Around 1949 Zundapp began preliminary design work on an entirely new version of the KS model
motorcycle. This new design had telescopic fork as opposed to the traditional Zundapp
parallel four link fork, and plunger rear suspension as a major change, not to mention
improvement, from no rear suspension at all.
This was the precursor to the Zündapp KS 601.
Early efforts involved a small displacement engine but Zundapp engineers began playing around
with installing the wartime KS 600 motor in the frame. Ernst Schmidt, chief designer, liked
the idea. In late 1949 the first prototype emerged, painted black, with a beefed up chassis
to handle the larger motor.
The larger motor lead to the introduction of the Zündapp KS 601.
The KS601 Arrives on the Scene
In early 1950 a second prototype was completed. With an engine that differed from the
original KS600 in many respects the bike was christened the KS601. To further distinguish
it, not only from BMW but also prior Zundapps, the black frame now sported fenders, tool
box, fuel tank, fork cover, and head light housing appointed in the famous Zundapp lime
The second Zündapp KS 601 was Zündapp lime green.
The newly designed 597 cc motor, with two Bing
carburetors, produced 28 Hp at 4700 Rpm with peak torque of 33.6 Ft. Lbs
at 4000 Rpm. This was notable power, more than the Volkswagens of the time, and made the
Zundapp KS601 an immediate hit with enthusiasts. The motorcycle's unique appearance and its
new engine earned it the well known title of "Green Elephant".
As with the production bikes,
the telescopic forks of the new chassis had
almost 5" of travel but furnished no dampening. A
mounted on the triple clamps between the fork tubes and bearing on the
heavy front fender directly above a strong brace provided compression dampening. In the rear,
the plunger type suspension had about
2.5" of undampened travel and was carried into production unchanged, the only exception being
the axle trailing the shock housings rather than leading as on the prototype.
The Zündapp KS 601 had plunger rear suspension.
Power was transmitted from the engine via a two disc dry clutch driving the peculiar but
extremely smooth shifting and reliable duplex chain drive transmission, shown in the sectional
view on the previous page, through a heavy flywheel. The shaft then delivered power through a
spiral bevel final drive pinion to the
spiral bevel ring gear, the tapered final drive spline and, finally, the wheel hub.
The Zündapp KS 601 front and rear wheels are identical.
Interestingly, the Zundapp KS601 wheels were designed to interchange front and rear. Both have
the final drive spline in the hub to accommodate frequent rotation to distribute tire wear.
Sectional View of Zundapp KS601 Engine and Components.
Click image for larger view, 85KB
Right-hand Cylinder Head
Sparkplug with Cap
Voltage regulator with
Reserve Current Cutout
Valve Adjusting Screw
The first production KS601 left the factory in the summer of 1951 after extensive and successful
testing of the prototype versions. This newest Zundapp received enthusiastic reviews from the
various motoring magazines of the time. It proved to be popular not only with the motor sports
crowd, but also with average owners who quickly came to appreciate its rugged dependability.
The production Zündapp KS 601 was enthusiastically welcomed.
In 1954, a father and son team rode a Zundapp KS601 on a highly publicized 20,000 mile trip around
the world, after which the bike was dismantled by a group of motorcycle journalists and factory
technicians. They reported the machine showed surprisingly little wear after the incredibly abusive
journey, and were awed by its durability in conditions they felt would have destroyed many of the
bikes offered by Zundapp's competitors.
The Zündapp KS 601 survived a round the world trip with flying colors.
Despite such positive attention from the press, sales of the Zundapp KS601 were lagging
considerably behind similar models from BMW. The factory adopted a number of strategies in the
attempt to boost interest, including introduction of the KS601 Sport with 34 horse instead of
the standard 28. They offered a number of additional color choices and targeted the United States
in a campaign to get a toe hold in that growing market. All to no avail. Part of the issue was
Zundapps being widely viewed as heavy duty sidecar machines. Despite handling that was
superior even to BMW's they just couldn't shake that reputation with the solo riders. Also, the
world economy was picking up and more people could afford to purchase cars, which had obvious
and attractive advantages over motorcycles for practical day to day transportation.
The production Zündapp KS 601 was enthusiastically welcomed.
In a final attempt to bolster sales the Zundapp KS601 Elastic was introduced in 1957, featuring
the Sport engine and a new swing arm rear suspension. Aimed exclusively at the US market, this
fine motorcycle was too little too late. Production of the KS601 in all its flavors from 1955 to
1958 failed to reach 1000 motorcycles. Total production across all the years of its manufacturer just
barely topped 5000. In 1958, Zundapp sold the Nuremberg factory to Bosch and production of the
Zundapp KS601 ceased.
Production Zündapp KS 601 ended in 1958 after an unexciting career.
Even those few Green Elephants were able to impress an admiring public with their remarkable
ruggedness and reliability. Devoted Zundapp KS601 owners formed organizations all over Europe.
One such group began an annual winter ride in 1956 that survives to this day, attracting tens of
thousands of participants, but necessarily few on KS601's.
The Zündapp KS 601 has a devoted following.
As the years passed parts became more difficult to obtain inspiring numerous approaches to keep
the venerable KS601 going. These included clubs organized to purchase large lots of spares and forays
into modification of parts from other vehicles to be used in the Zundapp. Now, thanks to the
KS601's well earned and enduring popularity, aftermarket parts sources are cropping up all over
Europe with a few outlets beginning to appear in North America.
In 1984, the Zundapp marque and all the equipment was sold to a firm from Tianjin China which
primarily built smaller displacement bikes for a country that views motorcycles as basic
transportation. They also produced the WWII era KS500 which was apparently of quite high quality and
true to the original, opening a new parts supply for the gleeful owners of those models but not, alas,
The Zündapp name was sold to a Chinese firm in 1984.
In 1999, a German firm purchased the Zundapp name. The new owners are known to have substantial
knowledge and interest regarding the KS750 but it is not yet clear what their intentions might be.
While I've been unable to find any reference to current activity, it's encouraging that the marque
is once again German owned. Who knows? Maybe we'll be able to buy our spare parts from Zundapp
itself once again.
Maybe there will be a contemporary model of the Zündapp KS 601.