Your guide to the best (and the average, and even the not so good) European classic bikes - Part 4
Moto Morini made a range of small singles in the 1950s and 1960s and had a lot of success on the track, but it is the lightweight V-twins that have cemented its reputation as a provider of practical and enjoyable modern classics.
Right-foot gearchanges make them familiar for those riders used to British bikes, while the equipment and style mark them out as being distinctly Italian. Simple to work on, with a sweet engine and excellent handling, Morini vees are still reasonably priced on the second-hand market with good spares availability and head-turning looks.
344cc OHV V-twin || 39bhp || 320lb || 100mph || 1974-1983
The Sport and Strada are both fitted with a 72-degree V-twin engine with flat ‘heron heads’, the Sport having higher comp pistons and clip-ons.
Early models were kick-start only, with an electric start of mercurial reliability fitted to later bikes. The simplicity of the design means that weaknesses, usually caused by indifferent electrics, are easily rectified.
The frame is excellent and the early Sport with a big drum brake is the most sought after, though probably not the best for day-to-day.
A late-1970s bike combines classic style with quality upgrades to brakes and suspension. Later models aren’t quite as good.
A 500 model was also sold as the Maestro from 1978 on and as a Sport. Not a great deal faster than the famed three-and-a-half, the 500s have more torque.
low £2500 || high £5000
344cc OHV V-twin || 320lb || 100mph || 1988-1991
After being taken over by Cagiva, the 350 was successfully shoehorned into a frame designed for a 125 Cagiva Mito.
Period-defining white plastic bodywork covered the whole bike; the plastic was easily broken and is hard to find. The electric start was repositioned and is more reliable. There was also a 400 and a prototype turbo.
low £2800 || high £4500
344cc OHV V-twin || 340lb || 90mph || 1981-1989
A splendid trail bike that uses the enviable power characteristics of the V-twin engine to good effect, the Kanguro is a little heavy for serious off-road use, but as a mini dual-sport it’s an excellent mount and a good choice as a small capacity tourer.
Watch out for age-decay on body panels and cracks to the frame caused by over-enthusiastic adventures on the dirt.
low £1000 || high £3000
An Italian-built machine with a car engine, the Moto Shifty leaves you scratching your head.
The bike had a 900cc engine from a Fiat 127 and was the brainchild of a South African Chrysler executive, made in Padova between 1978 and 1982. The Moto Shifty used Laverda and Benelli parts, and had the Fiat dashboard mounted in the petrol tank.
With the Italians making plenty of big bikes at the time, you wonder just why someone thought a half-tonne bike with an Italian car engine in it was a good idea.
It was, at least, easy to work on and parts for the Fiat engine were cheap. The Moto Shifty drove the rear wheel from the car gearbox with one of the output shafts locked off, the other driving a chain. About 70 were made.
One was sold recently in the UK for £4000.
One of those engineers who had a dream that baffled most, Friedel Münch made the kind of motorcycles that were almost certain winners if you got them in Top Trumps.
He used a 996cc air-cooled NSU Motorenwerke engine in his first big four, the Münch Mammut. It wasn’t his first motorcycle by any means; prior to the Mammut he built several successful racing machines.
This behemoth came with a chain-driven single overhead camshaft NSU car engine housed in a specially-built brazed-up steel tube frame based on Norton Featherbed principles.
Customers could choose from one, two or four carburettors, with options for 43 or 52bhp. A Münch cost more than twice the price of a 1000cc BMW, and buyers had to put down a $1000 deposit and then wait for it to be built. A four-speed gearbox was connected to a gear primary-drive and enclosed-chain final drive, and he built his own brakes.
The Mammut got bigger and bigger, first becoming a 1200, a supercharged 1200, a 1400, and eventually a two litre in 1999.
A Mammut will cost you £70,000, at least.
They are undeniably stunning. They are fast. They have the very best in engineering and a racing pedigree that would make most manufacturers weep. The only real problem with MV Agusta motorcycles is the price.
