 to 1967 and once again in 1969.
From the fast dry stages of the Erzgebirge mountains in Saxony, to the cloying mud of the rainsoaked 1965 competition in the Isle of Man, the disciplined MZ works team and their robust machines proved their worth.
Yet the motor is used in these machines were not so different really from their roadgoing production models. They may have been fitted with an extra gear and were ported slightly differently in order to maximise performance, but they weren’t so far removed from the standard motors fitted into the popular commuters of the early 1970s.
In response to demand, the MZ factory manufactured limited numbers of ISDT replica machines within their race shops: for sale to the general public for competition use. These factory built replicas are now quite rare and are much sought-after within the classic bike world. These are the words of the leaflet for the club which fell did.
The following pages are not meant to be a definitive history of what bike was made during what year but merely an overview. For probably the most definitive account of how many bikes, of what size, were made in what year, of what weight etc., we can do no better but refer you to the excellent MZ Typen Kompass book by Andy Schweietzer, published by Motor buch Verlag (ISBN 3-613-02121-8) written in German (you will get the hang of technical German in the end) which makes for very interesting bed time reading (always have a copy by the bed for easy reference!). If you want a copy of this excellent book then you might try Google or Amazon or scour German Ebay.
Meanwhile, if you area 2 stroke fan here is some reading and for 4 stroke lovers, plenty to read here. Observations and corrections welcome.
There is no doubt about it, MZ is more famous for its 2 Strokes than probably any other manufacturer in the world. The early RT125 has been copied by manufacturers all around the world and it is clear therefore that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.
Even the BSA Bantam is a virtually identical copy of the RT125 albeit with everything in reverse! It is rumoured that BSA simply reversed the drawings and read them back to front so that the gear lever was on the right hand side (as British practice at the time) rather than on the left hand side (as was the case in Europe). If you look at an early BSA Bantam, even the silencer is back to front (actually upside down) because the MZ has a trailing peaked outlet and the Bantam has a flying peaked outlet. (That means the tail piece is upside down on the Bantam!). MZ made over 231,000 RT125s altogether. BSA made a few (OK, quite a few), less Bantams!
What is certain is that the imitation of the RT125 by all the other manufacturers did not come down to a desire by those manufacturers to share in MZ’s road racing and ISDT successes because when the RT125 was being copied, MZ hadn’t had any.
It was Walter Kaaden’s success with pulse-jet technology and exhaust back pressure which revolutionised 2 Strokes and gave MZ its road racing successes (to the exclusion of all others). That was of course before Ernst Degner defected from Communist East Germany to the West taking all Kaaden’s secrets with him. A fuller version of the story is here.
There is one element that Eastern block countries have always had plenty of: aluminium. So, whereas all motorcycles manufactured in the West and Japan had many things (frame, side panels etc) made from pressed steel, in East Germany they would be made from aluminium. It is indeed superb aluminium at that. Just have a look at any MZ 2 Stroke engine castings and you will see what we mean. Over the years, air boxes, tool box covers, scooter foot rests, sprocket covers and wheel rims have all been made from aluminium whilst everyone else was using pressed steel (or plastic latterly).
This wide use of aluminium has certainly lead to (in part) MZ’s proven to be more durable in service than many other utilitarian, go-to work makes.
In 1970 (or thereabouts, correct us please) Sheffield motorcycle dealer, Wilf Green took on a concession to sell MZ motorcycles. That concession was to last for almost twenty years. Other than Walter Kaaden, Wilf Green is probably the most famous name in British MZ circles (although a few may actually think it’s Fred Rogers!). As far as we are aware there is only one history ever been written about Wilf Green which we confess to not having read. Certainly, Google comes up with little of the Wilf Green’s MZ relationship. The following may not be completely accurate therefore and we would welcome re-writes of any parts which are incorrect. Please contact the Webmaster with re-writes of any paragraphs which you think would benefit from change.
The first models imported into Britain by Wilf Green in the early 70’s were the ES150 and ES250/2 Trophy models. The ES150 had taken over from the RT125 when the RT125 ceased production in about 1962. I have an RT125 which the name plate says was manufactured in 1967 and this anomaly is hard to explain because, by 1967 they had long since stopped making the RT125. The name plate says it was manufactured in 1967 and it was registered in 1967 (obviously not an official import) but the mystery remains.
