This Czech brand was very important for the motorcycle's history, because the technical characteristcs of these models influenced the developement of the Japanese cross motorcycles. The CZ realized also interesting GP bikes, but the cross was the most important activity, with famous drivers that driven these Czech off-roads: Joel Robert, Roger De Coster, Gaston Rahier and others. The CZ, like the Jawa, was another victim of the fall of the communist regimes, and today it does not produces motorcycles.
The CZ was founded in the city of Strakonice, in the 1919, as factory of weapons: CZ means "Ceska Zbrojowka" (Czechoslovakian Weapon Factory). In the 1932, the CZ produces the first bike. It's a small motorcycles of 76 cc, a sort of motorized bicycle, called with the curious name "Kaktus" (in the first pic, above), because the shape of the cylinder recalls the same shape of a cactus! This bike, after some year, was increased to 100 cc., with a newer frame (second pic). The factory developed progressively more finished and elegant bikes, as the beautiful "250 Touring" in the third pic (1937). After a stop caused by the war, the CZ resumes the motorcycle production in the 1948, with a simple 125 cc. two-stroke (fourth pic, above), very similar (like others 125 of the age, comprised the BSA "Bantam") to the DKW 125 RT, and partially derived from the 98 cc. pre-war.
It's interesting to note that, in the 1938-40 (till the beginning of the war), the CZ produced also a beautiful 500 twin-cylinder two-strokes (first and second pics above), 15 hp for 115 km/h, realized also in a version for the Vatican's escort (third and fourth pics)! Note the white paint with golden borders; even mechanical parts, as suspension springs and exhausts, are golden plated! It's incredible that, after this sort of limousine on two wheels, the normal road production of the Czech was composed by cheap motorcycles "for the people"....
In the '50s, the CZ brand was united with the Jawa: this influenced the following production of the two brands, often very similar. However, there was still space for some original realization: in the first and second pics above, the "Cezeta 175-Typ 502" scooter, with a personal look and particular solutions (for example, the tank placed over the front wheel, with a useful luggage rack). The rest of production was composed by traditional small motorcycles, like the CZ 175 of the 1965 (third pic), classic two-stroke with usual technical solutions. From these simple bikes, the early off-road motorcycles were obtained, as the CZ 150 for the "Six Days" race of the 1955 (won), equipped even with a transfer-reducer gearbox, 4+4 speed (almost like an off-road car!), driven by a lever on the crankcase.
During the '60s and '70s, the CZ's production was substantially based on two models: the 125/175 single-cylinder (in the first, second, third and fourth pics above, the road and "Trail" versions, also shown in a curious advertising of the 1968, in full "hippy" style!), derived from the early '50-'60s models, and the 250 twin-cylinder (fifth and sixth pics), conceptually similar to the Jawa 350. These bikes were quite simple and cheap, realized with the same concept of simplicity and robustness of the motocross models, although with a very different destination.
The road-racing bikes
Although the Soviet-type plan penalized the normal production, the CZ road-racing bikes were always at the technological level of the Western motorcycles, sometime with very advanced realizations (although inspired to Western motorcycles). In 1954, the CZ planned a 125 GP bike (called "Typ-852", first, second and third pics), equipped with DOHC valve-timing, driven by shaft and conic gears, 15 hp. It was the beginning of a series of GP motorcycles characterized by this type of valve-timing. In the fourth and fifth pics, instead, the 125 GP of the 1959-60, totally different, with a shaft that drives only the exhaust camshaft (the inlet camshaft is driven by the exhaust camshaft through another little shaft with conic gears; this system is the same of the Porsche Carrrera RS of the period!): 20 hp/13.000 rpm, weight 83 kg.
In the first and second pics above, the 125 GP single-cylinder of the 1963, and, in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth pics, the 125 twin of the 1965: both were equipped with the same system of valve timing, with a shaft to the exhaust camshaft, and another shaft between the exhuast and inlet camshafts. The frame of the 125 twin, had a quite modern design for its age. These bikes were technically absolutely not bad in comparison with the 125 GP bikes from Italy and Japan!
