Ciao, Bella

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Until the advent of 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, an arrangement considered immodest, especially for women, in some conservative countries. As late as the 1960s, it wasn't uncommon to see female motorcycle passengers in rural Italy riding sidesaddle. On a scooter, however, the pilot could keep his or her knees together.

What scooters also offered was weather protection, isolation from the noisy and smelly engine, and thus the ability to ride around in a cashmere sweater (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 - including many women. Scooters were clean, quiet, economical transportation, and fashionable to boot.

Scooters were wildly successful in the 1950s, swamping the European motorcycle market, while sales of traditional motorcycles tumbled. By 1959, scooters made up half of new two-wheeler registrations in Britain, and every European motorcycle manufacturer had to make one or risk going bust.

Many famous German marques (including Adler, Durkopp, DKW, Maico and Heinkel) soon produced their own scooters, so it was no surprise that the venerable firm of Zündapp-Werke AG (condensed from Zünder und Appa-ratebau) designed a new scooter to be built in its Nürnberg factory. And the scooter they produced was more sophisticated than most.

Bella Born

Zündapp had been building motorcycles since 1917. Though small commuter bikes were its bread and butter, the company also created the KS750 "desert elephant," the 750cc OHV flat twin, reverse-geared, two-wheel-drive sidecar outfits that gained so much respect from combatants on both sides in WWII. Zündapp returned to the consumer market in the late 1940s with two new bikes: a 198cc two-stroke single (the DB201) and an updated version of the pre-war DS600 flat twin. Its first scooter, the Bella, arrived in 1953, and in styling terms owed much to the pre-existing Moto Parilla Levrier, down to the swooping shape of the side panels and the triangular engine inspection hatch.

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For the complete article of the riding impression(s) and technical specifications, please purchase the May/June 2008 back issue.