As motorcycles they might not be the best, or the fastest, or have the finest handling. But when it comes to exclusivity, MVs are in the Vincent and Brough Superior class.
It might surprise you, however, to learn that you can pick up an MV for less than £4000, though only of you are prepared to look at the bottom end of the scale.
Count Agusta’s factory turned out some very high quality 125s and 350s in its time, and these do show up on occasion. MV Agustas, though, are usually about the big bucks, and if you are in the market for parting with the price of a small house for an MV, you won’t need reminding about the old Latin saying: “Caveat emptor.”
124cc OHV single || 230lb || 80mph || 1954-1978
The first 125cc production roadster, the Gran Turismo, appeared in 1954 with a single cylinder overhead valve engine. They had a four-speed gearbox and the powerplant was fitted in lightweight cycle parts.
In 1965, the 125/150 range was updated with five-speed gearboxes, the 125 being offered in two guises: GT and the more sporting GTL.
MV’s small roadster was completely redesigned for 1975, emerging as the 125 Sport and followed the style of its bigger brothers. An alloy cylinder barrel and electronic ignition helped the Sport produce 14bhp at 8500rpm, good enough for a top speed of about 75mph.
The unit was housed in a silver duplex cradle frame, equipped with Ceriani forks and Scarab front disc brake.
low £2500 || high £4500
MV Agusta 350 Sports
349cc ohv twin || 352lb || 105mph || 1971-1980
Introduced at the Milan Show in 1971, MV’s first production 350 roadster was basically an over-bored version of the existing 250B model that had been around since 1967.
The unit construction engine was a twin-cylinder overhead valve unit featuring twin Dell’Orto carburettors, a geared primary drive and a five-speed gearbox. Claimed maximum power was 28bhp and a top speed in excess of 90mph.
You could buy a 350GT tourer or 350B sports, both of which were updated with 12v electrics and electronic ignition in October 1972. Most buyers went for the sports model.
They were stunningly restyled by Giugiaro in 1975; the engine went up to 34bhp and was given more angular engine casings. And if you are lucky, you might pick one up for less than £4000.
low £3000 || high £6500
MZ was born in the rubble of East Germany after the Second World War, and its future was based on the brilliance of the prewar DKW RT125. DKW’s factories in Zschopau were in the Soviet occupation zone. As such, they were under the control of the Soviet Union until they were handed over to the government of East Germany.
The factory continued production of the RT 125 under the MZ brand into the 1950s while developing world-beating two-stroke technology.
MZ road bikes were extremely well made from good quality materials, tough and well-equipped, and – importantly – cheap.
Later, MZ used Rotax and Yamaha engines. An MZ will provide reliable, long lasting transport in all weathers.
123cc two-stroke single || 240lb || 60mph || 1952-2002
The frame of the ES 125/150 used a pressed steel construction. The two frame halves were joined together by folding with no welding. As a result, the torsional rigidity was increased by 20%. This frame design was used with minor modifications in the TS 125 series until 1985.
On the ES the front, forks were of Earles type, part cast from alloy, as was the rear subframe. The TS used conventional front forks and full width front brakes.
The control levers are a work of art, the switchgear less so, and the top of the range Eagle model had a rev counter and speedometer in rubber cups on smart alloy brackets. Shock absorbers had levers to adjust them.
The angular styling splits opinions but has a certain period charm. The last models had new body work and disc brakes on the front.
low £300 || high £1500
243cc two-stroke single || 286lb || 85mph || 1952-2002
Similar in design to the 125, though upscaled, the Earles-forked ES250 has unusual handling characteristics for anyone unused to the type.
The TS250 was the first MZ where the engine was not sitting in a loop frame, but rubber-mounted in a tubular steel arrangement. The first engines were fitted with four-speed gearboxes and upright fins on the cylinder head.
