Zund Hard & Lev
A little bit o' this and a little bit o' that
With the rise of motorcycle numbers, a new fashion began!
Bitza: n. A thing that has a mixed heritage or is made from an assortment of different things.
Customisation: the art of combining various diverse bike parts and assembling them together in amateur workshops and garages to create a 'steed' that existed only in the imagination of our forefathers had begun and 'bitza' was born!
Rather like some bizarre Frankenstein-like creation the bitza was assembled from various parts harvested from what its creator could lay their hands on and our forefathers, like sorcerer's apprentices, gave birth to the first personalised machines.
A little bit o' this and a little bit o' that... the bitza emerged from the resourceful minds, and at the hands of those first DIY pioneers.
1902 - A French bitza, apparently prepared for competition
My story today is not really a history of the bitza, rather the driving force behind it is to write about one particular machine.
My archives are stuffed full of historical images showing interesting mechanical achievements of all kinds, and I'd like to share some of the best as a general introduction to the subject. I've chosen a few images from some of the best rally shots I have prior to writing about the one I want to tell you about in some detail.
This period of enforced isolation and lockdown means winter and spring rallies are of course cancelled, and I guess the majority of you are counting the days until some form of normality in this respect returns. In the meantime, reviewing some historical bitza photos taken during meetings of yesteryear is perhaps a poor substitute; but maybe as a 'photographic flashback' it'll provide a little fillip while waiting for rallying to return.
The 'Nurburgring Bitza Show'
One of the best known gatherings where we had the opportunity to see bitzas of all kinds, was of course the Elefantentreffen. At the Nurburgring each January, they flocked to the event.
Elefantentreffen 1967 - I have to admit that my knowledge of automotive engines is lacking. A much more knowledgeable friend of mine thinks that the engine of this bitza could be that of a Volkswagen Combi. Another pal thinks it may be a Lloyd 900cc. Answers please to the website.
Strolling on Saturday afternoon among the countless rows of machines in the circuit parking lot was as exciting a visual exploration as a kid in a toy store before Christmas.
Another 'elephant' on three wheels seen at the 'ring' in the 60s. Its car engine is similar to the one propelling the bitza combo seen above.
There were some skilful and talented handymen out there demonstrating their mechanical prowess to create some of the most improbable and craziest projects. It begs the point that we stop for a moment to observe in more detail one machine over another.
A Panhard engine combo bitza in the Nurburgring parking lot
Panhard, the French manufacturer ceased automobile engine production in 1967 and were subsequently bought out by Citroen. However, their air-cooled flat twin engines were popular for bitzas at the time, especially for combos.
This high-performance twin-cylinder, (up to 60hp SAE for 848cm³ on the 24CT),had many 'firsts' such as a blind cylinder, (cylinder and cylinder head in one piece without gasket); crankshaft mounted on bearings; valves recalled by torsion bars and subsequently by hydraulic backlash adjustment.
DKW 3-cylinder two-stroke post-war car engines had some sporting potential. This made DKW the most successful car brand on the European rally league scene for several years in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hence the owner's motivation to use this type of prestigious engine for the creation of this bitza combo seen at the Elefantentreffen in 1970
DKW, (Dampf-Kraft Wagen, meaning steam vehicle), was founded in 1916, in Saxony, Germany by Danish engineer JorgenSkafte Rasmussen. Originally the factory simply produced steam fittings.
In that same year, he tried to produce a steam car, called DKW. Although unsuccessful, he made a two-stroke toy motor in 1919 and used a slightly modified version of it in a motorcycle. This was the real start of the DKW brand and remarkably, in the 1930s, DKW was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.
DKW cars using only two-stroke engines were produced from 1928 to 1966. The company was a pioneer of front-wheel drive systems and transverse engine mounting.
Elefantentreffen 1967 - If you are a connoisseur of automotive engines, you will certainly recognise the Ford Taunus V4 engine on this bitza combo. This V4 engine, introduced by Ford Motor Company in Germany in 1962, was built in the Cologne plant and powered the Ford Taunus and German versions of the Consul, Capri, and Transit
Lancia was the first manufacturer to debut a V4 engine in a production car, with the introduction of the Lambda in 1922. That V4 died with the Fulvia in 1976, replaced by a more conventional, (and much cheaper to produce), in-line four-cylinder engine.
But Lancia wasn't the only company dabbling with the idea of the V4 engine being the future. Ford experimented with the V4 as well.
Ford of Europe actually had two different versions of the V4, one designed and produced by Ford of Germany, (called the Taunus V4), and one by Ford of England (the Essex V4 - named after the county where its plant was situated).
Elefantentreffen 1970 -Another bitza also powered by a Taunus V4
Both V4's featured a counter-rotating balance shaft to neutralise harmonic vibrations inherent in a four-cylinder, and exacerbated by the V formation. Since one cylinder in a typical crankshaft internal combustion engine fires every 180°, this means there is no firing overlap with a four cylinder to cancel out the vibrations caused by the pistons starting and stopping.
Even with the balance shaft, the V4s were pretty rough little engines, and thanks to their 60° cylinder bank, not as high-revving as the single-head Lancia V4. The German (Taunus) V4 came in varying sizes; 1.2, 1.3, 1.5 and later an enlarged and redesigned 1.7 unit. The 1.2 unit made 40bhp; the 1.7 - 65. The Essex V4 was larger, at 1.7 and 2.0, but didn't really produce much more power than the German version.
