The MZ (Motorrader Zschopau), brand born in the ex-DDR, is probably the most famous German motorcycle factory after the BMW. But, differently from the Bavarian brand, the MZ was, until some time ago, a producer of cheap and smoky nikes, a sort of "Trabant of the motorcycles" (in spite of the German "valkyrie" in the photo above)! However, the last models are very modern, and now there are nothing in common with the old two-stroke models (although the early racing models of the '50s were very advanced for the period). Part of the pics are taken from http://www.mztech.fsnet.co.uk/ , mz.ai3d.de, and http://home.t-online.de/home/gvongehr/index.htm , beautiful sites that i suggest.
The beginnings and the racing bikes
The IFA-MZ borns in the 1946 from the ex-DKW factory, placed under the control of the Soviet army (from the DKW was born also the automotive factory Trabant); in fact, the early models produced with the MZ brand were simply pre-war DKW. In the first, second and third pics, we can see the "RT 125", produced previously with the DKW brand, and copied by several factories in all the world (even by the Japaneses!). The "RT 125" has the same features of the DKW model, with a simple and reliable two stroke engine: 6,5 hp, 85 km/h. Also an original bike with two-stroke, flat-twin engine, was produced (MZ "BK 350", fourth pics); it has also the final shaft transmission.
After these pre-war models, starts up the production of the first models totally engineered by the MZ. The "ES 250" of the 1956 (first, second, third and fourth pics above, with the beautiful sidecar version), obtains a good success in Germany as touring bike (like a modern BMW)! In fact, all the components of this bike were designed for the touring use, with several niches under the seat, in the sides and even in the rear mudguard. Moreover, the suspensions were soft, and the construction well-executed (differently from the '70s and '80s models); also the design of the bike, although it's enough "heavy", has a certain "german" fashion. The MZ engines were used also by other makes, for example by the Italjet: in the fifth pic, the Italemmezeta (first denomination of the Italian factory) "Sport Junior 125" of the 1961, 14 hp, 125 km/h.
From the "ES 250" (restyled and realized in a 175 cc version during the '60's and '70s), also a Wankel prototype was obtained: the "KKM 350" (1965, first pic, above), single-rotor, air cooled, 24 hp and 140 km/h. This bike was preceded by the "KKM 175-W" (1963, second and third pics), always single-rotor, but liquid cooled, with the longitudinal crankshaft and the final shaft drive (the frame was the same of the "BK 350" flat-twin). These bikes were the first Wankel motorcycles in the history, anticipating the Norton, Suzuki, Yamaha, Hercules and Van Veen realizations of the '70. Anyway, these bikes never entered in production.
Between the '50s and '60s, the MZ factory launch the challenge in the GP competitions, with revolutionary two-stroke engines, equipped with rotating-disk induction valve. The MZ was the first factory to develope this system, that improves the performances of the engine at the high regimes. To understand the rilevance of this solution, we can see the recent successes of Aprilia, that won several GP with an engine equipped with rotating disk valve. Above (four pics), the most famous GP bike produced by MZ: the "RE 250", in-line twin cylinder, with over 50 hp. This bike won several GP, beating the best Western realizations with 4 stroke engines.
In the first pic above, another image of the "RE 250". The same rotary-valve technology, was used also in the "RE 125" (1956, second pic, with a total fairing, 16 hp and 155 km/h). Unfortunately, in the 1961, the German driver Ernst Degner (third pic, above, on a "RE 125" without fairing) escapes from the DDR, with the wife, the son...and the MZ's secrets, quickly used by the Suzuki team (and, with Degner, the Suzuki obtained the early success in the World Championship). In the fourth and fifth pics above, the MZ "RZ 250" of the early '70s (58 hp), and the "RZ 250/2" (1975, 62 hp, 115 kg, 240 km/h), the last GP bike realized by the Zschopau's factory, last expressions of an advanced two-stroke technical tradition (the MZ is back to the GP competitions over 20 years after, in the 1998).
Hovewer, the MZ continues the effort in the Enduro European Championships, with a very good success, until the end of the '80s. Above, the "ES 300 Six Days" (1963), a group of "504 Enduro" 1979, two pics of the "250 GE" of the early '80.
