Condor almost 100 Years of motorcycle history.

Motorcycles from the Jura. For lovers of statistics and numbers we tried to put everything in the right perspective. Just read on and you will learn about the history of an almost unknown bike from Switzerland. You can score a few points when talking to your bike friends. We go back in time to 1891 and go to the Swiss Courvaivre, situated in the Jura mountains. You might say on the top left side of the Swiss map. 
During the Roman occupation  Courvaivre was called Curtis Fabrorum. That means “home of the smiths and workers”. Iron was found in the surrounding area, so iron tools were already being produced at that time. Later documents dated 1891 have been found which spoke of a clock factory and a factory for safety pins.  On June the first 1893, Edouard Scheffer, a Frenchman, decided to build a factory for metal products in Courvaivre. One of the main reasons he chose that site was because of the river Sorne, the power of which was required to produce electricity. Another reason was that one of Edouards friends, Victor Donzelot, had an empty building near the railway station that he could use. This was the place where Edouard started work, with his fascination for technology. There he started with his brother Jules a factory named “Scheffer Freres” (Brothers Scheffer) in 1893,  at about the same time the first “real” bicycles were being made in France and England. The Swiss postal services and the army liked the products and started buying them in 1904 as they are still doing today.  No motorcycles were made yet but it was a beginning. The whole operation had to be started from scratch, all new techniques, craftsmen needing to be educated, machines developed, tubes made. 
  During the turn of the century a reorganisation was necessary and two things happened. For the first time the company was using a new logo, the big bird from the Andes, the condor. Secondly Otto Fricker, decided to develop a small motorcycle with a 1.5 HP engine. It is not certain but probably a Zedel engine was used. This first motorcycle was no more then a reinforced bicycle frame, no clutch and no gears. A top speed of 50 km/h was possible. That was not enough for the sports driver. So they built a 3 HP model and a 5 HP V twin. Both engines were from other factories but what make is unknown.  The name of the factory was changed in 1901 to “Manufacture Suisse des Cycles et Motos”. Later on it was changed into “Condor-Werke-AG”. The factory was well known in those days and the products where known for their durability
In 1905 the factory was expanded further. The power source was still from the river though later on in 1908 the factory built their own gasoline powered engine to drive the machinery. They started with a 25HP one which was later replaced by a 40HP engine. After that an engine fuelled by natural gas was used. When the town Courvaivre got its own electricity the factory used that. Like many other bikes from the early days, the first Condor was not easy to handle or to maintain. It was difficult to ride. In 1908 came a light 1.25 HP version with a Motosacoche engine. That led to a great sales success. Still there was no gearbox and the bike was equipped with bicycle pedals, which was useful for going up the mountains. Going down was another story with the brakes of those days! Just before WW1 the first gearbox equpped model was produced which also had a good pair of front forks. The first “real” gearbox had two gears operated with a lever from the tank, it was situated in the rear wheel hub, later models had it fitted behind the engine. 
The First world war. Long before 1914 Condor SA was making bicycles for the Swiss army. The resulting hard use revealed some problems such as an insufficient frame, a weak clutch, especially obvious in the mountains and a luggage rack that was not strong enough. In the catalogue from 1920 all improvements where listed.  Of course the army was the best way for a factory to test their products. Later models were improved and enjoyed increased sales because of the testing and use by the army. Since those days the Condor factory has had a very close relation with the army and police. 
n the first days of the war the doors of the factory stayed close. Workers and staff had to go in the army and for some time Condor was not allowed to produce anything. Later they opened again but under strong sanctions from the government. Biggest problem was the absence of material and workers because they were in the army.  A depression followed the war and the market was overwhelmed by cheap motorcycles from other countries. Condor succeeded in keeping up with modern techniques and with great success, they grew three times as big as they were before the war. One of their biggest sellers was the “Motochassis 250cc” with MAG engine and three speed gearbox, 3000 were sold in the twenties. 
  In 1925 they produced eleven different models, with a variety of engines, side valve, OHV, and sometimes there was a sports version. Motosacoche (MAG and Marchants) developed special engines for Condor with they used in the sports bikes. Condor produced everything else by themselves,  250 cc engines, fuel tanks, frames, wheels and all electrical equipment. Only for the larger capacity engines they used MAG (which stands for Motosacoche Acacias Genève)  The engines used were 45 degree V twins of 449, 749 and 998 cc. Two stroke engines came from Zedel and Villiers, 147, 172 and 198 cc. Other manufacturers such as Moser and M&V are mentioned but there’s not much known about them. Special race engines where made and used. 
They are going fast….. Condors start setting speed records….. 
In 1906 a Condor drove the 10 kilometres in seven minutes and seven seconds, an average of above 80 km/h. In 1905 it was 83 km/h with a 250cc engine. In 1908 a special 8 HP Condor cracked the existing world record. 1916 brought the victory for the V twin in Nyon-Saint-Cergue. 

