By James Mather and Ray Cattle
- Enter the Trophy Sport
- The TS250
- Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
- The smaller capacity models
- Brakes? What brakes?
- A Disco break?
- Where’s My Anorak?
- East meets West, or “and the wall came tumbling down”
- Saxons from Saxony
- Turkish Delight
- Update: Oil Pumps
- The forgotten MZs
- Update: October 2012
There is no doubt about it; MZ is more famous for its 2 Strokes than probably any other manufacturer in the world. The early DKW RT125 (123cc) has been copied by manufacturers all around the world, as war reparations 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 bloc 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 ES150/1 (143cc) and ES250/2 Trophy (243cc) 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, straightness 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. They are also great for sidecars, much used in East Germany. 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.
In Eastern Europe, motorcycles and cars were very expensive and so were spares. You had to wait 10 years for your name to get to the top of the Trabant waiting list! [See update] Everything about the MZ was made for reliability. Just look at the rubber rear drive chain gaiters. While everyone else used a tin chain guard, MZ used flexible rubber tubes which kept all the crud from the chain and kept lube in. In fact Norton nicked exactly the same concept and used it on their 1980s rotary models, actually going one step further and making it rear chain oil-bath.
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, as originally used on the discontinued BK350, fitted to early production bikes. A gargantuan five gallon fuel tank, alloy top yoke (plenty of aluminium in Eastern Europe remember), straight handle bars, side panels similar to the ES250/2, but not allowing the fitting of a sidecar, 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 16,266 Trophy Sports and 634 made their way 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 seems 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 front fork gaiters (actually they were rubber shrouds made to look like gaiters as they were rigid) were replaced with dust covers giving the forks a bare, clean uncluttered look. The Sporty Chrome front forks were eventually 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 were 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), Supa 5. It was to be one of MZ’s most popular motorcycles (over 140,000 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. The most important in that the larger main bearings were now lubricated by petroil, as against the gearbox oil on the earlier models. 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 Supa 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 ( from the Simson Sperber ) and seat, straight or raised handle bars and sleeker mud guards. Only 4,859 ETS125 and 14,042 ETS150 models were made and it makes them very collectible. It is probably due to the different insurance bands in Germany and France that the two different engine sizes were made.
To compliment the Supa 5, MZ introduced the TS125 and150 models. These had huge, and some think rather odd looking, side panels and air box, as on the ETS 125 and ETS 150, 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 ES/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.
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 5 fundamental flaws with MZ front drum brakes;
- The lever is not long enough (the lever being inside the brake drum precludes it being longer), a problem of following the motorcycle fashion in Europe at the time – 1960s.
- The cam flats are too long which reduces the mechanical advantage and
- There is no facility for centering the shoes in the drum and
- There is no facility for centering the brake plate as an alternative for 3 above.
- The drum liner is rolled steel not cast iron
MZ front drum brakes can be made to work and modifications to them have been the source of many articles in MZ Rider Magazine.
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 (243cc). Now some think that the Supa 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 Supa 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) Brembo no less. We don’t know if any of the MZ calipers ever actually had the word Brembo cast into the surface but certainly the caliper is Brembo 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, and appeared lower, despite an 18 inch rear wheel. 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 Supa 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 Supa 5 and the ETZ250. The frame. The geometry was virtually the same but whereas the Supa 5 had a twin top tube, the ETZ250 had a much stiffer (is it stiffer? That’s what we were told. The MZ Racers seem to use twin top tube frames and they should know!) Rectangular box section.
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 oil ways 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 oil way 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.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 when Communism collapsed. Without Communist Government subsidies, MZ collapsed. MZ was privatised and they redesigned the ETZ250 and morphed it into the ETZ251 (241cc). 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 history is a bit vague regarding late MZ 2 Stroke history (1990s) 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 or the engine, it is likely to be a Kanuni, although the engines are as good as the German ones from what we hear Perhaps they are German engines after all.
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!
Originally the plastic tanked bikes could not be imported to the UK, due to an outdated law. Luckily Triumph wanted to fit a plastic tank to their new range, and the law was quickly rescinded.
MZ stopped making the sidecar pulling ES300, (293cc) models in the 1960’s. Wilf Green started again in the late eighties by taking the barrel off a standard ETZ250, boring it out to 296cc and putting in a bigger piston, made by Mahle. 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 distinctive. Wilf Green 300s are few and far between. Following on from Wilf Greens inspiration, MZ started making 300ccs themselves (actually they were 291cc and were badged as 301 models). The 301 provides a negligible amount of power over the 251(241cc) but they are very sought after simply because of what they are, with just a bit more torque when loaded, two up or going up hill or in a head wind. The general consensus of opinion is that the 2 extra horsepower 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 20??
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.
It is true that some spares are unobtainium new. Trophy knee pad rubbers for example. Well, if that’s as bad as it gets…..
Have you ever bought spares for 1970s Japanese motorcycles? They cost arms and legs IF you can find them
If you look at virtually any copy of MZ Rider Magazine you will see adverts from spares supplierswho 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 in its various sections and also the numerous spares suppliers your MZ 2 Stroke is certain to be ring tinging for many years to come.
I found out how MZ managed to pay for Mikuni oilpumps bearing in mind that no-one outside E Germany wanted East German money. They used the currency they got from sale of UK and US bikes, Pounds & Dollars.
Did you know, that MZ also sold mopeds?
Then read on:
I was just reading the two stroke history page of the site in the hope of finding some details out about my own MZ. I have what is registered as an MZ Zebretta.
I have managed to find out about its history through trawling the internet for clues to its origin as although it is registered as an MZ it was clearly made in Italy.
The bike is a small kickstart Minarelli V1 engined moped.
The frame is stamped as a Moto BM (Bonvivini Mariano) Zebretta made in Bologna Italy.
From my research I have discovered that the bike was made by BM just before their collapse.
MZ then brought up all of their old stock and sold the bikes in various different countries.
At this point I am informed that Wilf Green (who I understand is a well known figure in MZ circles) imported a small number of the bikes and sold then from his MZ dealership in Yorkshire, where he registered them as MZ Zebretta’s.
I thought this may be an interesting story to include in the history page of the site as Ii certainly enjoyed researching the origins of my little MZ.
If the details I have discovered are incorrect please correct me as I am very keen to find out all I can of this rare bike as I am currently trying to source spares to restore it. If you could suggest any places to try I would be grateful.
(Chair’s note: I have heard of these mopeds, but hitherto knew nothing about them. Thank you Harry, for giving us the inside line. If anybody has any further information, please forward it to the webmaster for inclusion on this page.)
A few month ago a had a long talk with a couple from the former East Germany. They confirmed that the waiting list for a car was about 10 years, but added that a motorcycle like the MZ outfit they once had could be delivered a fortnight or so after placing the order. The wait for a Simson moped was half a year.
East Germans wanting a better front brake would use the 200 mm item from a Pannonia. It was wider too, but – alas – still single leading shoe.
Not only did Norton use the patented rubber gaiters, but Yamaha used them on the TR1 v-twin as well.
KS October 2012.