Rough and Ready
Years produced: 1940-1948
Total production: 18,695
Claimed power: 26hp @ 4,000rpm
Top speed: 60mph (approx.)
Engine type: 751cc overhead valve, air-cooled opposed twin (w/cylinders lifted 5 degrees for additional ground clearance)
Weight: 420kg (926lb)
Think your BMW GS is the ultimate adventure bike? Check out the Zundapp KS750. Built for the German military, it has 10 speeds and tops out at 60mph. And nigh on indestructible, it’ll take you where mortal bikes fear to tread — and back.
Zun-what?The Zundapp company was founded in Nuremberg, Germany, during World War I by Fritz Neumeyer, and produced detonators for the German war effort. By 1919, the war was over. Germany had been defeated, and the Allied powers had forbidden the country from producing weapons of war. Neumeyer had to find some other way to make money, so he decided to go into the motorcycle business.
In 1921, Neumeyer unveiled the Z22, a “Motorrad fur Jedermann” — a motorcycle for everybody. Thanks to its simplicity and reliability, the 211cc two-stroke single was a hit, and Zundapp prospered. Singles were the company’s mainstay throughout the 1920s, but in 1933 the K series, featuring an opposed twin and shaft drive, and available in displacements from 200cc to 800cc, appeared.
As Germany prepared for what was soon to be World War II, its military decided the coming conflict would hinge on mobility, as opposed to the static trench lines of World War I. The Wehrmacht needed a light, mobile vehicle able to get through anything.
At the end of 1937, the Reich contacted Zundapp and BMW, two of the larger German motorcycle manufacturers. The German army demanded a bike that met the following criteria:
• Ability to carry a payload of 500kg (1,102.3lb), the equivalent of three fully equipped soldiers, including arms and ammo.
• It had to cruise at 80kmh (not quite 50mph) and be able to reach 95kmh (not quite 60mph) but also be able to crawl along at 3mph so as not to run over marching troops.
• The tires had to be 5.00in x 16in.
• Minimum ground clearance had to be 150mm (6in) and there had to be enough room under the fenders for snow chains.
• Cost was no object.
Zundapp and BMW both said “Jahwohl!” and hit the design boards. According to Hans-Peter Hommes, a German KS750 expert, Zundapp initially tried to modify its existing motorcycles, but soon realized that a ground-up design was needed.
In the beginning …
Two 700cc prototypes were running by 1939, and were put through extensive testing alongside the BMW R75. The Zundapp employed hydraulic brakes on all three wheels, which would end up a first on a production motorcycle, and the pressed steel girder forks had both internal springs and hydraulic units. This unique design was both strong and light. The frame, also of pressed steel, was heavily built and very rigid. The drivetrain had straight-cut gears, which, while noisy, were very reliable.
The Solex carburetor they chose (a unit also used on small cars) was protected by a Neumann centrifugal air cleaner, with a preheating element to ease starting on cold mornings at the Russian front.
The German army believed the Zundapp design was superior to the BMW R75, and asked BMW to build it under license. At first, BMW refused, but when the dust settled BMW was producing its R75, using the Zundapp designed rear-wheel drive, hydraulic brake system and wheels. Many parts were standardized between the two manufacturers to make spare parts delivery easier.
As testing of the Zundapp continued, the cylinders were enlarged to 751cc. Final approval by the Wehrmacht was confirmed in April 1940, by which time the war was well under way, and over the next several years, 18,000 Zundapp three wheelers were built. The KS750, and its BMW R75 counterpart, saw action all over Europe, and many were sent to the Eastern Front and North Africa. They served the same function for the German army that the Jeep did for the Americans.
For the first three years of production, the German military painted the bikes in different colors, depending on where they were being used. The first few were dark gray, Luftwaffe bikes were charcoal and the Afrika Korp received desert-beige three wheelers. After 1943, all Zundapps were painted dark yellow.
The Zundapp today
A major feature of both the Zundapp and the BMW is a locking differential. By moving a lever, the driver can lock the drive from the engine to both the rear wheel and the sidecar wheel. Unlocked, 70 percent of the power goes to the main drive wheel, the rest to the sidecar wheel. This feature was only to be used offroad, as it would cause the sidecar outfit to handle erratically on a paved surface.
The transmission has four forward gears. In addition, a separate lever selects low and high range, and reverse, giving 10 gears in all. A carburetor intake and muffler located high on the machine enable the Zundapp to chug merrily along even if it is up to its axles in mud.
Zundapp built KS750s until the factory was bombed by the Allies in 1944. John Landstrom, the owner of our feature bike and proprietor of Blue Moon Cycle in Norcross, Ga., says that Zundapp couldn’t get tires for the last ones made, as they were stored in a warehouse and destroyed in the same bombing raid. Hommes says that some were built after the war was over, until 1948, but for whom or what use isn’t known.
Many KS750s survived the conflict and a lot of the survivors are still running, a tribute to excellent Zundapp workmanship. Hommes is currently running offroad excursions for KS750s and BMW R75s in the Pyrenees mountains in southwest Europe between France and Spain.
Landstrom bought this KS750 in Germany five years ago, imported it, and now uses it for offroad adventures. “When I was in Europe, I drove it in the forest, in the wintertime. That is what made me decide to buy it — it was so much fun. And since it’s a military motorcycle, it doesn’t have to stay clean. Running in the dirt and muck is what this machine was designed for.” MC