Sunday, May 31, 2009


I can't say definitively that there are no 4-cylinder Zundapps in the US, but there can't be many. They were produced for a very short period, in small numbers, just before the War, as the once-great marque's flagship model. In common with BMW and DKW, pressed-steel frames were all the rage in Germany in the 1930's, although each of these manufacturers had finished their fling with the material by the end of the decade, BMW abandoning ship first. The advantage of the flat steel frame is the ability to mass-produce the components parts very cheaply, once the initial set-up is considered for the dies and bucks and special presses. It's basically automotive technology, and as these factories (especially DKW) were churning out huge numbers of motorcycles in this period, reducing the amount of specialist handwork required to assemble a motorcycle was an attractive proposition. Motorcycling is a brutal business, and the large companies which have survived all managed to reduce the amount of skilled labor necessary to make their products (see my review of 'Japan's Motorcycle Wars').

A by-product of this novel approach was a confluence of the inherent aesthetic of flat planes of steel connecting two wheels, and the dominant design movement of the day, Art Deco.

This Zundapp hasn't been consciously styled as a Deco masterpiece, but the period of its manufacture and the clean, rounded lines of the frame and engine covers, place it firmly within the boundaries of the movement; there is no mistaking exactly when this bike was made, unlike a tube-frame motorcycle, which could be from the 30's, or the 50's, with little clue barring the common use of telescopic forks by mid-century.

In its Deco-ness, Zundapp has shown great restraint, only adding curvaceous flourishes to the exhaust heat shield and the tank painting, which both stand out as the finest touches on the machine.

And what a machine, a flat-four, with 800cc sidevalve engine, and the legendary Zundapp all-chain gearbox. The cylinders are fed by a single carb, well hidden under all the smooth aluminum, and a shaft drives the rear wheel. It's not a lightweight, but is meant as a luxury tourer or sidecar tug.

The owner of the machine was in the mood for a long ride, so I followed in the Zundapp behind his Ducati Monster, doing my best to keep up! With four small pots, the bike was a doddle to kick over, and mechanically the engine was very quiet. The exhaust note was a subdued rumble as well, with a hint of sporting pretension. All controls were typical of the period, throttle in the right spot etc, but the gearchange took a bit of getting used to. As you can see in the photos, its basically a truck shifter, with a long rod and ball, and there is no 'gate' for guidance. The shift pattern is similar to a car, with 4 speeds. A big gap between second and third gear meant a bit of revving was necessary on the uphill slow bits, but the bike seemed happy to wind out; surprisingly, it has little grunt at low revs, but prefers a good spin-up before the power is strong enough to conquer the hills of Bavaria. Fourth gear seemed like an overdrive until I was truly able to stretch the machine's legs, at which point it became clear that a fast tour or autobahn cruise was entirely possible.

The handling was secure and un-dramatic, save the times I found the center-stand on corners, which didn't happen too easily; there's reasonable ground clearance, and despite the weight of the package, it was perfectly light to flick around s-bends. Somebody at the factory knew their geometry, and the very low center of the engine mass plus generally narrow profile (no heavy cylinder heads sticking out) makes for a lithe machine.

The downside? Well, the brakes were pretty poor, the front almost nonexistent, which might be endemic, or might be a lining issue. I'm used to riding 20's machines with no stopping power, but they are generally 100lbs lighter than this Teutonic bruiser, and I found myself sailing right past my host, anchors fully out, as he stopped for photos or to inquire as to my happiness.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to ride this and the other two 'Bavarian Road Test' subjects; many thanks!


Anonymous said...

Nice blog!
Long ago (1970 or thereabouts)I visited Coburn Benson at his family home in Concord Mass( or was it Lexington?) the house had been built in 1710 or so, and still found itself with no indoor .
I owned a Vincent Black Shadow at that time, and a bunch of other bikes, and cars, and owned and ran the Shade Tree Garage in Chelsea Mass.
In 1973 I left the USA and went to Saudi Arabia, having sold off much of the collection.
No Vincents since then, but I do still have 20 bikes or so including this BMW R69S with a Heinrich tank, some Ducatis, and a 47 Nimbus with a sidecar.
I live near Dover NH.
Tony B

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,

I found on web your blog on old timers – very interesting articles, great job. Now I catch up with reading of all presented so far motorcycles` stories, studying archive.
I have a Sarolea from 1939-1945 . I think that this motorcycle should go back to Belgium as I`m not going to renovate it.


Szymon J


Anonymous said...

Nice piece on the Zundapp K800 ! If anyone wants to see one, come to the museum.

Incidentally, the pressed steel frames were quite stiff, with good box sections, and great for smooth power units.The spindly tube and lug frames took the punishment of vibrating singles a lot better, but were still bicycles. I make an exception concerning the Moto-guzzi models, great engineering.



Brian Slark

Anonymous said...

two years ago i took my youngest son back to the family homeplace 1753 Brookside cottage Talgarth Breaconshire , my son thought the 1753 was the house number , "dad why did you slap me on the back of the ead?" but its nice to see that your not swanning around quaffing large amounts of dago red and jerry white , and doing some nice stuff , the kodak hawkeye that you spent huge amounts of cash apon is realy paying off the upgrade from kodak 125 to the high tech 127 really shows up in your snaps , althought you should really muff one shot with the now famous paul d right thumb , and if you do get time in London i want pictures of the box stock 48 Ajs porcupine in the science museum in London , carry on dave


Anonymous said...

I'm in love! I'll take a 30s Zundapp or Neander or any pre-War German make over Monica Belucci, Megan Fox or, for you old timers, Sofia Loren. Thanks for the eye candy and true-grit reporting Paul.


vintagent said...

Well, JZ, if given the opportunity, I will happily road-test any of the above mentioned models... 'true grit' indeed~!

Anonymous said...

Hi Very nice bike! K800 is the diamant of all motorcycles! :)

BMW HACKER said...

I recently acquired a Zundapp KS-601 Sport. It has been resting for many years. I hope to awaken it over the next couple of years. It will be a quest due to parts scarcities. I love to see these old machines still on the road. hopefully mine will join them someday.