By James Marshall – My passion of the beast goes back to about 1986. It all started at a BMW bike shop when my R80gs was being worked on. I heard a really strange motor running and I went out to the side of the building to see this faded-red kinda BMW looking bike with really disgusting pin stripping and other art work on the sheet metal. But the sound of that motor can only be described as WOW, What is that!!!! I want one. Sell me that one. Aw, come on! I gotta have it.
I didn’t get it. But this was my baptism into the world of Zundapp. I knew I had to have this bizarre but beautiful motorcycle. Or at least one like it. I told the shop owner I really wanted one but that I wanted a pre-war bike because they looked neater. He laughed at me and said “Pre-war! You’ll be lucky to find a 50’s model in any kind of decent shape.” So I went on about my life and forgot all about them until one day I got a call from the shop owner saying,, “I got one for you.” I said “one what?” to which he answered “an old critter. A pre-war bike.” I jumped out of my chair and said “YOU FOUND ME A ZUNDAPP”. He replied, “Well, no, not exactly. It is an R12”.
I remember asking,, “What the Hell is an R12” and he said “It is a pre-war BMW flat twin”. I bought that pile of headache but for several reasons it just wasn’t right for me so I bailed on it and began my search again for the elusive Zundapp twin.
A couple of years later this same shop owner and I were talking and I again mentioned that I was still looking for a Zundapp twin. He tells me to go into the bathroom and that there on the rack of interesting reading is an “Old Bike Journal” and in the back advertising there is a Zundapp 601 for sale. He added that it had been there for sale for some time now and was probably gone by now. So I grabbed the magazine and looked for the ad and called the guy right then. Glory be, he still had the bike and had only had one other call on it and that guy didn’t show. But I was in Texas and the bike was in Illinois. All problems are resolvable given enough time. We negotiated a price ( actually I paid what ever he wanted – $3500.00 unseen as I recall – and sent him a deposit to hold the bike. I told him I was going to a show/swap meet in Davenport, Iowa in a few months and that I’d like to pick up the bike then and pay him the difference. He agreed and I had my first of many Zundapp twins.
When I arrived in Rockport, Illinois I found the bike, that beautiful bike, in the barn. I was given the opportunity to ride it though I knew that wasn’t really necessary as I was not going to back out of the deal. I came many hundreds of miles to gaze upon the beast. It was a red 1952 solo seat bike with approximately 17,000 miles on the odometer. It ran, had a strong motor and didn’t leak. OH, MOTO NIRVANA! It’s the red bike in this photo.
After this acquisition all things Zundapp just sort of dominoed in my direction. First an old friend of mine from Arkansas, originally from Czechoslovakia, told me of his 1953 601Sp that he had and might consider selling. I bought it. Then the editor of the DMR told me of ” The Great Green Elephant Graveyard ” out in Tennessee that this guy wanted to sell for next to nothing. I bought it, all of it. I believe there were five 601s, all disassembled, including a 1956 EL though it had some missing parts. I considered keeping the EL but convinced myself that I’d never be able to find parts for such a rare bike and sold it to a fella on the west coast. He showed up at my door three days after I called him with a wad of cash in his pocket and paid me my asking price without even blinking an eye. Even though I sold that one bike for the same price that I had paid for the entire lot of disassembled bikes I knew at that moment that I had just dropped the ball and way under-priced my incomplete bike. Live and learn.
A year later I came across another ad for a 1957 KS601Sp down San Antonio way. Even though the seat had been recovered the bike was beautiful and very clean and ran truly remarkably. I still have it though it is in storage. I sold off parts from the graveyard and funded my purchase of a KS600 from an e-bay seller. It is a beautiful bike, not perfect but still great. I understand it was restored in Poland and brought over by a BMW dealer in Georgia. It is a KS600 in every way, except that the frame/motor numbers say that the bike is a K800.
Along about this same time I purchased a 1941 BMW R12 a friend was selling because of a divorce. This bike has it’s own strange tale that I’ll go into somewhere later. Following that R12 came another one from Pennsylvania on the cheap then things sort of got quite for a while.
One day while reading the guest entries on the ZOCI page I answered an inquiry about the possible sale of a Zundapp from 1956 model unknown. Found out the bike was an Elastic 601 and though I paid probably more than I could have gotten it for I wanted it and was afraid that if I offered less someone else would have beaten me out of it. It came with a Steib S500 that suffered a sever case of road cancer. That bike is now restored and immaculate.
On another excursion to Davenport I sold the red 601 and bought a pretty ratty looking 1941 KS600. Ratty is really a misnomer as the bike had spent several years, probably since WWII, in Mother Russia. It is currently pulled apart and undergoing restoration efforts. Time is my number 1 enemy here. Can’t seem to find enough time to work on stuff or find enough room to do the work.
One day I got a phone call from a fella in East Texas telling me of another bone yard that had what appeared to be three or four Zundapps including a swing arm model he thought, all for a thousand bucks. Seems there was a trials bike that he wanted but the seller wouldn’t sell it without selling all of it together. He got his trials bike and I got my 1957 601 Elastic, and three other 601 Sp models.
By now I’ve run out of room at home and have rented multiple rental spaces to hold all this stuff. It is expensive but I just keep telling myself that it will pay for itself down the road. Well I believe it, that is the first hurdle. I met a fella in Colorado at a AMCA swap meet who told me that he had a 500cc Zundapp and that he might want to sell it. But I’d have to come get it. I did and it turned out to be a 1937 KS500 twin carb model that is mostly complete and very restorable.
A friend of mine in Houston had a 1957 601 EL for several years but would never sell it because he had always wanted a 601 and this was it. But lately he was talking kind of crazy saying that since he could not find the parts for the EL to make it road worthy he was going to “modify it” (butcher it is my term ). I convinced him to trade me the EL for my 1953 601Sp with an extra ( like gold bullion ) crank shaft and rods. I now have the EL and it is complete. There is yet another Zundapp bone yard and when I find a place to put it I will attempt to acquire it too. Such is the addiction.
Recently I was talking with an editor of a vintage BMW publication in the northeast about parts I needed for my R12 and about bikes in general when I told him about my Zundapp fetish. So he proceeded to tell me of a friend of his that had told him of his on again/off again desire to sell his 1938 K800. I now own that K800 . This compulsion has got to stop but every time I say I’m going to sell something I find that I just can’t seem to bring myself to cut the umbilical cord. Perhaps I can find an outlet thru this web site. Or perhaps I’ll just find more opportunities to buy more bikes.
Fortunately for me Zundapps’ obscurity in America has made buying these old steeds affordable. I find that I can buy two or three Zundapps for what one old Harley, or Indian, or Excelsior would run me. And the Zundapps are just as much fun to work on and show. In fact put a Zundapp with a bunch of Harleys of the same period and everyone gathers around the Zundapp. Well, there’s no fool like a Zundapp fool.
Email James Marshall at Still.email@example.com