The CZ realized also some 250-350 single-cylinder GP bikes. The bike in the first and second pics is a 350 of the 1955, DOHC with shaft and conic gears, separate gearbox, and with several components realized in magnesium, 30 hp for 190 km/h. In the third, fourth and fifth pics, instead, a 250 of the 1956 (called "Typ 853"), shown in differents versions (with aerodynamic and normal fairing), initially equipped with a swingarm front suspension, subsequently with a telescopic fork. These bikes, although technically refined, were rarely very competitive with "monsters" as MV Agusta, Gilera and Mondial, but obtained, several times, good placements in the international races.
In the 1969, the CZ launched a real technical wonder: the 350 "Typ-860" GP (six pics above), with V-four engine, developed by the engineer Frantisek Pudil since 1967. This beautiful and advanced bike, with double head camshaft, 16 valves (the intake valves in Titanium), 8-speeds gearbox, Ceriani fork and Dell'Orto SSI carburettors, had a power of 63 hp/16.000 rpm (max speed 240 km/h). Unfortunately, the development of this bike was penalized by the heavy Czechoslovakian political crisis. Initially, the engine was equipped with a system of injection produced by the english brand Lucas, but the new pro-Soviet nomenklatura forbidden the shipment of the CZ engine in England! Although these hard difficulties, the 350 V4 obtained several good results: the best was made in 1971, at the Czeckoslovakian Grand Prix when Bohumil Stasa arrived second in the wheels of Jarno Saarinen on his 350cc twin Yamaha. It is in 1972 that it misses the victory at the Austrian Grand Prix. Just few laps before the finish, the CZ was leading in front of Giacomo Agostini when it had to retire...In the 1972, the CZ abandoned the GP competitions to concentrate the efforts in the motocross, less expensive.
The motocross bikes
The CZ's effort in the motocross given to the Czech factory much more results than the road-racing competitions. The motocross bikes of the '60s, like the following versions, had simple but reliable technical features: two-stroke engine with a good torque, and some technical innovation (the following CZ models were the first motocross bikes with the "expansion" exhaust, instead of the traditional exhaust with straight tubes). With these bikes, the Czech factory won the World Championships (250 cc) already in the 1964, with Joel Robert; the same rider won also in the 1968 and 1969. Other World Champions with CZ bikes were Viktor Arbekov in the 1965 (250 cc), and Paul Friedrichs in the '66, '67 and '68 (500 cc). In the first, second and third pics above, there is a 250 of the 1966, with the drawings of the simple but reliable two-stroke engine with 26 hp, four-speed gearbox. The exhaust was still with two tubes, to mitigate the effects of the distortion of the cylinder. In the fourth and fifth pic, the 250 of the 1971, with fiberglass fuel tank and single expansion exhaust (instead of the two tubes).
During the time, the CZ motocross bikes were improved, keeping the original features of extreme essentiality and reliability: In the first, second and third pics, some 250 and 400 cc. of the mid-'70s, with the typical aluminium tank with square shape (fixed by a leather strap). But the crisis of the Communist economies involved, since the late '70s, also the CZ: the 400 cc. models in the fourth and fifth pics seems identical, but the first is of the 1977, and the second of the 1984! Therefore, during the '80s the CZ serial motocross, from the status of very competitive bikes, became "fossils" in comparison with the Japanese bikes. A real pity!
In the 1976, also a 250/500 four-stroke prototype (four pics above) was realized: on a crankcase derived from the two-stroke models, a cylinder equipped with an OHC driven by shaft and conic gears was fitted (almost like the early Husqvarna four-strokes, strictly derived from the two-stroke versions!). There were also new experimental shock absorbers, working with air, designed by the CZ engineers; unfortunately, this bike never raced.
The competition of the Japanese factories, during the second half of the '70s, became very hard for the CZ, and the most important drivers abandoned the Czech factory for the Japanese teams. However, the CZ "factory" bikes, differently from the serial motocross models, were technically at the level of the competitors, although handmade in an handful of exemplars: in the first, second and third pics above (taken from www.allbikes.wz.cz), there is a "Typ 511" 125 of the 1982, with 34 hp, and, in the fourth and fifth pics, there is the "Typ 981" 250 cc, with 42 hp. Both were equipped with new, compact and modern liquid cooled units with Mikuni carburettor, and with a rear monoshock suspension, Honda Pro-Link style. But it was too late: the CZ team officially partecipated to the Motocross World Championship till the 1982, then there was the definitive retire.
