MZ. Motorradwerk Zschopau. 1963.

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7. Motorradwerk Zschopau

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The Zschopau works was one of the oldest motorcycle factories in the world; it had produced motorcycles since 1922.

In 1906, Jorgen Skefte Rasmussen bought an empty cloth factory in Zschopau and started bicycle production. In 1917 Rasmussen invented the steam-powered car (Dampf Kraft Wagen) also known by its trademark DKW, they then produced a small two-stroke engine in 1919 to power assist their bicycles, then in 1922 they started producing their own two-stroke motorcycles. 

By 1929, 65,000 motorcycles had left the Zschopau factory, and DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. During the world economic crises of 1929, four local car manufacturers under the leadership of Rasmussen’s DKW, founded Auto Union, nowadays known as Audi AG.

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The MZ factory

The DKW RT 125cc motorcycle was introduced in 1939, but this wasn’t the only model, the DKW 500cc was used by the German Army in World War II, it was much less common than the 125cc, 250cc and 350cc models. Particularly the 125cc and 350cc models which were produced in large numbers.

The DKW was the only 500cc two-stroke motorcycle used by the German Wehrmacht; the engine unit was a parallel twin with 64-mm x 76-mm dimensions for its slightly inclined cylinders.

A single carburetor at the rear supplied both cylinders and each had its own low-slung exhaust system.

The four-speed gearbox was built into the crankcase and provided the rider with the option of gear change by foot or the more traditional and common hand unit positioned on the right side of the fuel tank.

The frame was constructed from channel section steel pressings with plunger rear suspension. The front forks were the same blade girder design as the smaller DKW motorcycles. A passenger seat was sometimes added and DKW 500’s were also built with sidecars.

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DKW 500cc two-stroke

In 1948, the company was named IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau), as it fell under state control, it was renamed MZ in 1956.

This is how Walter Kaaden came to work for MZ as their racing engineer and department manager. MZ engines with his expertise had become nearly unbeatable, and in 1961 they were on the verge of winning the World Championships, in the 125cc class, against Soichiro Honda’s four-stroke engines, quite an amazing achievement.

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