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Blog

Classic Velocity Blog

Front-Facing, Rear-Facing

Classic Velocity

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The late 1940s and the early 1950s represent one of those periods where the automobile and the motorcycle world were experimenting with hybrids. In this case, a hybrid is referring to a machine which was in part motorcycle, and in part car. A car was a relatively expensive item to purchase, and motorcycles were still mainstream reliable transportation in Europe. Manufacturers understandably wanted to find a combination of these two that would produce an inexpensive reliable machine which would protect the driver and occupants from the weather. One manifestation of that combination was the micro car, and we have covered a few variations of that in this blog such as the Messerschmidt (see The Other Microcar) and the BMW 700 (see Heart of a Bike, Body of a Car).

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One particularly interesting variation was The Zundapp Janus. It was produced in 1957 and 1958, and was the only car ever produced by Zundapp which of course specialized in motorcycles (see Volksmotorrader and The Green Elephant). The Janus got its name from the Roman god who also gave us the month of January. The distinguishing feature of Janus was that he was two-faced and could look backwards and forwards at the same time. The Zundapp Janus was similarly almost symmetrical front to back, and were it not for brake lights and turn signals in the back versus the headlights up front, you might have trouble distinguishing which way the vehicle was going from a side profile. This extended to the seating in the car with one bench seat facing forward and the other bench seat facing backwards. Both seats folded down to form a flat head when needed. A clamshell door opened either end of the vehicle further adding to the symmetry.

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The car was powered by a single cylinder two-stroke motorcycle engine of only 245 cc. It was positioned in the center of the vehicle between the two seats, and would only propel the vehicle to a maximum speed of 50 mph. Zundapp did also produce more powerful versions with 400 cc 2 cylinder two-stroke motors and eventually 500 and 600 cc versions. Some 6900 examples of the Janus were built in all. The short life of the Janus was due to three main factors. First, it was rust prone primarily due to water leaking around the symmetrical quarter windows on the car. Second, it was expensive compared to the BMW Isetta, and other competitors in the Microcar space. Lastly, it was slow compared to competitors and it was probably a terrifying view out the back window as vehicles rapidly approached ! Production ended in 1958 and Zundapp returned to its motorcycle roots. Of course, the Janus has returned for a curtain call with the character Professor Zundapp in the movie Cars...

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