Swiss championship 1922 en 1933. 
Debutantes: 5 Tittles in de 250cc 
250 cc Experts: 7 Tittles, 
350 cc Experts: 5 Tittles, 
500 cc Experts: 2 Tittles, 
750 cc Experts: 1 Tittles 

International six days : 
1920, 250 cc: 1e. place, J. Morand, 
1921, 250 cc: 1e. place, Ch. Clerc, 
1922, 250 cc: 1e. place, H. Dinkel 
1922, 750 cc: 1e. place, J Morand 

Grand Prix of Switzerland 
1922 in Joux: Heusser, 1e. Total, 
1923 in Genève : Dinkel, 1e.  250 cc, 
1924 in Genève: Divorne, 1e. 250cc 
1930 in Lugano: Hänni, 1e. 350cc 

Paris - Nice 
1923-33: 13 first prices 250cc, 
1927: 1. prices 350cc (F. Dumont) 
1925,1928: Winner “Coup du President de la Republique” and the “International Challenge Bergrennen” 
1927: GP Austria, Divorne, 1. 350cc, 
1932: GP Germany, Hänni, 1. 250cc, new record 

The list is much longer. Well known drivers were Georges Cordey, Ernst Hänny, Léon Divorne, Paul Wuilemin, Armin Bättig and Paul Dinkel. 


War again.  The second time a war made production difficult. Condor had to start from scratch in 1945. Raw material was either not available or hard to get. They realised that they must develop new models. The MAG engines where no longer available because the factory was closed during the war. The best engines available in those days where the BMW and Zündapp boxer army models. Some were brought to Switzerland and studied very carefully.
Otto Fricker started with Condor in 1898. He designed in 1901 his first motorcycle and in 1905 the factory produced under his command the first army bikes. In 1904 he became director and later he married the daughier of the factory owner E. Scheffer. Their son later joined the management team.  (Otto passed away on 17-11-1952) 

 The Swiss army demanded a boxer model. So Condor had to design such a bike, with shaft drive and side valves to keep the bike as narrow as possible. The engine seems to be inspired by BMW but more likely by Zündapp. The front fork looks similar to the Zündapp, used on the K750. But, of course all the boxers were lookalikes of the BMW. As can be seen from the boxer page on this site. 

The Condor A580 is a complete design of the Condor factory. Designer is Mr. Raymond Schaller. It was developed without making any concessions to the normal customer. It's a heavy but solid design. The weight is 195 kilo and later 213 kilo’s. The A580 and the A750 where developed the same time, the A stands for Army. The A750 was suited with a sidecar. 

During the war there was a model A680 produced in small numbers by Universal and Condor. The Swiss army used also a Condor A1000 equipped with a MAG V twin, as known as Motosacoche A 1000. Most of the time equipped with a sidecar. 


The Fifties

1951 brought some engine changes for the A580 and A750. In 1953 the bikes got rear suspension and another front fork and where called A580-I and A750-I. The same year hydraulic valve lifters and aluminium cylinder heads were introduced.

Raymond Schaller designed the 580 and the 580-I whilst Mr. Fricker and his son were in charge. Also a civilian model was developed, the TL (Tour Luxe) and the TN (Tour Normal) models. The early fifties brought also a two cylinder Two Stroke 346 cc model called “racer”. A modern design those days. Puch and Maserati engines were used for the smaller models. 

The civilian models were not Condor's best selling models. Because the bikes were built solidly and were thus too expensive they sold hardly any in countries outside Switzerland. In the Netherlands the Condor A580 was twice as expensive as the compatible BMW and there was no importer. 

At the end of the Fifties the army demanded at a new, lighter bike. The role of the military motorcycle had changed after WW2. It was taken over by the Jeep. The army wanted a 250cc single cylinder which was easier to handle than the heavy A580-I. The number of bikes the army wanted wasn't enough to make it economical for Condor to develop an engine of their own. So they contacted Maserati who had a modern 246 cc engine in production. Condor built the frame and Maserati the engine. Working with an Italian company was not what Condor was used to doing. No more than 30 bikes were built. 

So Condor developed an engine, very like a BMW R26 which could keep the army happy. Again Mr.R.Schaller - who had previously designed the A580 - did all the design work. He designed the A250, with a 249cc single cylinder, overhead camshaft and shaft drive. Also a civilian model was made, the C250. See the Condor model pages.

Sixties and seventies Ten years later the story repeated at the end of the sixties. Again the army wanted a modern bike with a little more handling and power than the A250 had. Again Condor looked to the south and found Ducati. They again used only the engine with some miner modifications, it was detuned for more durability. An oil filter was added and the rear wheel could be removed without loosening the chain. Why Ducati never used the changes themselves is a mystery. The 350cc engine was rubber mounted to keep the vibrations low. 
Information from Mr.R.Schaller, the designer, says that the A350 was produced in Courvaivre and only the engine came complete from Italy. Rumours say that the complete A350 was built in the Ducati factory and imported through a backdoor of the Condor factory. These conflicting stories are probably due to the fact that the Swiss army demanded a bike which was completely produced in Switzerland, so that in an emergency they could be assured of parts and service.

The Condor A350 is most likely the best known Condor in Europe. Between 1973 and 1978 they made 3000 motorcycles with the Ducati engine. The number seems to confirm Mr.Schaller's story because of the Condor factory's limited production capacity.  1500 A350’s are still in use by the army, though by Spring 2001 they will be replaced with a BMW 650 single cylinder. 

The A350 was the last model from Condor and production of motorcycles ceased in 1978 although they kept on producing bicycles till 1995. The Condor factory is still producing various non-motorcycle related metal products

Ben van Helden, december 2000 (c)


 Ben van Helden (c)

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