Reference: A to Z classic reference: Zanella-Ziejanu



Pair of Zenith Zerettes with Fred Barnes

Zanella 1957- Argentina
The Zanella brothers left war torn Italy and emigrated to Argentina in the late 1950s where they set up an engineering and associated metal business. By the mid-Fifties they’d begun manufacturing car components and then began looking at the assembly and manufacture of motorcycles.

Zanella started building lightweight motorcycles in 1957 using many parts sourced from the brothers’ homeland. Then they added Italian Cecetto machines to their range, which they assembled under licence. Circa 1959/60 the Zanella brothers oversaw the completion of a new factory and began building Italian-like two-stroke motorcycles from 49-123cc and two-stroke powered three-wheeled light commercial trucks and vans from parts made wholly in Argentinian, many by themselves.

Within a couple of years Zanella started exporting their motorcycles and three-wheelers to other South American countries and later to the USA. They also began competing in Argentinean road race meetings and developed an over the counter 125cc racer. During the mid to late Sixties their range was increased to include up to 175cc models. Zanella became the motorcycles to beat at national events and following European and Japanese trends adopted water cooling for their racing and faster sports models.

Article continues below…

During the 1970s, Zanella developed 50cc racers and also mopeds. A decade later an 80cc Grand Prix racer had been built, brought to Europe for racing and displayed at the Milan Motorcycle Show along with Zanella’s latest moped. For a time, Cagiva handled the import and sales of mopeds in Italy.

Zedel 1902-15 France
Zurcher and Luthi built Zedel proprietary engines but few if any motorcycles at the Swiss headquarters. However, they owned an offshoot company in France who built complete motorcycles sold under the Zedel brand. From their base at 68 rue Bayen, Paris they marketed single cylinder and V-twin machines across Europe. A small number of Zedel motorcycles built by Zurcher and Luthi in Paris survive, but also a number of motorcycles assembled by long forgotten makers who used Zedel engines. Confusingly some of these are now known as Zedels although the rolling chassis is by another now unknown maker.

Zehnder 1923-39 (1945) Switzerland
Once well known and respected maker of lightweight two-stroke motorcycles for road riding and racing. Early models marketed as the Zehnder, 110 Zehnder and Zehnderli, were powered by forward facing 110cc horizontal two-stroke engines. With chain primary drive to a basic countershaft gearbox and belt final drive, the Zehnder looked very similar to Fritz Cockerell’s (designer of five cylinder Megola) German built Cockerell machines. Like Fritz’s models the Zehnder soon offered larger engine capacities, built racing models and employed water cooling for selected faster machines.

Article continues below…

Following the launch model 110cc motorcycle, Zehnder built 123cc machines with the option of water cooling available for racing models. Later, came a 148cc version with options of road or race specification. While all these motorcycles had horizontal two-stroke engines for the 1929 season they unveiled a 248cc with an upright cylinder, which was also offered in sports or racing trim and with the option of water cooling. Otto Zehnder secured many wins and places both nationally and in neighbouring European countries.

In the early Thirties the German Standard factory bought Zehnder and production remained in Switzerland until the outbreak of WWII. During the war years Robert Zehnder designed and built prototypes for a new range of models, which were to enter production once the war was over. But Robert died and the project died with him. Zehnder motorcycles are an acquired taste like the Cockerell.JAP-owrede Zenith v-twin classic motorcycle with Gradua gearing

Zenith 1905-50 UK
The exact date of origin of the Zenith is clouded by time. Facts tell us Bitton & Harley of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk displayed a complete machine of unusual design at the February 1905 Crystal Palace, London event. Branded as the Tooley’s Patent Bicar it had hub centre steering with near vertical steering column and was powered by a 3hp Fafnir proprietary engine.

Article continues below…

If its steering was unusual the frame design was even more so with a horizontal tube running from the rear wheel axle, round the front wheel and back to the rear axle, with further tube work under it to support engine and carry the rider. Whether this was the first prototype model made for the London Show, or whether earlier models had been built is unknown.

Soon production moved to a new firm, the Zenith Motor Engineering Company who operated from some small buildings behind housing at 110A Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, London. Mr Bitton was now the works manager and the machine had become the Zenith Bicar. Period advertising, which today would be politically unacceptable – and rightly so, extolled the virtues of the Zenith Bicar but also stated ‘machines were built to the finest quality – no female labour employed!’

Soon options of magneto ignition instead of trembler coil, two-speed hub gear and a bucket seat were available at extra cost. And by July 1905 an option of coil spring rear suspension was offered. Next came two styles of tricar and then for the 1906 season the Zenith Popular light car with twin cylinder 6hp Stevens engine and underslung suspension. Despite all this development work, production volumes must have been minimal.

