The Classic CZ 125B - The first of the breed
India, in the era just after achieving independence, was in the supreme aura of a nation having got the chance to plot its own destiny. Two Zoroastrian businessmen and motorcycle enthusiasts had got together just before the Second World War to import and sell motorcycles in India. Farrokh K Irani and Rustom S Irani were technically nephew and uncle but given the situation then (unlike today), Parsi families were large and being almost the same age, they were more like brothers than anything else but that’s a totally different story altogether!
Farrokh and Rustom began by importing Sunbeams and BMWs, renowned for their big bikes ranging from 250cc upwards. However, the duo also knew and understood that they needed something for the absolutely lower-end commuter class, but they wanted to be different – read that as not buying British! And their search to make a difference brought them to the CZ brand of small two-stroke motorcycles from the then Czechoslovakia. They did import a small quantity of these Czech two-stroke single-cylinder bikes (less than a hundred units according to my research) before shipments stopped in mid-1939. However, immediately after the war was over, the duo again made contact but were told that yes CZs would be available but the brand was going to be amalgamated under a combined Jawa-CZ conglomerate that would also encompass a few other Czechoslovakian motorcycle brands.
Jawa was the future according to Motokov, the Czech export organisation, but the Iranis needed bikes quickly to fuel the boom for a small but eager clientele deprived of bikes for six long years due to the war. They placed an order for CZs of 125cc and 150cc displacements before the 125cc and 150cc displacements before the Jawa Peraks burst onto the scene and Ideal Motors’ portfolio. As things transpired, even when the Jawa Peraks began to appear in India in the late 1940s, the Iranis continued to order small quantities of CZs right through till the late 1950s!
The bike in focus here is an example registered in 1948 (but could be more 1946-47 methinks) and I would have dismissed it out of hand if only for the simple reason that when I was shooting some Jawas owned by old timer racer, mechanic and Jawa restorer Baban Dixit, I happened to see this bike, unkempt but intact and asked to ride it. Babanrao immediately said go ahead and one simple light kick and that small engine fired to life and I was away. Now I have ridden many a two-stroke of that vintage including BSA Bantams, DKW RTs, Villiers-engined James, NSUs, etc plus also had cut my teeth riding my dad’s Rajdoot Ranger so I didn’t have major expectations from it but boy was I blown away!
From its super smooth 125cc two-stroke engine to its sweet-shifting three-speed gearbox with the universal one down, two – three up gear shift (absolutely the reverse of the Jawa shift pattern), I knew I was in love with it the moment I kicked the engine into life with an easy swing. The small motor fired with a brisk note from its twin exhausts and as soon as I engaged first gear and let the clutch lever out, the bike smoothly and effortlessly pulled away from standstill. There is no ignition switch (people were more trusting in those days I should say) and killing the engine once you came to a stop was by the simple expedient of pushing the decompressor lever. Even the spring-less main stand had a simple holding mechanism when on the move.
I was so mesmerised by the smooth, sweet nature of this tiny engine’s power delivery that I just motored away from Babanrao’s abode and went for a spin that took in the better part of close to an hour! Built in 1946-47 this CZ 125B handles like a dream to this day, but then she also never felt as if she would touch a gazillion miles per hour! I found her nimbleness to be her greatest virtue, with just 76 kilos, large 19-inch wheels at both ends, excellent weight distribution front to rear and a fantastic riding position, it sure could beat any modern day 100cc econo-miser hollow for pleasure in the cut-and-thrust of the daily commute. With next to no rear suspension and only the seat springs to prevent the bumps from the road surface to go up my spine, I was a bit scared of pushing it but my worries were unfounded.
The only issue I had was that I didn’t know how much gas was in the tank, and also didn’t want to get stuck, what with there being no ignition switch to it. There was also the small issue of only the rear brake working, somewhat. Thankfully, though, it worked well. However, being used to hitting the front anchors, I had to recalibrate my thoughts to begin to hit the right foot a bit more on the brake pedal!
I thoroughly enjoyed my ride back to Babanrao’s place where he was just about to start out on one of his multitude of Jawas to come looking for me. I asked him if he would lend the bike to me for a couple of days just to ride around town and he agreed. It was the best couple of days with such an old but supremely lively machine and when I went back to return it to him, I asked him as to when did he get this bike. He said that he bought it from its fourth or fifth owner just a few years ago and that the bike was yet in original time warp condition, fresh from the time it first landed on Indian shores.
I didn’t think much of it and went home to continue completing my book on Jawa motorcycles and then purely on a whim, rang up Babanrao and asked him if he could show me the registration book of the bike to get some idea of when exactly it was registered. About a day later, Babanrao came to my place to also see the images my son Kaizad had clicked of me on this bike and he brought two RTO registration books with him of the same bike. While Kaizad was showing Babanrao the images on his workstation, I began to leaf through the registration books and something on the very first page caught my eyes!
There, in clear unambiguous manner, was the name of the first owner: Farooq K Irani! I asked Babanrao if he knew who this Farooq was and he said it was probably a Muslim gentleman but I said that he was mistaken, for I knew that Farrokh’s father’s name was Khudamurad and also that his dealership in Poona known as F K Irani & Co, registered at 2422 East Street and this was the very address written in the book! Immediately I got on to the phone to Farrokh’s son Raian Irani in Mysuru and asked him about this bike and he recollected something about it. I then dug into my archives which included a host of material handed to me almost 20-22 years ago by Noshir K Irani, Farrokh’s younger brother and there was it – BYF 9287 was indeed one of the very first bikes owned by Farrokh K Irani who, as many would know, would then go on to be the founder-chairman and managing director of Ideal Jawa India Ltd from 1960 until he passed away in 1985!
I then found out something more about this bike: It was raced by the Ideal Motors racing team in the annual race meets conducted at the hallowed Lohegaon circuit by the Deccan Motor Cycle Sports Club (DMCSC), the pioneer club to start motorcycle road racing in India, from 1949 onwards (Sholavaram’s All India Motor Race Meet only got going in 1957-58 by the way!). I think it won a handful of races through the years and was also used later as a demonstrator motorcycle at the F K Irani dealership until it was sold. Not many would have been aware of the fact that this very model of the CZ was also sold in the US badged as an, wait for it, Indian! So when both Ideal Motors in Bombay and F K Irani & Co in Poona began to sell it along with the Jawa 250 Perak a few years down the line, its sheer simplicity and utter reliability won it many friends.
When I narrated the entire history I had thus dug up of this bike to Baban Dixit, he was flummoxed to say the least! The fact that he used to race a similar bike at Lohegaon in the early 1960s wasn’t lost on him but to be told that he had a machine of unprecedented provenance as to its first owner, along with a race history to boot, had him shaking his head in disbelief! I think even to this day he has that silly dopey smile writ all over his near 72-year- young face!
This bike is in absolutely original condition and has never been restored or repainted as such. Yes, the engine might have had an overhaul, but neither Babanrao nor its previous owner could recollect anything more than that. Before I happened to stumble on to this CZ, Babanrao was contemplating a complete rebuild and restoration but when the provenance of the bike unfolded through a series of pure luck and a whim, I told him to keep it as it is, in its ratty state but yet having lost none of its awe-inspiring spunk.
This surely has to be among the holy grail of all motorcycles in the country, and definitely foremost among all in Ideal Jawa history; an immensely priceless machine that would have gone undetected had the Jawa book research not caused me to chance upon it, fortuitously! Truly a veritable blast from the past indicating the strong Czech mettle Indian motorcyclists were to experience from 1947 onwards.