December 21, 2011 – Lately, for some reason, I got thinking about my first motorcycle, a 200 cc Zundapp. This wasn’t the first motorcycle I was ever on or operated, but the first I owned. I acquired the Zundapp in the fall at the start of my Junior year in college. This must have been in 1963, as my undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design from The College of Architecture & Design, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, August, 1965.
In high school I was much more interested in having a car so I could date the girl who’s now my wife. We’ve been married 45 years this month, and, as is the right, privilege, and just dues of natural, free, Michigan-born Wolverine Motorheads, have owned 45 cars and trucks by actual count to date. This doesn’t include the tractors (4), the motor scooters (2), or the motorcycles (6).
The other reason I came late to motorcycles is that both my parents were not anxious to have me acquire one. My mother’s only ride on a motorcycle, while still single, pre-war, was riding behind an accommodating Italian border policeman in the Alps roaring down the mountain to try to catch the rest of her bicycling companions, after she’d become separated from them with a flat tire. This left her terrified of two-wheel motorized transportation. One of my father’s first cousins did himself grievous bodily injury by putting the front wheel of his Harley into the street car track in front of the Flint, Michigan, hospital while attending GM Tech, before going on to serve in the OSS during WWII and the CIA after.
I have no memory of what year of manufacture my Zundapp was or what model designation it had. It was, after all, 48 years ago. But my sole transportation for my Junior year at the University of Michigan, coming in 6 miles to campus every day, was this unknown Zundapp.
I Googled “Zundapp motorcycles” and the third item from the top it brought up, just below the Wikipedia definition, was “Zundapp Fool – the place for German Zundapp Motorcycle information”.
I picked on that. This place was all that was advertized, and more. The site is run by a guy named James Marshall, somewhere east of Dallas. We lived 20 years just west of Austin, Texas, and made the annual trip to Michigan to see the elder generation from Dallas to Texarkana – probably went right by him twice a year. I looked at his photos, found nothing that resembled the bike I had, sent him inquiry and vague description. He was very prompt in reply and expert in minutia. Turns out the bike I had was nowhere near the premier Zundapp model. I had no idea Zundapp built horizontally-opposed, shaft-drive 4-stroke pre-war bikes like BMW. Duh!
Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I attended The University of Michigan, is about 40 miles west of Detroit. Maybe 6 miles west of Ypsilanti, Michigan. That’s pronounced Ipsi, not Yipsi – it’s Greek, named for a Greek patriot. I lived my Junior year in a trailer camp on Carpenter Road, running north and south, about a quarter-mile below where it crossed Packard Road, going east. That’s approximately the south-east quadrant of the present-day juncture of I-94 and I-23 if you use Google Maps. I had enough to finance my Freshman year in 1961, and lived in the mandatory dorm.
My Sophomore year 5 other guys and I rented a house on John St. just west of Division. I unloaded freight and stocked shelves at an A&P store on Huron Street at night, and bought an old Lambretta motor scooter. The Lambretta was fun for getting around town, but didn’t have the inherent gyroscopic stability of the larger motorcycle wheels for the road. It also wouldn’t start when it was raining or damp.
My Junior and Senior years in Ann Arbor were financed courtesy of Schuon’s Gulf Service, Stadium at Packard, a couple blocks east of the stadium. I made $1.65 an hour wages, regular gasoline was $.32/gallon, and Gulftane was twenty-nine cents. I could pay my tuition, buy used books, scrounge supplies, and ate on about $5 a week. Pork steak, bologna, and potatoes were inexpensive.
At the end of the summer before my Junior year I bought an old 8 x 38 ft house trailer and had it moved to the Carpenter Road trailer camp, about half way between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. I had worked the previous summer as a wood model maker in the Prototype Shop of a factory in Albion. I was driving a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible that summer I’d paid my home town Chevy dealer $100 for, having run the grease rack at his garage the previous summer. The Buick would be worth a lot today if I’d kept it, but it was leaking transmission oil seriously from the Dynaflow transmission. I couldn’t afford the time or money to fix it or buy gas for the straight eight, and traded it to a fellow factory worker for the 200 cc Zundapp.
The Zundapp was more than well-thrashed. I had no idea how truly thrashed and depleted it was until I started corresponding with James Marshall at Zundapp Fool, and he asked me questions about identifying parts my bike didn’t even have. Chain guard? What chain guard?
I thought it was probably an early 1950’s vintage. It was basically black, except someone had painted the tank yellow, and labeled it “Clappy Zundappy” with a felt marker. Any other identifying logos were long gone. It had a double saddle. I can’t recall the color of the fenders, or if it even had a front fender, though I’m pretty sure it did because I wasn’t pelted with water, slush, mud, etc. I don’t know whether the rims were painted, or aluminum color. I couldn’t recall what side the exhaust/muffler was on, though I thought probably the right, as I vaguely recall tying my guitar on the left side of the rear wheel in its pasteboard case to head for school that fall. The front brake didn’t work – the bike had a functional rear brake only. I had a bead of solder making the throttle cable connection. The first day I got the bike home, before riding it to Ann Arbor, the ball end broke on the clutch cable at the lever. I got the clutch cable clamped to the lever with an old electrical binding post scrounged from my dad’s collection of nuts and bolts. I bent up some 1/4” rod to make a little luggage rack behind the saddle for my lunch box.