Article continues below…

At the year’s Stanley Show, Zenith displayed a 5hp V-twin with Belgian made Sarolea engine and Tooley patented gear and clutch options for the tricars. A year later for the 1907 season, Tooley had designed a new frame for the Bicar. During the year, Fred Barnes joined Zenith and had soon designed a new, somewhat more conventional model, with the then new Druid side sprung girder front fork, 500cc side-valve Fafnir engine, triangulated frame and options of rigid rear frame or coil spring suspension.

During early 1908 Zenith unveiled their Gradua gear system along with claims of seemingly outrageous hill climbing abilities. In reality the Zenith claims were fact and the fact would lead to the famous Zenith ‘Barred’ logo.

Despite low production levels of hand to mouth type manufacturing procedures, Zenith motorcycles excelled in many forms of motorcycle competition including reliability trials and hill climbs. Interestingly George Jones, who later became an acknowledged famous designer, joined Zenith as an apprentice. On 29 March 1909 Zenith took another step nearer their famous logo when at Brooklands, Fred Barnes set the first standing start Test Hill record thanks to his patented gear. Less than a month later Freddie Barnes raced on the Brooklands Outer Circuit for the first time, finishing fourth. Later he set many records and won races riding his Zenith Graduas.Zenith 350cc sports classic motorcycle with JAP sidevalve engine

During 1909 Zenith moved from Finsbury Park to High Street, Weybridge enabling them to test every new model on Test Hill, Brooklands before delivery. And Zenith introduced a conventional motorcycle frame for the first time. Riding their single cylinder machines, Barnes, RT Exshaw and Harry Bashall secured many hill climb trophies during the year. Back at Weybridge, Freddie designed a new low Zenith, with a V-twin JAP engine. Motor Cycling columnist Canon Basil Davies (Ixion) forecast it would be a ‘terror on the hills’. It was and it got banned, albeit unofficially, after all it went too well and its Gradua gearing gave it an unfair advantage. Super publicity for Zenith and Barnes oversaw their new trade mark logo of a Zenith behind bars bearing the word ‘BARRED’. Soon other models had better gears, or their take on variable gearing and the bar was forgotten, except by Zenith for whom it was an excellent advertising tool.

Before the outbreak ofWWI Zenith moved premises again, taking up at Hampton Court. Development continued including a Gradua model with countershaft mounted forward of the engine and an outfit with Maxin machine gun mounted to the sidecar for military appraisal. Unfortunately, no government orders came but Zenith were soon in production after the war and back to their winning ways. Alongside their desirable fare came a 500cc fore and aft flat twin with oil cooled Bradshaw engine. Few were made but the concept attracted interest. All chain drive was employed for the first time on production models in 1922 and a year later the Gradua design was dropped. Alongside JAP single and V-twin engines, Zenith also used Barr and Stroud sleeve valve units and the oil-cooled 350cc Bradshaw engines.

Zenith motorcycles continued to excel in motorcycle sport, especially at Brooklands. Riding an ageing home-prepared Zenith in solo and sidecar trim one of Brooklands all time greats, Ted Barragwaneth, secured many wins and places as did his friend Bert Le Vack on more modern examples.1923 500cc Zenith classic motorcycle with Bradshaw engine

Riding a 1000cc V-twin Zenith, Le Vack, in 1922, set the first 100mph lap of the Outer Circuit at Brooklands and in effect became the first motorcycle rider to secure a Gold Star, although this award was introduced after Bert’s epic lap. Other post WWI Zenith stars at Brooklands included Oliver Baldwin, Paul Brewster, Ian (IP) Riddoch and Joe Wright who would play a significant role in the Zenith story later.

Due to residents’ complaints, new rules to force motorcycles to use huge silencers (Brooklands Cans) were introduced. Great fuss ensued as many felt this would slow motorcycles drastically, that residents were unreasonable and without excitement Brooklands would die. Riding his specially prepared Zenith sporting its Brooklands Cans, Joe Wright set a new outright lap record at 109.9mph. More great publicity.

Through the mid-Twenties Zenith continued to offer a considerable range of models, which relied more and more on JAP power alone, although odd examples with Blackburne power were built too, especially for racing. Brooklands records continued to be gained including by Joe Wright and Oliver Baldwin who jointly posted another lap record at 113.45mph in 1926 riding a brace of Freddie Barnes built 998cc JAP engined racing Zeniths. But in contrast to their Brooklands, sprint and hill climb escapades, Zenith enjoyed mediocre success in the IoM with a fifth in the 1914 Junior for FE Barker, their best result.

By the late Twenties Zenith like many rivals were struggling for every sale, which encouraged them to introduce a Villiers 172cc two-stroke model for the 1928 season. However, although the factory was heading for severe financial problems, which would later briefly halt production, Zenith continued record breaking for a little longer. In 1928 Oliver Baldwin posted a new outright world record at 124.62mph. Then Wright set three successive Brooklands lap records, finally clocking 118.86mph and in 1929 he set a new sidecar world record at 105.15mph, all using the same Barnes built 1926 racer.1932 Writers-Zenith 790cc ohv B5 classic motorcycle

In November 1930 Wright attempted to set a new world record in Ireland with his OEC JAP. It failed with minor mechanical problems so Joe mounted the same 1926 998cc Zenith JAP, now with supercharger, to post the first 150+mph motorcycle world speed record of 150.736mph. But sadly for Zenith the Hampton Court works were already silent as the company had run out of money, although a rescue package was just round the corner.