The MZ's effort in the enduro competitions was stopped in the late '80s, and the bikes in the three pics above are of that period. In the first and second pics, the 250 of the 1986, air cooled: this bike was owned by the German driver Harald Stürm. In the third pic, instead, another 250 of the 1988 (with the liquid cooled engine and the upside-down fork, modern like a Western bike).
But the competitions bikes were reserved to the national teams, and handmade in a very little number of units. In fact, the normal serial production begins to become a little outdated (except for some model), during the '70s: the "ES 175/250", born in the '50s, remains in production until the 1977 without changes. The following versions are not very different: above (first pic), the "TS 125", produced between 1973 and 1985. In the second pic, instead, the "ETS 250 Trophy Sport" (1970), with a pleasant sporty look and 19 hp (130 km/h). In the third pic, two cops on MZ "TS" bikes.
The years '80s and the fall of the Berlin Wall
In the 1981, the "ETZ" serie (three pics above) was launched, with 125, 150, 250 and 300 cc. displacements. Equipped with front disk brake, automatic oil mixer, electronic ignition, 5-speed gearbox and a new cylinder, these bikes were still enough modern in the early '80s, with a very essential and rational layout (the frame was mono-tubular, with rubber support to eliminate the vibrations of the engine), and not too far from the Western bikes of the same category. But the rapid developement of the Western two-stroke engines, maked these bikes outdated already after some year.
Anyway, the "ETZ" (in the first and second pics, the sidecar version, and the version for the DDR cops, that were sadly known, and called "vopos") obtained a good success also in the Western countries, especially in France, where the cheap little-displacement road bikes are very diffused (the little MZ "TS" and "ETZ" 125 were the first bike of several French "motard"!). During the late '80s, also the "ETZ 500" (third pic) was launched, with a single-cylinder Rotax engine (four stroke, SOHC, 4V). This version was the basis for the first MZ's realizations of the post-communist age. The MZ two-strokes bikes were assembled even in Brazil (!): in the fourth pic (taken from www.motosantigas.com.br ), the MZ-FBM "250 RSJ", produced in the 1986 by the FBM (Fabrica Brasileira de Motos), but with a new fiberglass coachwork, more modern than the German "ETZ" model! The factory, previously capable of 80.000 bikes per year, was a "dinosaur", enormous and outdated. In the fifth pic, another MZ-based bike realized by the Italian brand Italjet: the "Angel 125", launched at the Motor Show in Bologna in the 1988, and based on may components of the "ETZ" (engine, suspensions, brakes, and many other components; the frame was instead different, with duplex sub-frame). This bike never was produced in series, because the image of the MZ bikes in Italy was already outdated, forcing Italjet to stop the project.
In the 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall causes (as several Eastern factories) the crisis of the MZ factory, that survives only with the regional allocations of the Saxe's governement. Therefore, the brand was bought in the 1992 by Peter Karel-Kouros: a new plant, smaller than the previous (10.000 bikes per year) but very modern, was builted in Zschopau, and the name became "MuZ" (Motorrader und Zweirader Werke, that means "Motorcycles and Sidecars Factory). Also the brand was redesigned (third pic), inspired to the DKW's brand. The first model of the new management, was the "Saxon Tour" series, based on the old "ETZ" series: above (first and second pics), the 500 four-stroke version, and a group of two-stroke versions (the white bike is the 125, called "Saxon Sportstar"). In the third and fourth pics, the pleasant classic-naked "Silver Star", and the "Saxon Country" enduro, both based on the old Rotax-powered "ETZ 500". The "Silver Star" (available also with sidecar, as the previous two-stroke models) was enough pleasant, but it was'nt enough to resolve the crisis.
In the 1992, a totally new bike was launched: the "Skorpion" (two pics above), an aggressive and essential single-cylinder bike, with several interesting features, as the frame composed with two steel tubes, with function of oil tank, united to the support of the rear suspension with a special glue, used in the aeronautical industry. The bike was designed by the British "Seymour-Powell" company; also the project of the frame was British, realized by Tigcraft. The engine was the same Rotax SOHC air-cooled of the "Saxon Tour", but 600 cc, boosted up to 48 hp (the prototype had a 500 cc engine).
