1997 MuZ 500R Red Star Classic (Courtesy of Tim Carpenter)

A Potted 4T History

By James Mather and Ray Cattle, May 2010.
RT125 edits by Dave Payne, September 2010

Contents

  1. The end of the world is nigh!
  2. Yamadabadoo
  3. A sting in the tail
  4. Route 660
  5. Life is a roller coaster
  6. Epilogue

The end of the world is nigh. Global warming is upon us. We are all doomed.

Although 2 Strokes can be made environmentally friendly, it is not cheap, easy or seen to be politically correct. The solution to more environmentally friendly motorcycles did not lie in 2 Stroke developments but in 4 Strokes. MuZ were very aware of this and as the 2 Stroke world was crumbling, the 4 Stroke world was emerging.

Whilst MuZ may have had the facilities and knowledge to make 2 Strokes they didn’t have the modern 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 and smelly) 2 Stroke engine (more tears), beef the swinging arm up a bit and pop a 500cc Rotax engine in it. The result was the MuZ 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 air box and an oil tank, MuZ 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; MuZ also threw the engine out of a 251 Saxon and replaced that with a Rotax too. The result was the Saxon Tour NRX500. Finally as if 2 Rotax engined MuZs 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 it 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. But no, not for MuZ.

They went one better and produced yet another model, the Silver Star.As a retro model, it should have sold well. With its classic silver tank and side panels, it looked very different, although the frame and suspension was based on the Saxon model. And finally, to add a little icing to the cake, they had a different coloured model, the Red Star which had a Bordeaux red and ivory tank. It is believed that very few (perhaps as few as a handful) of Red Stars were ever made. There was also, if you believe the brochures produced at the time, a Green Star, with a green and ivory tank.

1997 MuZ 500R Red Star Classic (Courtesy of Tim Carpenter)

1997 MuZ 500R Red Star Classic (Courtesy of Tim Carpenter)

Yamadabadoo

Why buy expensive 500 Rotax engines, when you can buy cheaper, surplus 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 MuZ Skorpion range of bikes. With a Japanese ex traillie engine, frame and plastics designed in Britain by Seymour Powell, and made in Germany, the Skorpion range made complete sense. For once there was a complete range of MuZs for every situation. The Traveller with its full fairing and luggage was (and indeed still is) a capable tourer. The Sport was something that the journalists could get their knee down on. The Tour was something that you could go to places on, and the Skorpion Cup (also available in road going “Replica” form) was a full blown race bike. Different handle bars and plastics on each model, but the same basis underneath, made the Skorpions 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, and was under geared and snatchy around town. It was a single after all. However, it would go on forever; vibrating into oblivion, while you wrung its neck.

Route 660

MuZ 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 sold the factory tooling to Kanuni of 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 Baghira range of bikes. Unfortunately, MuZ decided to do all the design and styling work in house, 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 there does not seem to be any synergy between models. In addition, people who bought MuZs generally wanted to use them to go places, whereas the street-moto designs were seen to be hoodlum machines, with tiny petrol tanks. In addition, they were competing with the likes of Husqvarna and CCM in that market.

British people who bought these sorts of bikes would just not buy an MuZ. It’s a shame that the bikes did not sell well in the UK. Because they were beautifully made, well engineered and put together, had a very high specification of suspension etc. But they were taking on really tough opposition in what was already a niche market. However, they sold well in Europe.

Life is a roller coaster

*By the late 1990’s MuZ 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 MuZ engineers were sitting around looking for something to do. They had had some Malaysian capital injected by their new owners Hong Leong 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 (water cooled 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, especially in Britain where the learner laws require 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 £2500 (NB not £1500 originally noted here!) 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. Originally, it was to be an exciting 850cc supercharged parallel twin called the Kobra, based on the Yamaha TDM engine, with styling again by Seymour Powell. Unfortunately, it was felt that thousands were the up and coming class, and so the Kobra was shelved. Instead, it was transformed into a normally aspirated parallel twin 1000cc bike. It was available as a full blown sports bike, the 1000S with full fairing, or as a slightly detuned, 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) they 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 British 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, as 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.

There was also a 1000SFx model, another take on the street fighter look, with an ordinary looking headlight and a very basic seat.

Epilogue

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.