Iron Curtain stormer
Like many other motorcycle manufacturers (BSA, Royal Enfield, FN to name a few) CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) came into being as an armaments maker in 1918, branching out into bicycles in 1930 and soon after, lightweight motorcycles. By the late 1930s, CZ was manufacturing a range of twin-exhaust port two stroke singles, in sizes from 98cc to 500cc.
In 1949 CZ and rival Jawa were compulsorily joined by the Czech Auto Industry Tribunal, forming Jawa-CZ to produce a large range of four and two stroke models. Motocross and Enduro machinery in both Jawa and CZ forms were catalogued, and as early as 1959, the twin-port Jawa 250 proved to be a successful motocrosser. But people really began to notice the Czech machines in the early 1960s, when the orange-tanked CZs began to appear in World Championship events.
The 250 CZ was underpowered against rivals from Greeves, Husqvarna and even BSA, but the biggest shock came when Vlastimil Valek won the East German 500cc Moto Cross GP on a 360cc CZ – the first ever win for a two stroke in the premier class. Over the next two years the 250 CZ was refined into a real challenger, particularly when the fiery Belgian Joel Robert was in the saddle.
A production run of both 250 and 360 models began in 1965, with the first machines arriving in Australia later that year. South Australian Graeme Burford received the first 250 just in time for the Australian Scramble Championships at Clarendon in September, and used it to good effect, winning the 250 title from hard riding Victorian John Mapperson. Weighing in at just 99 kg, the CZ bristled with innovative features such as electron hubs.
Within a few months more stocks had arrived and were snapped by top riders like Victorians Ray Fisher and Ian Gaff, South Australian Chris Richardson, and West Australian Glen Brtiza, while speedway star Jim Airey was recruited to ride a CZ for NSW distributors Hazell & Moore.
At the 1966 Australian Scramble Championships at Christmas Hills, Burford retained his 250 title, from John Burrows (DOT) and Geoff Taylor (Cotton).
At $950, the 250 CZ was priced above most of its rivals, but represented very good value as it came with a comprehensive spares kit which included a barrel, piston, rings, clutch plates and spare levers.
By 1969, both the 250 and 360 CZs had undergone major changes in the engine department, with the barrels becoming iron-sleeved aluminium alloy with single exhaust ports. The clutch was also moved from the end of the crankshaft to the more conventional position on the gearbox mainshaft.
The CZ story was relatively short in motocross terms, and by the early 1970s the Japanese factories, with some opposition from Husqvarna, had all but taken over. However the Czech bikes have an illustrious place in the sport’s history, and for a few years were well-nigh invincible, delivering Joel Robert five 250cc world titles and Roger de Coster four in the 500cc class.
Vintage Motocross stalwart and CZ enthusiast Peter Drakeford has loaned Motorcycling Australia the ex-Glen Brtiza CZ, which as been immaculately restored to original condition. This machine, one of the original models delivered in 1966, has the fibreglass petrol tank (replaced with a pressed steel item from 1967) and metal air box, which became fibreglass the following year.