Unfortunately, the "Skorpion" entered in production only in the 1995 (first pic above, yellow bike), with a bad design of the saddle and of the exhaust system, and without the innovative features of the prototype (a traditional oil tank in plastic, placed under the seat, was introduced). Moreover, the engine was Japanese (Yamaha XTZ 660), heavier and slower than the classic Rotax produced in Austria; the rear arm was realized in steel (not alloy as on the prototype), and even the ugly rear light of the old ETZ model was fitten! Result: the bike, that previously positively surprised the visitors of the Birmingham Show '92, was a total failure, also for some accident caused by the breaking of the under-seat oil tank (with the oil on the rear wheel, and obvious loss of control on the bike). Also the naked version was launched, in the second pic, above.
Although the "Skorpion" was a "flop", also some prototypes was launched (both designed by Seymour-Powell), between the '95 and '96: above (first and second pics), the beautiful "Kobra", a sporty bike with Yamaha TDM 850 engine (twin cylinder, liquid cooled, DOHC 10 valves), and, in the third pic, the less beautiful "Bantam" 125", inspired to the British BSA model (produced during the years '40s) with the same name. This little bike was equipped with an outdated Honda "CG 125" engine (not SOHC, but with the camshaft into the crankcase!), and the intention of the MZ management was even to relaunch the BSA brand with this ugly bike! Both these bikes never entered in production: a shame for the "Kobra", but not for the "Bantam"!
The financial situation falls again, and there was even a possibility to sell the MZ plant to the Korean Samsung, to produce TV-color! But the German brand was bought by the Malaysian "Hong Leong" company, and two new bikes (better than the previous "lemons") were launched in the 1997 (above): the "supermotard" "Mastiff", and the "Baghira" enduro, both with an original look, and with the same Yamaha 660 engine, 50 hp, used also on the "Skorpion". In the meantime, the official name became "MZ" again (not more "MuZ").
The "Skorpion" was improved, and new version were launched: above, the "Skorpion Traveller" (first pic), with side bags and total fairing (a little excessive for a single-cylinder...); in the second pic, the "Replica" version (always too "equipped", considering the simple and "placid" engine). However, from the "Skorpion Replica", also interesting and aggressive "Special" were obtained, as the bike in the third pic, with a boosted 700 cc. engine.
Recently, the MZ is back to the GP competitions, partecipating even to the 500 cc. category! After the first season without success (first pic above), in the 1999 the Zschopau's factory obtained, for several times, the pole-position and good placements (second and third pics). The engine was a four-cylinder, obviously two-stroke, derivated from a previous project of the "Swissauto" company. Unfortunately, the GP program was stopped, but a new four-stroke bike for the new GP1 class was launched in the 2002 (fourth and fifth pics): it has a V4, 990 cc, pneumatic valves, the power is declared around 220 hp/17300 rpm. Very good, although the competitors are Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki...
About the serial production, the MZ is recently back to the production of totally-German bikes, with engines realized by the Zschopau's factory. In the 1999, the new "RT 125" was launched (with a name inspired to the famous two-stroke bike of the '40s; first pic, above). It'a totally MZ-engineered bike, with a new four-stroke, single cylinder, liquid cooled, DOHC-4V, very advanced in the 125 cc.category. This bike is intended especially for the German and French markets, where the cheap and low-priced 125 cc. obtains a very good success. From this bike, also an Enduro version (called "SX 125", second pic, above) was obtained: it has a look similar to the KTM.
The latest MZ's model, is an interesting 1000 cc.motorcycle, the first high-displacement bike in the MZ's history. It's an in-line twin cylinder, DOHC 8V, 6-speed gearbox, with tubular frame and a modern and "German" design. This sport-touring motorcycle -called "1000 S", but i hope that a better name will be choosen...- was launched at the "Intermot 2000" in Munchen, and could be the first model of a series of new models (also a Superbike version). Therefore, the MZ seems to be launched into the future, leaving the past fame of producer of cheap bikes.
And the old and smoky two-stroke models? The old "ETZ" series is now produced in Turkey by the "Kanuni-MZ", and was improved in the construction: even the Turkish makes a product better than the ex-DDR, offering a 2-years (or 50.000 km) warranty! These bikes are even imported in some European country (Germany, France, and others), for the nostalgic of the old East-German bikes. Ok, these two-stroke engines are outdated and polluting...but very good for an old and romantic Eastern "wheelbarrow"!
Some pic taken from http://www.mztech.fsnet.co.uk/ , mz.ai3d.de, and http://home.t-online.de/home/gvongehr/index.htm