Bitzas in the Millevaches snow drifts
In 1969, the first meeting of the Millevaches rally was intended to be the French equivalent of large international winter gatherings such as the Elefantentreffen and the Dragon rally. Its organisers, (MC 95) ,hopes were fulfilled and even exceeded, since to this day this first meeting remains legendary thanks to the extremely hard and icy conditions.
According to the organiser, Michel Perdrix, 250 motorcycles arrived at the foot of the Millevaches plateau, but unbelievably only 106 managed to actually climb the ridge road and register.
Millevaches 1969 -The well-known 'Volkswagen-BMW' bitza combo owned by Jean-Marie Debonneville, (crouching here in front of his machine)
Among the heroes who braved the snowstorms, icy wind and treacherous roads, succeeding by dint of courage and sheer determination to overcome the elements and reach the heights of Mont Audouze, were two English die-hards. Hats off and total respect to them for their respective victories.
They were the late Paul Mullis on a Velocette combo, and an unknown compatriot of his riding a 1000 Vincent combo.
Debonneville's Volkswagen bitza
A bit of a car, a bit of a three-wheeler
The following year, 1970, saw the second Millevaches meeting and there were plenty of interesting DIY machines. In particular,two bitzas whose aesthetics and originality aroused much comment among those attending.
The first one, belonging to one of the members of the famous pirate club of the time: the MC Samourai de Chatellerault, was created using a Peugeot 'triporteur' base, (a three-wheeled utility vehicle produced from 1939 to 1958).
But save for several DIY enhancements, the highlight of the enigmatic customisation of this vintage Peugeot was the car grille that had been fitted to its front. It gave that bitza the air of a hybrid machine, a sort of cross between an American Graffiti movie car or a fairground carousel ride.
Millevaches 1970 - Posing in front of the two old three-wheeled Peugeots which traveled from Poitou to Correze for the second reunion of the 'French Elefantentreffen', the Samourai MC members. From left to right: Alain Seguin, Patrick Pericard, my friend the late Jacques 'Dada' Groussin (the club president), Didier Georget, and Philippe Godu
The second outstanding bitza at the Millevaches rally of 1970 was a combination of exceptional and impressive size.
How big? Huge!
Imagine the imposing look at the time of the good big old Moto Guzzi V7 of yesteryear, which some people often called,(with more than a hint of ridicule), tractors. Now, use your imagination to add a DIY sidecar made from a modified Messerschmitt three-wheeled bubble car body.
The Messerschmitt 'Kabinenroller' (Cabin Scooter), is a three-wheeled bubble car designed by the aircraft engineer Fritz Fend and produced in the factory of the German aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt from 1955 to 1964
Millevaches 1970 - A bitza combo that didn't go unnoticed
You now have a rough idea of the colossus on three wheels that I'm talking about!
That one-off DIY combo was roomy enough to carry a large family, with enough room for their pets too.
That curiosity on three wheels caused crowds of spectators among rallyists wherever it went, all keen to inspect it.
It also obviously attracted the gaze and interest of journalists covering the event. A photo of the bitza combo Messerschmitt appeared the week after the rally in a French motorcycle magazine reporting the 1970 Millevaches rally.
Tigre Buche at the Chamois 1970
A few months later, during the summer of 1970, this time at the Chamois rally, one of the star attractions of the thousands attending the event was an 860cc Panhard Tigre flat twin engine bitza with Ratier Cemec shaft transmission.
Chamois 1970 - The Tigre Buche
This remarkable bike was the work of a very young biker named Jean Paul Buche, then a member of the Bourgogne motorcycle club.
This young mechanic and craftsman in general precision mechanics was only 18 years old when he started building this superb 100% French machine from scratch.
Chamois 1970 -Jean Paul Buche not only used the Panhard engine for his 'Tigre' bitza, he also recovered all the Panhard instrumentation to create a beautiful dashboard
This sporting bitza produced with a limited budget involved a huge amount of ingenuity and proved to be one of the fastest machines of its time, reaching a staggering 200 km/h.
This prototype would have not cost much to turn into a production entity, all without any foreign subcontracting. Unfortunately though, this particular bike didn't elicit any manufacturers' interest and was therefore never produced commercially.
'Citroen-Guzzi' at the Stella 1980
Another DIY machine seen at the 1980 meeting of the Stella Alpina, and belonging to a biker from Brittany, was this rare Franco-Italian bitza.
Again, a base of good old fat Guzzi, but this time powered by a venerable good old Citroen 2CV flat twin, whose legendary robustness and economic advantages are perhaps no longer in vogue.
Its owner had taken a pillion passenger to the Stella 80 meeting, one Jean 'Le Beau Jeannot' Derouet, a notable figure of the rallies of the time, whose death on 16 February 2021 in Madagascar we learned of sadly just recently.
Kenavo old 'Gueux d´Route' and rest in peace!
Stella 1980 - The Franco-Italian bitza at the Bardonecchia campsite
Diesel for dessert
After this photographic bitza taster to whet your appetite, it's time to experience the main dish. I can shortly reveal this mysterious machine whose unknown brand answers to the name of 'Zund Hard & Lev'.
We will get there I promise you, since the point of this article is to present this delicacy to you, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait just a few more days to find out.
While waiting for the release of the final episode, let's end today's story with a more recent image, showing a particularly extraordinary Franco-Italian bitza.
Built with his own hands by a talented Dutch motorcyclist, this extraordinary DIY mechanical creation, very much in the vein of past achievements, combines a car engine in a motorcycle. In this case, a Peugeot 1900cc diesel mounted in a Moto Guzzi frame.
- Jean-Francois Helias