Photos of likely models James sent me showed a hinged rear fender, to aid rear wheel removal – the part below the hinge was missing on my Zundapp. I’m certain of that because I could do wheel stands with the bike, without setting it on the fender. What form of substitute tail light or license plate bracket it had is beyond my recall. I know the headlight and tail light worked but not what I did to activate them, nor whether or not it had a key or a toggle switch to turn the ignition on.
The kick starter had been torn off long before I bought it, causing one to have to put it in 2nd gear, turn the key or switch on, and then run and jump on side-saddle like a short-track rider while popping the clutch and then when it started, swinging your right leg over the bars and tank. This was usually doable but when there was snow and ice it tended to want to just make the rear wheel slide. It also didn’t have folding foot pegs, shifted on the wrong (right) side, and was a two-stroke. The gearshift lever was moved by your right foot but the lever actually came out of the left side of the case and ran under the engine.
While it was still warm weather, the key holding the flywheel to the crank broke and then the bike wouldn’t run. Fortunately the bike died at the trailer camp, so after I got the case off what memory tells me was the left side of the engine and found the problem, making drawings as I disassembled, lacking shop manuals like at the Chevrolet garage, then I had to find a metric Woodruff key of proper radius and thickness.
I was certain the bike was a 200 cc Zundapp, two-stroke, had a dual saddle, shifted on the right, and that I removed the left side of the engine case to access the flywheel. And I was totally wrong about the flywheel, as James’ photos proved. It had to be accessed on the right. But I haven’t totally lost my mind, yet – the shift was with the right foot.
I found the exact key I needed at India Cycle Sales, the local BSA dealer. This was owned and operated by an extremely knowledgeable and erudite Black man named Ollie, whom I assume had the given name of Oliver. Whether he was actually Indian or from the Caribbean I don’t know, but he spoke better upper-class English than the Queen herself. His shop was west of Main St. on a lower level, where an east/west street went down-hill toward the railroad tracks; my recollection is that it must have been on the south side of Liberty Street, but I can’t recall. Anyone knowing Ollie’s last name, his place of birth, the years he was in business, or the location of India Cycle Sales please email me via the Zundapp Fool. He was a kind man.
Being in A&D I always had 8 AM studio courses. I used to come in from Carpenter Rd on Packard to State St and then turn right on Monroe on the south side of the Law School to get to the A&D Bldg. There were a couple Quadies that were there every morning just to watch me make the right turn with the (non-folding) right foot peg making sparks on the pavement. But once, of course, I laid it over a little too hard and then the bike and I went skipping across Monroe St like a rock on the water, and stopped mercifully short of some Law student’s car parked on the north side of the street, and I limped around for the better part of two weeks or more.
I don’t recall many people wearing motorcycle crash helmets back in the day, though I couldn’t have afforded one in any case. I did have an Air Force surplus jet fighter pilot’s helmet with a dark green Plexiglas visor that would raise that I wore on the road. I also had a leather bomber jacket that I bought from Sears, and wore moccasin-toe crepe-sole leather lace-up 10 or 12” work boots, which were lots better ankle support if you had to put a foot on the road when moving, like in snow and ice.
One morning, through negligence or stupidity, I needed gas when leaving the trailer park on Carpenter Rd. About a quarter mile north before I turned west on Packard, there was a gas station. This particular morning, they were out of outboard oil, which I needed to mix with the gas, the Zundapp being a two-stroke. I put in straight regular and ran it on down Packard several miles to where I worked, at Stadium and Packard, and added the oil there.
Early another morning in a thick fog, I was building speed, had my chin down on the tank and my elbows tucked in, feet on the rear pegs, up to maybe 45 mph, when a bread truck pulled out right in front of me, barely moving but gaining speed. I sat up, stood on the brake, the rear, being the only one that worked, and locked it up. I didn’t really want to lay it down and slide under that bread truck, slowly accelerating. The brake was on the left, low side, as the rear wheel had slid out to the right. If I took my foot off the brake to attempt sliding it on the pavement as a third point of suspension, a poor choice of a maneuver except on ice without a metal shoe plate like short-track riders, I wouldn’t be able to brake. I was closing on the bread truck rapidly. The rear tire was not entirely bald and I slid sideways, all crossed-up, both feet still on the pegs, until I was close enough to reach out and touch (but didn’t) the back of the bread truck, which by then was accelerating at enough speed so I could get off the brake pedal and straighten the bike up. It was probably the best slide I ever executed on a motorcycle, and it happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to think much about putting a foot down; I was just scared to death at my stupidity and shook the rest of the way to campus, at a greatly reduced speed.