Although the Teutonic styling of the ES range of motorcycles with the integral head lamp, valanced mud guards and rather odd shaped rear light, was met with some derision by the motorcycle buying public in 1970 the motorcycle press loved them because of the finish, durability and reliability. How the motorcycling press has changed: now, unless you can get your knee down, do stoppies or pull wheelies the motorcycle is not note worthy. Whatever happened to having a motorcycle that you could actually ride?
The Trophy, somewhat oddly had leading link Earles forks. Why you may ask? Simply because fork stanchions require an accuracy, straightess and stiffness which is not cheap to produce. A swing arm type configuration is cheap to produce and maintain and they could use standard type shock absorbers. The front and rear swing arms ran in cast iron, oil lubricated bushes although why oil was specified we don’t know unless it was simply because grease was not as good the (particularly in Communist states) as it is now in the UK.
Although Japanese 2 strokes used oil metering for lubrication, MZ relied on premix (oil in the petrol) in all their bikes until 1983. The bikes still relied on 6v electrics but although Japanese bikes were mainly 12v, the Brits had only just gone over to 12v and 6v bulbs were still on every shelf. MZs had another feature, last seen on Sunbeam motorcycles in the 1950s and always use on cars: A rubber mounted engine. With rubber mounts in shear underneath and retained round bushes at the rear, the MZ was virtually vibration free.
MZ’s reliance on export markets and recognition of the difference between the domestic market and the export market is probably best illustrated by the fact that they made models with different finishes dependent upon the intended market. For example, the home models had paint in many places and not chrome and engine cases were “as cast” rather than polished. The export models were blinged up with more chrome, brighter colours and polished aluminium, not rough cast.
Whether people liked the styling or not, the bikes sold and they sold in considerable numbers. Why? Answer quite simply, quality and price. A new MZ would cost between ½ and 2/3’s of the price of its Japanese equivalent. Moreover, if an MZ broke you could fix it with a hammer, a lump of chewing gum (there was no blue-tac in those days) bit of bent wire and some sticky tape. Even in 1970, the Japanese motorcycles had already become sophisticated and special tools were often required to work on them.
In those days the Japanese insisted on using cross headed Phillips screws which were made from some soft cheese like material. As the average motorcyclist had never even seen a Phillips screw driver (as opposed to a Pozi-Drive screw driver) there was certainly no chance that they would possess the impact screw driver required to remove the Phillips screws without butchering them beyond recognition. The result was usually that the head had to be drilled off and the whole screw replaced. The MZ screws had good old fashioned slots. Every motorcyclist had a flat bladed screw driver and so motorcycle tinkering could continue.
Altogether MZ made some 129,000 250/2 Trophy Models and 250,000 ES125/150 models, although it’s not known how many of these were imported into the UK. Certainly, of late, more and more Trophies, particularly 250 models, are emerging from sheds and barns to reappear on our roads. A nice Trophy can now fetch in the region of £1000. That’s approximately five times the cost of when it was new!
However not everybody wanted to ride a “flying banana MZ”. Some people wanted a sporty look and so, responding to market pressures, MZ made a Trophy Sport, the ETS250. Now MZ hadn’t got a lot of money for development so what they did was restyled the Trophy. They changed the forks for telescopics to give it a more Western (sporty) look, changed the large valanced mudguards for conventional items. Some would argue that the Trophy Sport’s guards are still not very sporty but what is certain, is that they do an excellent job at keeping the weather off. The bike had a separate headlight, a gargantuan five gallon fuel tank, alloy top yoke (plenty of aluminium in Easter Europe remember), straight handle bars, more aesthetically pleasing side panels and a narrower sportier seat with a tool box inside it. The tool box in the seat was to become one of MZ’s trade marks for the next thirteen years.
MZ only ever made 16,000 or so Trophy Sports and few made their way in to this country. Even now, a Trophy Sport is a comparatively rare sight on British roads. The spare parts for a Trophy Sport command particularly high prices and in Germany parts have exchanged hands on Ebay in late 2009 for astronomical prices; front fork assembly £260, front mud guard £200, rear mud guard £250, fuel tank £200. Clearly, the bikes remain as popular as ever and whilst the number manufactured of Trophy Sports seem to be quite low, it is about half as many again as the number of Arrows made by Ariel. Perhaps that puts it into perspective.