During the winter of 1930/31 well known south-east London motorcycle dealer Writers of Kennington, took over Zenith and restarted production by summer 1931 with a reduced range. Writers’ 1931 Zenith catalogue comprised 346cc ohv B2, 490cc side-valve BS5 and 490cc ohv B5 – all singles plus the 677cc model 680 and 747cc model 750 – both side-valve V-twins, all fitted with JAP engines.

By adding de-luxe variants along with 350cc and 600cc ohv Blackburne powered machines, Writers enlarged the Zenith range to 16 models for the following year. Unbelievably for such a small business, the Zenith range extended to a massive 21 models for the 1933 season. New boys included a 680cc ohv JAP powered model listed as the 680 OHV and an 1100cc side-valve V-twin, coded NP, again with a JAP engine.

For 1934 Zenith dropped Blackburne engines and replaced ‘B’ code letter with ‘C,’ which continued until WWII. Thus coil ignition 250s became LC1 and 350s LC2 with the letter (M in brackets) indicating models with optional magneto ignition. For the 500 singles, CS5 denoted side-valve machines, C5 ohv versions and the C5SS was the super sports variant with tuned engine. The 750s remained as the model 750 while the 1100cc model became the CP1100 and from 1936 onwards, just CP. Many versions were offered in either standard or de-luxe trim (coded dl) and a new model, the 600cc side-valve CS5 appeared in 1936.

There was some fiddling with model names, for example the 500cc (490) C5dl became the C5 sports in 1936 and C5 Special the following year, before being dropped from the catalogue. For Zenith enthusiasts today a desirable find would be the C5 Super with 498cc TT replica JAP engine, which was built 1936/8. As WWII began the Zenith range had been pruned to just six models, the LC1 with options of coil or magneto ignition, a single 500 (490cc) ohv model – the C5, the faithful 600 side-valve CS5 single, 750 and CP.

No motorcycles were built for military duties during WWII and after the war tiny volume assembly took place of 750cc side-valve V-twins, initially with girder front forks and later with Dowty telescopic fork. It is believed by some observers these post WWII models were built using predominantly pre-war parts, including a nest of engines Writers had or happened upon. It is also believed Zenith built prototypes of a 500cc vertical twin and an update of the 1100cc V-twin. But with supply of engines from JAP unlikely and as Writers were unable to source the sort of engines they favoured from otheZenith classic motorcycle with full touring kit and Barr and Stroud sleeve valve v-twin enginer suppliers, Zenith production ended 1949/50. Writers themselves remained in business at Kennington until the early 1970s.

Zeta 1947-54 Italy
Small basic scooter with 13in wheels powered by 48 and 60cc four-stroke Ducati Cucciolo and associated other small Ducati engines.

Zeus 1902-12 Austro-Hungarian Empire (Czech Republic)
Designed and built by Christian Linser with up to 500cc single cylinder engines and slightly larger V-twins. Christian also sold his motorcycles as the Linser.

Zeus 1925-27 Germany
Kuchen powered 350 and 500cc machines, some with three valve cylinder heads. This German marque wasn’t associated with the earlier Austro-Hungarian maker.

Ziejanu 1924 (1922)-26 Germany
One of a rash of makers who sprang up during the mid 1920s in Germany and initially focused on the design and manufacture of lightweight two-stroke motorcycles, which the government hoped would mobilise the masses. First models employed their own 211-246cc single cylinder deflector piston two-stroke engines then Ziejanu designed and built in prototype form a 449cc two-stroke machine. In the interim, they built sturdy motorcycles with 348cc and 498cc JAP single cylinder engines. Ziejanu stopped motorcycle manufacture before more of their designs reached production.

Ziro 1919-24 Germany
Well made and designed 148 and 346cc two-stroke motorcycles with disc valve induction designed by Albert Roder. Although disc valve induction wasn’t a new concept when Roder incorporated it in the crankcases of his engines, Ziro machines performed well and proved reliable. Roder was destined to become one of Germany’s most important motorcycle designers, working for a number of major factories including Victoria and Zundapp before he finally joined NSU in 1947. Amongst his leading designs at NSU were the four-stroke Fox, strap-driven ohc system called Ultramax found in all the Max family of motorcycles, except the Rennmax works racers, and the world conquering Quickly moped. bike


Sign-up to the Classic Bike Hub Newsletter

Get the latest classic bike news and updates straight to your inbox…
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Latest Issue

Newsletter Signup

Get the latest classic bike news and updates straight to your inbox…

You can unsubscribe at any time.