However, in the 1989, there was an attempt to return to the scene after several years of silence, with two new bikes: the "Typ 519" 125 cc (first, second and third pics) and the "Typ 520" 250 cc (fourth and fifth pics), both equipped with new liquid-cooled units with power valve on the exhaust. But also these bikes, at the moment of the launch, were already behind the Japanese realizations: the 125 was produced in a small series, an the 250 remained as prototype. These two bikes were the last CZ motocross models, last "flags" of the great tradition of the Czech factory in this field.
The decline and the end of the motorcycle production
During the '80s, the production of serial road motorcycles became quite outdated. The 250 twin cylinder (first pic above) was evolved in a new 350 cc. version (second and third pics), but it was substantially unchanged. There were, between the '70s and '80s, also attempts to produce new four-strokes engines: in the fourth and fifth pics (from the book "Motocykly ČZ" of Miroslav Gomola, published for kind permission of AGM-Gomola Press, www.agm-press.cz; all rights reserved), there are a 350 twin cylinder and a 250 single cylinder, quite modern for that period. Unfortunately, these interesting bikes remained as prototypes.
In the 1991, an agreement with the Cagiva was signed, in order to produce new CZ and Jawa motorcycles. This agreement was the opportunity, for the CZ, to relaunch a project never entered in production before: a 180-200 cc. four-stroke, SOHC, temporarily fitted on a Cagiva "Blues" (little chopper-bike, 125 two-stroke, produced by the Italian factory). In the first, second and third pics above, three bikes equipped by this engine: the Cagiva-based prototype, the CZ 180 "Typ 487.6" (with a look similar to the 180 two-stroke), and another prototype called with a strange denomination: "Bagpiper 180", equipped with monoshock suspension. All these bikes remained as prototypes, like the prototype in the fourth pic, with a 400 cc. single-cylinder engine, four valves (this engine was the same of other prototypes realized by the Jawa).
The old 125/175 cc. two-strokes was updated, but it was a project born in the '60s! In the first and second pics above, the last version (CZ "180" of the early '90s), updated with the electric starter and a new look. This bike was realized also in an enduro version (third pic). Since the 1994, the CZ 180 was produced still for a very short period (probably till the 1996) by the "Moto Yuropa" company, woth the "Roland" brand. The same factory realized also the 125 four-strokes enduro in the fourth pic, remained as prototype.
In the meantime, after the agreement with Cagiva, a new bike was produced by CZ: the Cagiva "Roadster 521" (first pic), a cheap 125 cc cruiser. This bike, although produced in the Czech Republic, was totally a Cagiva, for project (the engine was not a CZ unit, but a Cagiva engine with a simpler equipment) and brand; only some component, as the brakes, were of Czech origin. But this bike, sold in Italy, was a flop: too cheap and poor for the Italian market (the air-cooled engine was considered as a return to the past!). Moreover, also a 200 cc.version (second pic), equipped with the CZ four-stroke mono (already fitted on the "Blues" prototype) was launched, but never produced. In the third and fourth pics, another bike, not produced by the CZ, but with a CZ engine: the Pentamoto "Torete 125" (the "Pentamoto" was a new factory created with the funds of the USA for the developement in the former Communist countries), with the modern CZ liquid-cooled engine derived from the "Typ 519" motocross (but with a power reduced to 20 hp). But also the production of this bike was a failure.
The agreement with Cagiva failed in the 1997, caused by the hard financial crisis of the Italian brand. The CZ's motorcycle production was definitively stopped for the production of gearboxes for the Skoda Felicia. The CZ motorcycles will remain in the history as an example of competitivity with the Western bikes in the competitions, and as forerunners of the Japanese brands in the motocross technology...it's possible to say that there is a bit of CZ on all the Japanese motocross bikes!
Some pic taken from Czowner , Cr High Performance ,Classicbikes.it , Offroad with Ronnie , Motociclismo, Motopaedia , Allbikes.wz.cz/ ,Pierre-gabriele.com , Bikez.com , Mz-b.de , Agm-press.cz , http://sweb.cz/cz-motokros/ , Cz 350 homepage