By around 1974 the world wanted more European looking motorcycles and sales of the flying bananas had slowed. The last few Trophies were slow to sell and some were actually registered one or two years after being manufactured having stood in the viewers show rooms for some while.
Relying heavily on its exports, MZ responded to the market pressure. They introduced the TS250 four speed model. Although ultra modern (by MZ’s standards at the time) a cursory glance revealed an engine that was lifted virtually straight from the 250 Trophy but with a different generator cover to “modernise” it. The TS250 had virtually the same gearbox ratios as the Trophy and still with only four gears (at this stage the Japanese had five gears normally and some already had six). The MZ gearbox was really something that you didn’t want to desire. It really wanted to be five speed gearbox but they hadn’t got enough gears to fill the case.
If ever you ride a four speed MZ it obviously only has four speeds but it like riding a motorcycle with a five speed gear box but fourth gear simply isn’t there. That’s not to say it has got a false neutral, it’s just that the space in ratios between third and fourth is like going from third to fifth in a five speed box. With a head wind, in top gear, it’s necessary to keep going up and down the box to maintain headway. The rest of the bike however did look European. Gone were the Earles forks in favour of teles. It had indicators front and back (as opposed to the almost invisible ones on the end of the Trophy’s handle bars), a separate rear light unit, headlamp nacelle (albeit with the speedometer in it) and it certainly looked as though MZ were getting there even if they had not quite yet arrived.
The TS250 did undergo some changes in its short life. The Sporty Chrome front forks were replaced with completely redesigned alloy bottomed ones and the rear swing arm lost its oiled cast iron bushes in favour of rubber bonded items.
The TS250 4 speed had one other feature which was to last until MZ (and indeed Kanuni) stopped making 2 Strokes: the top-slung rubber-mounted engine. The poorly designed rubber bottom engine mountains of the Trophy had disappeared and the TS250 4 speed engine hung by its cylinder head in a cradle-less frame. At the time, the design was revolutionary and certainly got some odd looks, particularly at traffic lights when, at tick-over, the engine and exhaust was seen to be bouncing around under the rider. With the engine isolated from the frame MZ’s have always been certainly high on comfort . Vibrate, they did not.
The 4 speeds failing was quite that, its four speeds. The world wanted five. The TS250 therefore was short lived (in the UK but certainly not in Germany , with 110,000 being made). Whilst the later 5 Speed bike is quite common in the UK, the 4 speed TS is much rarer over here.
And so, MZ introduced the TS250/1 (there was never a TS250/2), Super 5. It was to be one of MZ’s most popular motorcycles (over 140,00 produced) and some still say the best. At a glance, the two bikes (4 and 5 speed) looked identical. Apart from the cylinder head with had lost the spiky upright finning of the 4 speed and was replaced with a rather unconventional flat finned version which was instantly recognisable much of the rest of the bike was the same. The rest of the changes were inside the engine which they had made into a different animal altogether. One rather more subtle change (or not depending on your point of view) was the move away from the head lamp mounted speedometer to twin clocks mounted on the top yoke. The Super 5 was a sporty (ish) go-to-work utilitarian success.
Whilst all this development had been going on with the 250 the 125 and 150 models sat on the sidelines looking at what was happening. In response to the Trophy Sport 250 hot on its heels came the ETS125 and the ETS150 Trophy Sports which, like their big brother dispensed with the Earles forks in favour of teles, had sportier looking tank and seat, straight handle bars and sleeker mud guards. Only about 4,800 ETS125 and 14,000 ETS150 models were made and it makes them very collectible. It always remains a mystery to me as to why MZ made a 125 and 150 version of the same model. Some say it’s to do with Learner legislation but as far as I am aware, the 125 Learner legislation was, in the early seventies, many years away. Explanations on a post card please.
To compliment the Super 5, MZ introduced the TS125 and150 models. These had huge, and some think rather odd looking, side panels and air box which oddly enough are made from steel. In a bid to get rid of their large stocks of aluminium and in true MZ fashion, they made one extremely important ( and rather unusual in those days, but very common now) part of the motorcycle from aluminium, the frame! Yes, the rear half of the TS Tiddler frame is an aluminium casting. Various steel parts are bolted on to it but, nonetheless, the frame is mostly aluminium. It makes for a very rigid structure and it is possible to throw the TS Tiddlers around with confidence.
