A Beautiful Piece Of 1930s Rolling Art, 40 Years Ahead Of Its Time
In compiling a list of the most beautiful motorcycles ever produced, surely the Zündapp K800 would make the top 20, if not higher. With beautiful lines, Art Deco styling of its time in the mid-late 1930s, and state-of-the-art engineering, the K800 is a stunning motorcycle to behold even today. Many are still on the road with Zündapp enthusiasts, not just on display at museums, they were so well designed and constructed.
The German company that would become Zündapp began as a partnership between the Krupp and Theil companies, armaments manufacturers in Nuremburg building weapons for Germany in the First World War. Following the Treaty of Versailles, entrepreneur Fritz Neumeyer merged the company into the Zunder und Apparatebau, German for “Igniter and Apparatus”. Shortening the name to simply Zündapp, the rebranded firm set out to design and construct affordable scooters, motorcycles and automobiles for the German people in the post-war rebuilding years.
Among the company’s early achievements was the Z22 in 1921, their first production motorcycle, which Neumeyer dubbed the Motorrad für Jedermann, or “Motorcycle for Everyone”. The K-series followed in 1933, with a wide lineup of motorbikes ranging from 200-800cc. Called the K because of the type of drivetrain employed, the Kardanentrieb or “enclosed driveshaft” with two universal joints and an enclosed crankcase, the K series bikes were ahead of their time. The K500, KS600 and later KS750 machines sported flat twins like BMWs, and were often paired with sidecar rigs for use by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.
Prior to the war, the K800 was the crown jewel of the Zündapp universe, with its elegant styling and thrilling ride. The K800 utilized a unit construction design around a horizontally-opposed 804cc flat four, a design that wouldn’t return to motorcycling until Honda debuted the Gold Wing in 1974. The Zündapp K800 saw some service early in WWII with the Wehrmacht as well, the only four-cylinder motorcycle employed by the German military during the war. Running an all-chain 4-speed gearbox mated to a shaft final drive, the K800 bikes were built from 1934-38, seeing only 550 roll off the line. Many considered them too luxurious to see combat and potential destruction.
Civilian production of Zündapps resumed after the war, and the brand would go on to build smaller two-stroke singles and twins, scooters like the Bella, and microcars that became popular around the world. Unfortunately, market share and profitability declined in the decades of the Cold War, and Zündapp eventually closed its doors in 1984.
Zündapp motorcycles were so well constructed and are so beloved by aficionados, that many still exist and are on the roads to this day. The K800 bikes are particularly noteworthy, with their distinctive lines, boxer powerplants, and pressed steel frames. Making a mere 22 HP from the 804cc mill, the K800 employed front and rear brakes but no rear suspension. Yet for all its apparent mass, the bike only weighed 450 lbs wet, and owners say the machines are still a delight to ride, in handling and performance. In many ways, the Zündapp K800 was a motorcycle 40 years ahead of its time.
The Zündapp K800 featured here is a 1937 model, in pristine condition at The Throttlestop Museum in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, just down the street from the famed Road America racetrack. If you get up to that area, definitely stop in and check out this beautiful machine, as well as all the amazing motorcycles and classic cars in the Throttlestop collection. If you can’t make the trip, you can browse their online Virtual Museum via this link:
*You’ll be asked to give your email address to receive an entry code, then you can surf the museum at will, no charge. Totally worth it.
*All photos by The Throttlestop. Source material provided by The Throttlestop, and the book, “Classic Motorcycles: The Art of Speed” by Pat Hahn and Tom Loeser, available on Amazon.
Let’s all admit: That is one beautiful motorcycle. Tell us what you think in the comments below!