In June 1976, the improved TS 250 Supa 5 was launched. It was the first production MZ with five-speed gearbox and horizontally ribbed cylinder head for better heat dissipation, less vibration and noise damping of the ribs, reducing the familiar ring-a-ding noise that previously followed MZ riders around. Another novelty was the new bushless telescopic fork, which lasted until 2002.
From 1981, further upgrades arrived in the form of the disc brake and oil injection equipped ETZ 250 with a redesigned tank. Build quality was impressive. The ETZ grew and was expanded to a 300cc and production moved to Turkey under licence in 1995.
low £400 || high £2000
500R Silver Star
494cc OHC single || 145kg || 95mph || 1992-1997
Rarely seen on UK roads, the Silver Star was a single cylinder 500cc four-stroke with a Rotax engine produced as MZ struggled to find a market in the post-Cold War marketplace.
A basic big single that has its own particular charm and if you run across one, you will find it cheap and reliable, if a little hard to start.
low £1000 || high £2000
659cc five-valve dohc single || 370lb 100mph || 1995-1999
Fitted with a Yamaha XTZ engine, the Skorpion was like no MZ seen before. A sporty single in a good-looking frame, there were three models: the Tour, which was a conventionally trimmed roadster; the Traveller, which had a fairing and panniers; and a Sport model with a half fairing. The spine frame is a striking feature.
low £750 || high £2000
NSU produced its first motorcycle in 1901 and continued with powered two-wheelers intermittently.
During mid-1950s, NSU was the largest motorcycle producer of the world, producing 350,000 machines in 1955.
Among those were the incredibly popular NSU Quickly moped (more than one million were sold) and the 250 Lux, Max and Supermax, which were a major influence on Soichiro Honda’s designs for his early 250 and 305 Dreams, particularly in the use of pressed steel for a frame. They also had considerable success on the track.
247cc ohc single || 383lb || 85mph || 1952-1963
The Max series contained several innovative and occasionally unique engineering touches. Both models used a swooping pressed steel frame and leading link forks, with the Max using a single cantilever strut for rear suspension and the Supermax a more conventional swinging arm arrangement.
The engine featured a unique Ultramax overhead cam shaft drive design. Instead of pushrods, the Ultramax system features connecting rods driven by eccentrics on a reduction gear. The rods drive eccentrics on the end of the cam shaft, producing a reciprocating motion that is transferred to the valve gear.
low £4000 || high £7000
Spanish manufacturer Ossa built a range of two-strokes and had considerable racing success, dominating ISDT competition with Mick Andrews in the saddle. Ossa road racers were also a success.
As well as its 250cc single, Ossa was engaged by a US company to make a 500cc parallel twin engine, which it did by blending two 250cc engines together.
The resulting Ossa Yankee was a good-looking machine that could have been a big success – had it not been for the chaotic state of the industry in post-Franco Spain.
250cc two-stroke single || 235lb || 87mph || 1975-1983
The 250 Turismo was based on one of Ossa’s 250 two-stroke single engines used on its competition off-roaders and was thus a smart and rapid roadster, though it lacked modern refinements and relied on pre-mix petroil. There was also a sportier TE model and road-racing sports model, the Copa 3.
low £1500 || high £3500
Sachs is one of the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturers, and built its first motorcycle in 1904. It took over Victoria, Express and DKW in the 1960s.
It produced thousands of engines that were used by other German brands but by the mid-1990s demand had all but dried up, and Sachs made motorcycles with Japanese and Chinese engines instead. Its VX800 was its last big bike.
64cc single / 805cc V-twin || 460lb || 115mph || 2001-2003
These late Sachs machines were built with 650 single and 800 V-twin engines from Suzuki. With stylish design and excellent build quality, the 800 has the higher specification equipment, including upside down forks and shaft drive.
It was marketed as an all-purpose big twin, modern and traditional in equal measures, though the V-twin engine originally built for a custom cruiser was felt to be under-tuned.
Only a few were sold, but owners seem to like them. Spares availability, apart from the engine, is going to be a problem.
low £1500 || high £3000
Sanglas began in 1942 as Spain was rebuilding after the Spanish Civil War. It displayed its first motorcycle at the 1945 Barcelona Show, a Sanglas 350.
