Until the Vespa and Lambretta, most motorcycles were essentially heavyweight bicycles with an engine mounted in the middle of the frame. While perhaps the optimal arrangement from an engineering standpoint (the basic concept remains unchanged to this day), it left something to be desired in ergonomic terms. The rider was required to straddle the machine, something that, in some religiously conservative countries, could be considered immodest, especially for women. As late as the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon to see female scooter passengers in rural Italy riding sidesaddle. On a scooter, riders could keep their knees together.
What scooters did offer was weather protection, isolation from the noisy and smelly engine, and thus the ability to ride around in a cashmere sweater (just like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) rather than a grubby waxed cotton jacket. Not surprisingly, then, scooters were a big hit with fashion-conscious European teens, and they created a whole new market of “non-motorcyclist” riders. Scooters were wildly successful in the 1950s—every European motorcycle manufacturer had to make one, or risk going bust.
Not surprising, then, that the venerable firm of Zündapp-Werke AG (condensed from Zünder und Apparetebau) designed a new scooter to be built in its Nurnberg factory. The end result was more sophisticated than most.
ZUNDAPP HAD BEEN BUILDING MOTORCYCLES SINCE 1917.
Although small commuter bikes were its bread and butter, the company also created the KS750 “desert elephant” 750cc OHV flat Twin, reverse-geared, two-wheel-drive sidecar outfits that gained so much respect from combatants on both sides in WWII. Its first scooter, the Bella arrived in 1953, and in styling terms owed much to the pre-existing Moto Parilla Levrier, down to the shape of the swooping side panels and the triangular engine inspection hatch.
Powering the Bella was a 7.3-hp 147cc two-stroke single of 57 by 58mm with a cast iron barrel and alloy head. The engine drove through a gear primary to a four-speed foot-change transmission with fully enclosed chain final drive, which also formed the single-sided rear swingarm. Shifting was by means of a pair of foot pedals (front for down, rear for up) mounted on the right of the footboards.
For such a sophisticated machine, engine cooling was somewhat haphazard. While on the move, air flowed through a vent in the front of the bodywork emerging at the back and through louvred side panels. But while stationary, the engine relied on the “Thermic Blast” cooling principle: the hot cylinder head was supposed to create convection currents drawing cool air in through the louvres. It may have worked in Nurnberg, but likely not in a Toronto heatwave. Fan cooling, as most other scooter makers used, would have been a better idea.
The Bella’s pressed steel bodywork was attached to a steel tube frame with a single main spine and twin tubes running over the engine unit. At the front was a telescopic fork with a spring/damper unit fitted on one side only. The solid alloy 12-inch wheels used 3.50-section tires, giving the Bella considerably more centrifugal inertia and (therefore) directional stability than most contemporary scooters, while six-inch drum brakes front and rear provided stopping power. A single seat was standard equipment, though a similar passenger perch could be ordered, and a rear carrier with spare wheel was also available.
The result was a fairly hefty machine of close to 350 lbs. wet, and the 150cc Bella would struggle to get to 50 mph. They were well enough regarded, though, for the factory to have built around 20,000 between 1953-55. But the Bella would certainly have benefited from more power, and the factory obliged, introducing a 197cc version (64 by 62mm), the R201, producing 10 hp.
From 1954 on, the Bella was refined and improved with an Earles-type front fork (but still with the sole spring unit), Denfield dual seat, and electric starting With hubris that not even the big four Japanese makers could muster, Zundapp dispensed with the kickstarter as soon as the electric leg arrived. (Ten years after its introduction, the Honda 750 still had an “emergency” kickstarter.) Thus the final R204, produced from 1959 onward in Zundapp’s new factory in Munchen, offered all these features plus an uprated 12-hp engine. It remained in this form until production ceased in 1964.
CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY FOR SURREY, BC’S ROY SCHATZ IN 2005. The huge wooden crate that arrived from Germany was stamped simply, “Roy Schatz, Canada.” Inside was a Zundapp Bella R204 model complete with matching Campy single-wheel trailer manufactured in 1961 by IWL (IndustrieWerke Ludwigsfelde, a (then) East German maker of scooters and trailers.
Schatz’s R204 was built in 1959, not long after Zundapp had abandoned building “heavy” motorcycles and closed its Nurnberg factory. The R204 was essentially the last type of Bella produced, with the more powerful 12hp engine, Earles front fork and electric start. The Bella was one of the most powerful scooters of its day, matching the twin-cylinder Triumph Tigress/BSA Sunbeam: it would be the middle of the following decade before Vespa or Lambretta matched the Zundapp’s output.
Roy Schatz’s isn’t the only Bella in the local area: three showed up at last year’s Labour Day weekend Vancouver Scooter Rally. But for sure it’s the only one with a trailer. Schatz tells me that the Bella/trailer combination was popular in southern Germany: couples would load their tent and supplies—up to 15 kg (33 lbs) according to the Campy’s warning label— and make for the Italian Alps at weekends. Now such a trek apparently requires a 120-hp dual purpose bike with GPS.