It is also interesting to know that the Tiddler models didn’t mirror their big brother 250s in style, construction or production dates. If the 250 was being updated then the Tiddler would be done a couple of years later or, as happened in the eighties the styling of the 250 did not follow the 150 (ETZ series) for nine or ten years.
Brakes. What brakes?
MZ have always been excellent at making their motorcycles go, Unfortunately, Walter Kaaden’s jet technology did not apply to brakes. He was interested in making the bikes go faster not slower and so his development didn’t go into brakes. This shows.
Now there seems to be no reason why some MZ drum brakes are quite good and indeed some are poor bordering on non existent. All sorts of theories have been put forward and many remedies have been tried by owners in order to provide the necessary and proportionate amount of retardation. One solution that does work is to change the front forks and the wheels for that off an ETZ250 with its later disc brake, but this requires all sorts of spacers and things and does make the motorcycle a little bit of a hybrid. Certainly, not one for the purist.
This is not meant to be a lesson in how to redesign brakes but there appear to be four fundamental flaws with MZ front drum brakes;
- The lever is not long enough (the lever being inside the brake drum precludes in being longer) and
- the cam is too long which reduces the mechanical advantage and
- there is no facility for centring the shoes in the drum and
- there is no facility for centring the brake plate as an alternative for 3 above.
MZ front drum brakes can be made to work and modifications to them have been the source of many articles in MZ Rider Magazine.
A Disc what?
In the late seventies early eighties, styling tastes were changing by the day. The Japanese manufacturers were changing models annually. Without the financial resource of the far eastern companies MZ had to settle with having a make over every six years or so. Even so, they did better than Triumph, who were still making in 1980 a model that was basically designed in 1938. Good old Edward Turner.
And so, in 1983, out from its chrysalis, emerged the ETZ250. Now some think that the Super 5 was the best 2t motorcycle ever made by MZ, personally I think it is the ETZ250. If you put any luggage on the back of a Super 5 which is heavier than helium filled bubble wrap it will shake its head violently. You can do virtually what you want with an ETZ250 and it is stable. Finally, the ETZ250 was an MZ that had a front brake. Not only did it actually have a front brake, it had a front brake that worked.
It had a disc brake with a caliper made by (trumpet fanfare) Brembro no less. We don’t know if any of the MZ calipers ever actually had the word Brembro cast into the surface but certainly the caliper is Brembro even it is only a copy of made by them with an MZ badge. It is a straight swap for many calipers fitted to Moto Guzzi and other Italian machines of the day. It is an excellent brake even though it is only single sided. In true MZ fashion, and anxious to use even more of its aluminium, the disc is of a rather top hat construction with an integral aluminium carrier cast onto the un-drilled stainless steel disc.
MZ would not use ordinary flat discs in their brakes until the introduction of the ETZ251 in about 1990. In addition, the brake was a solid disc i.e. it had no holes. It didn’t perform particularly well in wet weather therefore particularly in view of the fact that not only did it have no water clearance holes but it was (unlike Moto Guzzi’s disc) made of stainless steel rather than cast iron. At least, after ten minutes in the rain it didn’t go rusty like the rest of the Italian cast iron discs do.
The general styling of the bike was longer, sleeker, lower (it was probably dimensionally the same it just looked sleeker) and finally it had 12 volt electrics. You could buy bulbs off the shelf from any motor dealer and not have to go scratching round for the local Volkswagen dealer in order to be able to buy a 6 volt bulb.
Finally, gone too were the tin covered handle bar switches in favour of large chunky (aluminium!) more European looking items. Switch gear was transferred to the left hand handle bar with indicators, flasher and light switch all in one unit.
With the ETZ250, MZ had finally come into the twentieth century. They finally started using 2t oil metering, courtesy of a pump sourced from Mikuni. Heaven only knows how the Communist East Germans managed to negotiate with the Japanese Mikuni but obviously they did and the relationship was to endure with MZ (and latterly Kanuni) fitting Mikuni oil pumps up until the very demise of the MZ 2 Strokes.
Finally, the ETZ250 engine. At a cursory glance it was a Super 5. More detailed examination however would reveal that whilst it may have looked similar it is in fact totally different. In fact, it is so different that virtually nothing in interchangeable (apart from the clutch which can easily be made to fit). Don’t even try. If you want to know what, if any, parts are interchangeable then Fred Rogers is probably the best person to speak to.