One day coming north in to Schuon’s to work, I had to stop in the middle of Packard for the traffic to clear to left turn into the side pump island. Willie Thomas, the wash rack guy, and Eddie, one of the three mechanics, were standing out at the wash rack door so I raised the front wheel a little with the aid of the Zundapp coming up the bounce from the low of the crowned road side to the drive ramp. The puddle of what I though was water in front of the wash rack door was actually transmission fluid and as I was planning on turning left there the rear wheel slid and then I was laying in the mess with the bike on my left leg and the kill button under the bike trapping my leg, bike still running and dripping gas on me, and Willie and Eddie are laughing like crazy.
(What original ignition switching the Zundapp had was surely long gone, from the description James the Zundapp Fool told me, but I clearly recall that an engine shut-off of some kind, a kill switch, was retrofitted into the left end of the original equipment cylindrical tool box fastened transversely under the front of the saddle – as the bike was on my leg and I couldn’t reach the damn thing!)
Joe, one of the other Schuon mechanics, owned a new blue Harley Davidson Sportster, which he couldn’t ride for 6 months as he’d lost his license for speeding tickets, so he used to let me take it sometimes. It made my Zundapp look/work/act pathetic by comparison, and was the basis for my subsequent first purchase as a school teacher, a third-hand 1964 Sportster XLCH.
The real status symbol of avant-garde Yuppie Art Student motorcycles back then, however, wasn’t actually a Harley but a BMW with the old Earles-type front fork. I can remember looking out my 4th floor window in South Quad as a Freshman, and there were two Beemers coming east up to State St. in 3 or 4 inches of new snow one morning. There were always several of these parked at the NE corner of the Architecture &Design building, by the bicycle racks, making my Zundapp look small and scruffy.
After a year, I could afford a $150 black 1955 Ford two-door, and sold the Zundapp. About the same time my maternal grandfather, worried about my riding the bike all winter in snow and ice, loaned me $1800 in my Senior year to buy a new car. A brand-new Ford half-ton was the same money as a 1964 Volkswagen, but I bought the VW, thinking it would be lots more economical.
So what year and model of Zundapp did I really have, then? I was lacking a photo to show James, and my memory was suspect, at best. My bike definitely had a down tube in front of the engine. The cylinder of the engine was not canted forward, but more nearly vertical.
I kept looking at photos at the Zundapp Fool, until I finally saw a picture of a rear suspension that I recognized. My Zundapp didn’t have a swing-arm rear suspension, either dual or mono-shock. But I found a picture showing frame tubes coming horizontally back to the rear axle from under the engine, and tubes similarly on each side coming diagonally down to the rear axle from the rear of the gas tank, like an old hard tail Harley. And I recognized the peculiarly Zundapp feature there. At the rear axle, running vertically, was what appeared to be a shock absorber or a spring housing – my bike had that! Tried describing this feature to James via email, sent the found photo, and he replied that mid-fifties 200 cc bikes had “a rudimentary dampening system on the rear axle”. Bingo!
He also told me that bikes of that era had solo saddles – mine had a dual saddle. I found photos of similar bikes showing solo saddles and rear fender pillions. He said only two 200 cc models had a single exhaust – mine definitely had that. I said, “Send the model names”. He did better than that, he sent me a photo of a 1954 or 1955 Zundapp Norma Luxus that someone had switched the solo saddle for a dual saddle, and there, for all practical purposes, was my bike! (photo)
Back in late elementary and junior high school I used to send to Butler & Smith in NYC for BMW brochures. The bikes either had dual solo saddles, or a single saddle with a rear fender “luggage” rack or a pillion seat. Those bikes with rear fender pillions were always my idea of old school way kool righteousness, and here somebody had “modernized” mine with the dual saddle, further obscuring the issue of year and model – fortunately James had the answer.
My bike differed from the photo by being missing the rear fender aft of the hinge, barely visible in the photo attached. It was also missing the chain guard and kick starter on the unseen left side, and there were no knee pads or badges on the tank, which was painted yellow.
The other possible model, according to James, the Comfort, supposedly sometimes had dual exhausts? I’m confused for real here. I did mechanical design for a living for a number of years, and am even basically familiar with wrenches, but don’t understand the necessity of a single-cylinder, two-stroke engine needing dual exhaust. Must be another “old age” thing. Senility is fast encroaching.
In retrospect, that old beat-to-death Zundapp, underpowered and cobbled together as it was, was a real dependable work horse, a John Deere of motorcycles. It wasn’t glamorous, big, or fast, but discounting the broken flywheel key that once, was totally reliable in all weather and never failed to start. The Sportster, on the other hand, if you rode 6 blocks to the Post Office and turned off, you could hear the Sunoco 290 percolating in the carburetor and would not start by kicking, cussing, or pushing until cool. If you recall where India Cycle Sales was, write back, c/o the Zundapp Fool.