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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Zweirad-Union

Zweirad Union Type 115/155

Classic Velocity

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Regular readers will know that Zweirad Union was the parent company for several brands, most notably Victoria, Express and DKW, and has been featured several times in these pages. The late 1950s saw the death of many German motorcycle producers, and Zweirad had acquired an ailing Victoria in 1957, a dying Express in 1958, and a castoff DKW in 1959. The idea of the new Director Dr Odilo Burkart, was to leverage models and tooling in Nuremburg to produce models for all three brands.

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One result of this approach was the avant-garde Zweirad Union Type 115/155, produced from 1960 to 1963. The 115 was a Victoria model, and the 155 was the almost identical DKW. They were aimed at younger buyers in an attempt to keep them on a sportier looking two-wheeler rather than going to one of the many affordable small cars that were on the market. The first thing that jumps out at you is the futuristic styling, evoking images of jets and space-age conveyances. The body lines suggest forward motion even standing still, and the chrome finned engine cover contribute a sense of speed. All of this is ironic, given that this is a 50cc 4.2 hp machine. Styling was polarizing at the time, but sales were fairly solid with 13,551 Victorias to 13,345 DKWs over the production span.

The machines became affectionately known as “Blechbanane” or Tin Banana.

Express Radex

Classic Velocity

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Express Werke was a turn of the century (19th into 20th) bicycle manufacturer. They soon branched into motor tricycles as well as gasoline and electric cars. Express moved into small motorcycles in the early 1900s. The initial concentration was on 100cc and smaller two-stroke machines with Fafnir engines. This emphasis continued through the 1930s. Following the war, Express returned to motorcycle production in 1948 and added larger displacement machines from 125cc to 250cc. The most popular of these was the Radex 151, which was powered by a Sachs 147cc engine, and made 6.5 hp. Radex machines (Rad Express) sold well, and for a while the company could not keep up with demand. They also produced an excellent moped, the M52 using their own engine for the first time.

This success caused them to issue very optimistic forecasts for the company, and to commit money and resources accordingly. They did this right into the teeth of the motorcycle decline of the late 1950s, and the rise of the small automobile. After shopping for investors for a year, Express was absorbed into Zweirad Union along with Victoria and DKW in 1959.

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The Victoria Ventures

Classic Velocity

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With a name like Victoria, you would imagine a fine British marque or perhaps an Australian one. Certainly the product of an english-speaking country. However, this Victoria was a German marque that began like so many others in the 1880s as a bicycle manufacturer. Like so many others, they turned to Motorcycles in 1901 and began production in Nurnberg. Like so many others, they tried their hand at automobiles as well. In the case of Victoria, things did not work out well on the automobile front, but motorcycles came into their own in the early 1920s. Their first success was a 500cc BMW-engined model (remember, BMW was an engine supplier before they produced their own motorcycles). Victoria went on to use other engines, until they designed their own in 1923 with the help of former BMW engine designer Walter Stolle. Not surprisingly, the layout was an air-cooled twin which later evolved into a narrow V-Twin mounted transversely in similar fashion to Moto Guzzi.

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In 1925, Victoria produced a 500cc racing version with a Rootes blower. Remember, this is long before the famous BMW Kompressors. The bike won races both solo and with sidecar. Unlike so many others, Victoria continued to have a mix of its own engines, and those of other engine0makers such as Sachs and Horex. In the early 1930s, Victoria produced a heavily faired motorcycle as a bid for a military contract. They lost out on the big contract to BMW and Zundapp due to a very small gas tank. However, it was a ground-breaking motorcycle, building on the design approach of MARS in the 1920s (

see Discovering Mars

), and the idea was picked up again a few decades later when fairing came into vogue.

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Like so many others, Victoria was mostly destroyed in WWII, and emerged afterward to produce small motorcycles and bicycle engines which were very popular. In the early 1950s they expanded models to inclue 100, 125, and 250cc machines  In 1964, they produced the 4 stroke OHV Bergmeister (mountain master). This would have been a popular model, but it was plagued by engine vibration issues which took some time to sort out resulting in a lengthy period to recoup the initial investment. This created some financial struggles for Victoria despite their popularity among smaller displacement models. For example, in 1956 they produced a Parilla-engined 175cc model which was ridden to a land speed record by Georg Dotterweich. Like so many others, the market malaise of the late 1950s and the growing availability of cars took its toll on Victoria, and they were forced to merge along with DKW (

see DKW 350

) into Zweirad-Union in 1958. The brand finally disappeared in 1966.