To trace the tortuous path which Maico has followed over the years one must first go back to the mid 1930's. At that time the economic climate in Germany could not have been more conducive to anyone wishing to start their own company. Industry was enjoying a boom- after a disastrous collapse in the 1920's, and there was a feeling of confidence in the air. Caught up in this infectious euphoria, two young brothers, Wilhelm and Otto Maisch, decided that there was ample room for another motorcycle manufacturer, alongside the three German giants of that time BMW, DKW, and Zundapp.
Tempering their enthusiasm with a modicum of caution, the two brothers viewed many prospective workshops before finding suitable premises in the city of Wurtemburg.
With the abbreviation of the name Maisch Company to Maico, production started in 1934 with two models. Frames and cycle parts were home produced but engines for the inaugural Maicos were purchased from outside contractors. An Ilo 98cc single cylinder two stroke engine was fitted to the smaller of the two machines while the larger used a 125cc Sachs power unit.
These first two Maicos proved successful enough to get the newly formed Wurtemburg concern off to a good start but unfortunately this was soon to change, as the bottom began to fall out of the civilian motorcycle market. World War II was in the offing and the other German manufacturers BMW, DKW, and Zundapp were fulfilling the army's need for motorcycles. Maico ceased bike production and switched to the manufacture of aircraft parts. Channelling engineering expertise into this new filed the company moved to a larger factory in Pfaffingen. Business flourished between 1939 and 1945 by supplying parts for the Luftwaffe, but with the end of World War II the company found itself out of work.
The successful introduction of their own engines, and the healthy motorcycle market which existed in the years immediately after World War II, meant that for the greater part of the 1950’s Maico went from strength to strength. With this growing commercial viability came a yearning for prestige, and to this end a competition department was set up. Maico’s forays into the world of motorcycle sport were to pay handsome dividends, but before taking a look at the company’s early competitive successes, it is worth making a quick note of some of the various forms of transport to come out of the Pfaffingen factory between 1950 and 1957.
Of the road going motorcycles to be released by Maico during the 1950’s, the Taifun was the biggest in capacity and the most advanced in design. It came with an option of two engine sizes, 350 and 400cc. Both were parallel two stroke twins; the 400cc unit developed 22.5 bhp at 5250 RPM. In addition the M150 was upgraded and fitted with a 250cc engine. The M250 epitomised the ruggedness and durability that Maico had begun to build into their motorcycles and these qualities so impressed the German Federal Forces that they placed a contract for some 10,000 machines.
Inevitably, with the amount of development that has gone into two wheeled motorised transport over the years, from time to time some pretty odd looking machinery has come into being; the Ner-a-Car of 1921, and DKW’s mobile arm chair the Gollem-Roller, to name but two. However, when it comes to scooters it is to be doubted whether any company produced a more awkward looking machine than the Maicoletta, which Maico launched into the lucrative scooter market of the mid 1950’s.
This completely enclosed colossus broke completely away from the norm as far as motor scooter design was concerned. Its sheer size and small wheels meant that it should have proved an extremely difficult machine to ride. Nevertheless appearances can be deceptive, and in practice, the Maicoletta performed well enough. It was built primarily to fill the function of a touring machine and to this end served its purpose well, being big and powerful enough to carry two people and their luggage with ease.
When the Maicoletta was introduced, some members of the German motorcycling press of the time, joked that perhaps this was the first sign of Maico diversifying into car production. Little did they know that their intended witticism was in fact close to the truth, for on the heels of the monster scooter came Maico’s first and, up to 1977, only venture into the area of four wheeled transport. The cars assembled at Pfaffingen were fitted with Heinkel two stroke engines the same as those used in that company’s bubble cars of the time.
The reason for Maico using Heinkel engines was that power unit facilities at its own plant were not big enough for the job. The reason for not developing an engine like the Heinkel is probably due to the fact that the company saw car production as a gamble- a gamble which it did not wish to get too heavily involved with. Maico was right to be cautious, for the venture soon ran into trouble and was hastily terminated.
During the early 1950’s things began to hot up in the international motocross arena. However, it was the 500cc machines which were holding the limelight and as there were no international 250cc events- the class in which Maico was concentrating the greater part of its racing effort- the factory raced its machines mainly in Germany.
