Ciao, Bella

Ciao, Bella

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.

Powering the Bella was a 7.3hp, 147cc two-stroke single of 57 x 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 side-panel louvers. But while stationary, the engine relied on what Zündapp called the "Thermic Blast" cooling principle," meaning the hot cylinder head was supposed to create convection currents drawing cool air in through the louvers. It may have worked in Nürnberg, but likely not in Phoenix. Fan cooling, as most other scooter makers employed, 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" wheels used 3.50 section tires, giving the Bella considerably more centrifugal inertia and, therefore, more directional stability than most contemporary scooters, while six-inch drum brakes front and rear provided stopping power. A single seat was standard equipment, although a similar passenger perch could be ordered, and a rear carrier with spare wheel was also available.

The result was a fairly hefty machine weighing close to 350lbs wet, and the 150cc Bella would struggle to get to 50mph. 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 x 62mm), the R201, producing 10hp.

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, Zündapp dispensed with the kickstarter as soon as the electric leg arrived. (Ten years after its 1969 introduction, the Honda 750 still had an "emergency" kickstarter.) Thus the final R204, produced from 1959 onward in Zündapp's new factory in Munich, offered all these features plus an up-rated 12hp engine. It remained in this form until production ceased in 1964.

Roy Schatz's Bella

Christmas came early for Surrey, British Columbia's Roy Schatz in 2005. The huge wooden crate that arrived from Germany was stamped simply, "Roy Schatz, Canada." Inside was a Zündapp Bella R204 model complete with matching Campi single-wheel trailer manufactured in 1961 by IWL (Industrie-Werke Ludwigsfelde), an East German maker of scooters and trailers.

Roy's R204 was built in 1959, not long after Zündapp had abandoned building "heavy" motorcycles and closed its Nürnberg factory. The R204 was essentially the last type of Bella produced, with the more powerful 12hp engine, Earles front fork and electric start.

Roy's isn't the only Bella in the Vancouver area either: three showed up at last year's Labor Day weekend Vancouver Scooter Rally. But for sure it's the only one with a trailer. Roy tells me that the Bella/trailer combination was popular in southern Germany: couples would load their tent and supplies  -  up to 15kg (33lbs) according to the Campi's warning label  -  and make for the Italian Alps on weekends. Now such a trek apparently requires a 100hp dual-purpose bike with a GPS!

Roy and his wife Delia are both scooter aficionados, and when I arrive at their house, the Bella's twin six-volt batteries are hooked up to a charger, with the Campi trailer neatly lined up alongside a brace of Vespas. Roy walks the Campi out from its parking spot and lines it up behind the Bella. The trailer hitch attaches to a steel plate that also carries the spare wheel. Balancing the lightweight fiberglass trailer on its single wheel, Roy slides a steel pin through the swivel bracket, pops the clevis into place, and the trailer is secure.

With 12hp available, the Bella was one of the most powerful scooters of its day, matching the twin-cylinder Tigress/Sunbeam. It would be in the middle of the following decade before Vespa or Lambretta matched the Zündapp's output.

That said, the Bella is physically larger than its svelte Italian competition and has a clunky, ponderous look. Roy follows our camera car with the Campi bouncing along behind, and we make sure to accelerate slowly and leave him plenty of braking room; but even with this trailing appendage, the Bella easily handles the Saturday morning traffic. The combo keeps up on acceleration, and the oversize (by scooter standards) six - inch brakes seem to slow the rig easily.

But the best part of the ride is watching the faces of the kids in the cars that pass us, their eyes wide and mouths agape. They've never seen anything like the Bella and Campi before  -  but, thanks to Roy and Delia Schatz, an echo from a bygone age can still be seen on the street.

Technical Specs

Engine single cylinder 2-stroke, air cooled: iron barrel, aluminium alloy cylinder head
Displacement 198cc
Bore x Stroke 64mm x 62mm
Fuel System fuel/oil mixture, 4%
Bing 24 mm
Power 12hp @ 5,400rpm
Ignition combined electric starter/generator
Transmission four speeds, foot shift by heel and toe levers
Generator 12 volt 120 watt
Primary Drive chain to wet multiplate clutch
Final Drive enclosed chain
Front Suspension Earles fork with single spring/damper unit
Rear Suspension single-sided swingarm
Rake/Trail n/a
Brakes Front/Rear 6" SLS
Tires Front/Rear 12" x 3.5"
Dry Weight 320lbs (145kg)
Wheelbase 12in (30.5cm) cast alloy
Fuel Capacity 2.25gal (8.5l)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Max Speed 59mph