There was one other more subtle and not immediately obvious difference between the Super 5 and the ETZ250. The frame. The geometry was virtually the same but whereas the Super 5 had a twin top tube, the ETZ250 had a much stiffer rectangular box section.
Where is my anorak?
Before somebody else points out, early ETZs had the option to have a drum brake rather than the disc (why would you want to do that?) and also to have pre-mix (oil in the fuel) lubrication (why would you want to have that?). One other note worthy point to keep in ones anorak pocket is that the very first Mikuni oil pumped bikes had oilways actually drilled into the engine casings, rather than utilising the external see-through pipe that most people are so familiar with when they look at an ETZ. The internal oilway didn’t last long and we are not certain why it went, perhaps the long oil galleries were difficult or time consuming to machine. If anybody has any ideas, please send them on the same postcard as mentioned previously.
In the early eighties MZ also introduced the ETZ 125 and 150 to replace the TS models. Like their big brother, the smaller models now boasted Mikuni oil pumps.
Some think that the smaller ETZs had rather odd styling with that bulbous looking tank. Odd or not that styling was to endure until the end of small model production. In fact, MZ adopted the same styling for the 251 model introduced in the late 1980’s early 90’s.
“East meets West” or “and the wall came tumbling down”
The Berlin Wall came down in 1980 when Communism collapsed. Without Communist Government subsidies, MZ collapsed. MZ was privatised and they redesigned that ETZ250 and morphed it in to the ETZ251. Why, we will never know but, they did. They changed various panels, mud guards and instruments and for a while, it isn’t possible to look at any ETZ251 model and say for certainty whether it should have plastic or metal mud guards, plastic square or metal round instruments or what. MZ seem to put on their motorcycles whatever they happened to have in the parts bins at that time.
When MZ went down the tubes, it morphed into MuZ. Now we are a bit confused with MZ 2 Stroke history in the early nineties but it seems that production was transferred from Germany to the Turkish Kanuni factory sometime in the mid 1990’s and some bikes appearing from Turkey were actually made with all German parts and at a cursory look may appear to be German. We may be wrong so any rewrites of this section would be gratefully received. I once had an ETZ251 with Made in Germany on the VIN plate but it had a Kanuni seat! Certainly, if the paint is flaking from the frame, it is likely to be a Kanuni although the engines are as good as the German ones.
Saxons from Saxony
In the early 1990’s MuZ as it had then became took the unprecedented step of marketing a couple of redesigned models alongside the existing model. They gave the ETZ251 a make over with redesigned tank side panels and seat panels and called it the Saxon251. For some unknown reason they did another Saxon model called the Fun with an integral tank head lamp unit and all the while they continued to make the ETZ251.
It appears therefore that in the early nineties MZ were making the ETZ251 with the metal tank, the Saxon251 with the plastic tank and the Saxon Fun 251 with the plastic tank and head lamp combined. It is probably no wonder that they went down the tubes because not only were they doing it with the 250 models but they were also doing similar things with 125/150 models. There is no truth in the rumour that they re-badged the same capacity 250 as a 251 so that they could use the same number decals as the 125!
MZ stopped making 300cc models in the 1960’s. Wilf Green started again in the late eighties by taking the barrel off a standard ETZ250, sticking a big drill down it and putting in a bigger piston. The head had a little bit of machining as well and to make the bike look distinct from the 250, he put an additional casting on the head, to provide some vertical finning. The extra casting necessitated the use of longer head nuts to give the casting something to bolt to.
These additional castings probably provided a dubious (if any) additional amount of cooling but they do make the Wilf Green 300s look very distinct. Wilf Green 300s are few a far between. Following on from Wilf Greens inspiration, MZ started making 300ccs themselves (actually they were 296cc and were badged as 301 models). The 301 provides a negligible amount of power over the 250 but they are very sought after simply because of what they are, with just a bit more power when loaded, two up or going up hill or in a head wind. The general consensus of opinion is that the marginal amount of extra power is hardly noticeable and probably not worth the extra cost.
By the late 1990’s 2 Stroke production had stopped in Germany and MZ were being made in the Kanuni factory in Turkey. Initially bikes were badged MZ with Kanuni written on the seat but, in the early 2000’s they revamped the cosmetics completely and finally dropped the MZ badge a tear forms in ones eye at this point. In our opinion the true Kanunis are probably the ugliest MZs ever made but it is true that they remained as reliable as ever they were right until the end of production in Turkey in 20XX.
