The Condor A350
Swiss mystery machine
Utilitarian to its core, the Condor is a basic machine that any soldier could learn to repair.
Photo by Andy Saunders
“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” — Orson Welles as Harry Lime, “The Third Man” 1949
OK, Orson, the Swiss never produced cuckoo clocks. But they did a nice line in music boxes, produced in small villages in the mountains of northern Switzerland, where the motorcycle shown in these pages was also assembled. A Swiss motorcycle? Not only that, a Swiss army motorcycle called the Condor A350.
The engine is unmistakably Italian. (Or is it? We’ll come to that later.) The frame, tank and seat are Swiss made, the electrics are a mixture of Italian, German and Spanish components, while wheels, brakes and suspension are also Italian. With such a mélange of a motorcycle, you won’t be surprised to learn that the manual comes in three languages, none of which is English.
From bicycles to motorcycles
Our story begins in the small village of Courfaivre in the Jura Mountains of northern Switzerland, the watch-making center of the country, where the firm of Cycles Condor sought to fulfill a government demand for army motorcycles, which had to be made in Switzerland.
Condor began producing bicycles for the Swiss army in 1904, and it continued to produce the same heavyweight military bicycle, with a few improvements, right up to 1993 when a modern mountain bike finally replaced it. The company’s motorcycle-producing history is a little more complicated.
Condor started selling motorcycles in the early 1900s. Many early models used engines and transmissions bought from other manufacturers like Motosache and Villiers. During World War II, the Swiss army coveted the German army’s Zundapp- and BMW-powered sidecar outfits, so Condor set out to design its own shaft-drive army boxer, the A580.
Built to withstand military use and abuse, it was tough but, with cast iron cylinders and side-valve heads, was too heavy for anyone else, and also too expensive. While the A580 and its sidecar-dragging brother, the A750, were marketed to the public in Switzerland, they cost twice as much as comparable BMW models. Understandably, civilian sales were slow, but the army bought plenty: its riders couldn’t complain.
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