The KS601

Not many people know that Zündapp and BMW were once equals when it came to motorcycle production. Zündapp made some truly spectacular motorcycles prior to the second world war. Four strokes up to 800cc left the factory and they were renowned for their build quality, handling and speed.

When the motorcycle with sidecar was still the ‘family car’, Zündapp was amongst the biggest and best producers in the world. Especially the KS600 and KS800 models with side-car were well known up to the late 1930s.

Development of the popular KS600 came to a halt due to the second world war. Zündapp had other priorities during that period. BMW and Zündapp were both asked to design an army version of their motorcycles with sidecar. Zündapp won this overall design competition with its KS750 and BMW had to produce their sidecar army models to Zündapp design so parts were mostly interchangeable.

The Zündapp design bested BMWs by having a fully driven third wheel for the sidecar as well as a reverse gear.

After the war it took some time for the allied forces to allow Zündapp to produce motorcycles with engines larger than 200cc, but when they did, one of the new designs was the KS601.

The engine was taken from the trusted KS600 and improved, but looked pretty much the same. The main visible difference was the double carburettor setup.

There were however major design changes compared to the KS600 that provided a much more modern motorcycle:

  • The frame was no longer pressed steel, but a modern tubular construction and much stronger
  • The front fork had telescopic suspension rather than trapezoid suspension and as a separate dampener to boot
  • A quick change axle was added for the front wheel
  • The lack of rear suspension on the hard tail KS600 frame was remedied using plunger suspension. Later, a modern swing arm was added but only for the US export market in a so-called ‘Elastic’ version
  • The transmission was enhanced to allow for the rear wheel suspension. For this reason the drive shaft was now fitted with universal joints
  • Power was increased to 28 horse power for the normal model and 32 for the sport version, making it the fastest production motorcycle on the road of its day getting up to 155 km/hour in solo configuration

The reputation of the KS601 was greatly enhanced through media reviews who were so impressed by the sturdiness, reliability and strength of the motorcycle that it was dubbed the ‘Green Elephant’ due to it’s lime green colour and display of strength off-road (the favourite colour of the firm’s owner).

Unfortunately the KS601, while cheaper and objectively better than its BMW competitors had the image of a sidecar machine and in total only 5003 elephants were made between 1950 and 1958.

The decline in sales was also due to the rise of the family car that was becoming quite affordable for the masses, the expensive taxation of large motorcycles and the negative image motorcyclists of the day had to endure.

In the current day a small but very loyal following exists for the KS601 and where hard to obtain in the past, remanufactured spare parts are (to an extent) available through the owner’s club and other third parties. Finding an affordable bike in the first place is the real issue.

It is surprising where KS601 parts come up for sale. They made their way around the globe and in restoring my bike I have bought parts from Finland, Norway, Uruquay and the United States already.