It is a testament to the popularity and longevity of MZs that virtually every spare that anybody is ever likely to need is still available new. Spares which are no longer factory made are more often not being re-manufactured although sometimes not to the quality standard of the original MZ parts.
If you look at virtually any copy of MZ Rider Magazine you will see adverts from spares suppliers who will be happy to chat with you to make sure that you get exactly the correct part for your bike as they have intimate and detailed knowledge of what fitted what and when.
With the help of the MZ Riders Club and its members and also the numerous spares suppliers your MZ 2 Stroke is certain to be ring tinging for many years to come.
The end of the world is nigh
Although 2 Strokes can be made environmentally friendly, it is not cheap or easy. The solution to more environmentally friendly motorcycles did not lie in 2 Stroke development but in 4 Stroke development. MZ were only too aware of this and as the 2 Stroke world was crumbling the 4 Stroke world was emerging.
Whilst MZ may have had the facilities and knowledge to make 2 Strokes they didn’t have the knowledge or the machinery to make the multiplicity of moving parts required to make a 4 stroke engine. The first thing they did therefore was to take an ETZ251, bin the ( environmentalist would say, dirty smelly) 2 Stroke engine (more tears), beef the swinging arm up a bit and pop a 500cc Rotax engine in it. The result, the MZ 500R.
It is alleged that only 1,036 of these models were ever made but this is subject of some dispute. Not having enough room for a battery and an airbox and an oil tank, MZ put the oil in the frame with the frame acting as the oil tank. It worked rather well
Not content with having the metal fuel tanked 500R MZ also threw the engine out of a 251 Saxon and replaced that with a Rotax too. The result was the Rotax Saxon. Finally as if 2 Rotax engined MZs weren’t enough they went one further and took a Saxon Fun, threw the 2 stroke engine away, beefed a few other bits up, put longer suspension units, forks and a bigger front wheel and called in the Saxon Country a sort of pseudo Traillie model. It is alleged that only about a dozen of these were ever imported into the country and we believe the only models available were black with yellow flashes and yellow with black flashes. Mally Morgan is trying to buy them all and is nearly there.
Now you would have thought that having three Rotax engine models was enough for any firm. No, not MZ.
They went one better and produced yet another model, Silver Star. This was yet another departure although the frame and suspension is very similar to the normal Saxon model. And finally, to add a little icing to the cake, they had a different coloured model, the Red Star which was, would you believe, Red. It is believed that very few (perhaps as few as a handful) of Red Stars were ever made.
Why buy 500 Rotax engines on there own when you can also buy 660 Yamaha engines? Why use an existing frame when you can completely redesign it, have a new frame and yet another range of bikes.
A sting in the tail
Enter, the MZ Skorpion range of bikes. A Japanese engine, frame and plastics designed in Briton by Seymour Powel,l and made in Germany the Skorpion range made complete sense. For once a complete range of MZs for every purpose. The Traveller with its full faring and luggage was a capable tourer. The Sport was something that the journalists could get their knee down on.
The Traveller was something that you could go to places on, and the Skoprpion Cup (also available in road going replica form) and was a full blown race bike. Different handle bars and plastics on each model, but the same basis underneath, made the Skorpion probably one of the most sensible ranges of motorcycles ever produced by any manufacturer. The Yamaha engine had been made for years and years and was bullet proof. Ok, it vibrated a bit when you wrung its neck, but it would vibrate for a very long time. It was a single after all, however, it would go on forever.
MZ was so pleased with the execution of the Skorpion range that they wanted to put the Yamaha engine into everything. They stopped making 2 Strokes and transferred that production to Turkey so they were sitting around thinking “what else can we stick this Yamaha engine in?” A bit like somebody with a brush full of paint wandering round wondering what to splosh it on.
The result was the rather oddly styled but fully featured and bargain priced Mastiff and Bagheera range of bikes. Unfortunately, MZ decided to do the design and styling work on their own and, in our opinion made a complete and utter horlicks of it. The design of the plastics from one bike does not go across to another and does not seem to be any synergy between models. In addition the people who bought MZs generally wanted to use them to go places, whereas the street-moto designs were seen to be hoodlum machines. In addition, they were competing with the likes of Husqvarna and CCM in that market.