The machine was based on the best of Britain and Germany, with a top end similar to that of the AJS on a unit construction bottom end resembling a DKW, housed in a chassis using ideas from BMW and BSA.
Thanks partly to General Franco’s protectionist policies that required vehicles sold in Spain to be largely made there on pain of massive tariffs, it kept making motorcycles until 1982.
Sanglas 500 S2 V5
496cc OHV single 396lb 100mph 1975-1982
Towards the end of the 1970s, 400 and 500 singles were sold in the UK, along with a model fitted with a Yamaha XS400 engine.
The big slab-sided 500 singles were fitted with a bikini fairing and a duck tail, disc brakes and alloy wheels, and have the distinction of being the last 500cc OHV single cylinder motorcycle in production.
Sanglas found a few buyers who remembered owning Matchless and AJS singles, the engineering of which the early Sanglas models borrowed from.
The Irish Army bought a batch of 400 versions and many became available very cheaply as military surplus but owning to poor spares availability, they were often used until they fell apart and were then scrapped.
low £800 || high £3000
Marketed as Cossack and Neval machines from the late 1960s through to the end of the 1980s and more recently as Ural, Soviet Union motorcycles are primitive, hardwearing, and cheap.
There was not one single brand, but several factories. ZiD made the Voskhod 175, IZH made the 350 Jupiter two-stroke twin, and the Planeta 350 two-stroke single. IMZ-Ural made a flat twin, KMZ made another flat twin, and Minsk made a DKW-based 125.
Owing to centralised planning policies, most factories made one specific model and were located in different parts of the Soviet Union, including Irbit and Korov in Russia, Kiev in Ukraine, and Minsk in Belarus. Some older bikes are making their way to the UK from behind the former Iron Curtain, and registering one is sure to be a challenge.
Do not buy a combination with a sidecar drive built after 1981. A few have arrived on UK shores requiring registration. These 2WD models cannot be legally registered here, and you cannot use them on UK roads.
A clone of the DKW RT-125, like the MZ 125, Harley-Davidson’s Hummer and the BSA Bantam, the Minsk is crude and primitive and for the last 70 years has been the major form of transport of the Third World. Two million have been made, and maintenance is of the big hammer and bent wire type.
The Planeta is probably the best and certainly the sportiest Soviet-era machine you can buy, and was still in production in the late 2000s.
Fitted with a 350cc two-stroke single motor, they are reliable, easily maintained and virtually bulletproof. They are made at the same factory that makes the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Can be tuned to produce a good turn of speed.
£1000 for a good one.
One of the worst motorcycles ever made. Unreliable, crude, and slow with terrible brakes. Its appearance has a certain period charm if you like that.
£500 plus, incredibly.
650cc OHV flat twin 693lb (combination) 83mph 1957 on
In 1940, the Soviet Union acquired the design and production techniques for BMW R71 from the Germans. The bikes went into production in Moscow and Leningrad until the invasion of the country in 1941, at which point the factory was moved to Irbit in Siberia.
The side valve BMW R71 became the M72, and postwar production moved to Kiev for the army, while civilian bikes were made at Irbit. Kiev eventually made an OHV Dnepr which was strongly based on the prewar German Zundapp KS750, while the OHV Ural’s heritage was more BMW-based. Finish on all the bikes was crude, electrical reliability was suspect, and engineering tolerances wide, but the Ural was extremely cheap and the machines were rugged.
Urals have a cult following, as to a lesser extent do Dneprs, which were sold with sidecars attached and had reverse gears.
The Ural was sold as a solo for many years and is still available new as a vintage-style sidecar combination with Brembo brakes and Nippon Denso electrics. There is burgeoning enthusiasm for them in the USA. The tooling for the M72 was given to China, where the bikes were made by Chang Jiang.
low £1000 || high £4000 (new £15,000)