The people who bought these bikes would just not buy an MZ. It’s a shame that the bikes did not sell well because they were beautifully made, well engineered and put together, have a very high specification of suspension etc but they were taking on really tough opposition in what is already a niche market. A shame.
Life is a roller coaster
By the late 1990’s MZ had been on a roller coaster ride of success and failure. They had stopped making their own excellent 2 stroke engines in favour of out-sourced Rotax and Yamaha units. Production of 2 Strokes had been transferred to Turkey and the MZ engineers were sitting around looking for something to do. They had had some Malaysian capital injected and they were ready to make engines once again.
And so, for the first time since 1962 (or 1967 depending on who you believe) MZ launched a new (4 Stroke this time) RT125. Now I don’t know about you, but we think that the RT125 is without a doubt THE best looking 125 motorcycle ever produced. It’s even better than the icon of 125 motorcycles the CG125 Honda and the build quality is probably on a par. It deserved to do really really well and it deserved to really well in Briton where the learner laws required a learner to cut their teeth on something no bigger than 125cc.
What MZ needed was another Wilf Green. Unfortunately, there was no budding Wilf Green in the wings who was willing to have a full blown attack on the market place. In all honesty, it is hardly surprising because the world had changed. Motorcycles were no longer a cheap form of go to work transport on which you got wet, they had become a luxury. They were fun, they had to be. For the £1500 or so that a brand new MZ 125 would cost a learner could buy a reasonable quality used car to go to work, to take the girlfriend out and to do all that, whilst keeping dry.
In order to widen the RT125 appeal MZ did to further models a couple of traillie/super moto versions the SM125 and the SX125. The bikes sold in reasonable numbers.
Parallel to this MZ were developing the bike that would take the Japanese on head to head. An in line 4 cylinder 1000cc sports bike. It was available as a full blown sports bike, the 1000S with all the plastics or as a naked street fighter, the 1000SF with an odd shaped beak at the front which carried the head light. Odd shaped or not, the “beak” does an absolutely superb job of keeping the wind off the rider (on this unfaired bike) at highly illegal speeds. The street fighter was superb. The wind protection from the “beak” was excellent, the bike pulled well, it was reasonably economical, looked the part and was everything that you wanted it to be.
The 1000S was a different kettle of fish. The engine mapping was different meaning that the engine was lumpy below 3000 rpm. In town, you were lucky to get it out of second gear and the engine was rather intractable. It was necessary to change the gearbox sprocket and the engine mapping to make the bike rideable every day. If you were riding everywhere at 70mph (or even more on the autobahn) the bike was great. It looked amazing, as though it was doing 200mph standing still.
Unfortunately, the ride experience did not reflect the look. One dealer, having ridden the 1000S for the first time brought it back to the factory rep and said that there was something wrong with it. The reply from the factory director was, (obviously with a German accent), “no, they are all like that, you have to go faster”. The dealer refused to sell any because he didn’t want customers coming back and complaining and he didn’t think that he should have to re-map the ignition/fuel injection and put a different gearbox sprocket on to a brand new motorcycle.
In addition, if ever you spoke to a dealer about having this work done, the mechanic usually looked at you with a blank stare. Few bikes were imported or sold and the dealer back up was not good. It is a great shame because the bike was close to being everything that was needed for MZ to shed its East German image and prove that it could play with the big boys.
Finally, somewhat too late in our opinion, MZ launched the 1000ST, the bike that perhaps (if they were to attract the travelling MZers) should have launched first.The bike had higher handle bars, higher screen, slightly lower footrests and a full set of Krauser luggage. It was great, BUT it was expensive. For the same price, you could buy a Honda VFR800 or a Pan European. The market didn’t want an MZ Tourer when they could buy a Honda. The dealers never had any test bikes in and nobody wanted to ride one of they thought it was going to ride like the 1000S. It is a great pity because the 1000ST really was an MZ for the millennium.
And so with the last motorcycle ever manufactured by MZ, (once the worlds most famous 2 Stroke manufacturer) being a 4 Stroke, the MZ factory finally closed its doors to motorcycle manufacture in 2009. The name lives on with the two ex Grand Prix racers Waldman and Wimmer starting a race series but time will tell where that goes.