This state of affairs was to change in 1957 when the 250cc European Motocross Championship was introduced. Maico seized upon this chance to display just how competitive its machines had become and works rider Fritz Betzelbacher carried the title back to Pfaffingen.
The winning of its first international Motocross title was one of Maico’s many ups, but a down was soon to follow. The factory was bedeviled by a number of internal administrative difficulties. The abortive car venture and other diversified activities had taken their toll and Maico’s future as a motorcycle manufacturer looked anything but bright.
In order for Maico to survive, a major restructuring of the company took place in the late 1950’s and production lines at the factory were reorganised. Manufacture of the Maicoletta was halted and so unfortunately were the highly organised racing activities. The new company had a distinctly trimmed down look, as far as the model range was concerned, but as is so often the case it proved to be a much more viable proposition. From here, Maico was never to look back.
It was not long before competitive instincts at Pfaffingen once again came to the fore and in 1960 a new motocross machine, the Blizzard, was introduced. This had a 250cc two stroke engine which gave an output of 14.5 bhp, and the chassis featured leading link front suspension. The achievements of the Blizzard rightly led Maico to believe that the way forward was in motorcycle sport. Since then on the motocross front the company has gone from one success to another.
Although these successes have turned out to be the main strength of the factory over the years, they should not be allowed to cloud the fact that in road racing too Maico has had its fair share of victrories. The company has won four road race Grands Prix, albeit one of these being by default. In addition, factory rider Borje Jansson of Sweden, twice finished in the first three places in the 125cc World Championship title.
Maicos first road race Grand Prix victory came in 1972 when Jansson carried off the the 125cc round in the East German event. In the two previous years the 125cc Maicos had run consistently in the top placings but they never quite had the pace of the works Suzukis and Derbis. However, with the East German success under its belt, Maico was eager to take another 1972 Championship round, even if there was no chance of featuring in the title race.
The chance came in the Czechoslovakian held at the Brno circuit in Moravia. Sharing many of the characteristics of the Isle of Man TT course, Brno suited the canny Swede Jansson ideally. As the bikes hurtled through the small villages which lined the 8.66 mile circuit he successfully fended off challenges from Angel Nieto’s Derbi and the Yamahas of Kent Andersson and Charles Mortimer, to score a most rewarding victory. Disappointingly for Maico, the promise that the factory bikes showed in 1972 never really came to fruition.
The following year, Jansson did take his works RS125 to victory in the Swedish Grand Prix but here Maico’s winning trail effectively ended. Another Maico mounted rider, however, has stood on the Grand Prix winner’s rostrum. He was F. Reitmaier who won the 1974 West German 125cc event, after star riders had staged a walk out alleging inadequate safety facilities.
The works road race bikes of the early 1970’s were powered by 124cc single cylinder, two stroke, rotary valve engines and had six speed gearboxes. they developed a maximum output of 26 bhp @ 11,000 RPM and were capable of a top speed in the region of 115 mph.
Maicos challenge in road racing may have faded but the off-road machines are still, in 1977, among the best in the world. The man mainly responsible for the success of Maico’s motocross and enduro motorcycles is Gunther Schier, who joined the company in 1966.
Since his coming the factory has managed to lift the Manufacturer’s 500cc World Championship but never an individual title; there it has been a case of always the bridesmaid but never the bride, and three times works riders have finished runners up. Nevertheless, the factory at the start of 1977 had over one hundred national titles to its credit. These included three Trans-AMA, forty seven German, fourteen Dutch, and seventeen Belgian titles.
It is the Gunther Schier teams attention to detail and its determination to keep apace of motocross development that has kept Maico competitive. A prime example is the changes made to the works bikes at the start of the 1976 season. new longer forks with 9.5 inches of travel gave better handling at the front while rear suspension was improved by the swinging arm being mounted on needle roller bearings and by the use of cantilevered, adjustable gas/ oil shock absorbers.
In the constant fight to strip the bikes of weight, magnesium hubs were fitted both front and back. In the engine department, however, very little change was necessary. Right through the range Maico’s two stroke power units proved flexible and efficient. In the case of the 440cc machine, the output of 47 bhp at 6900 RPM was enough in the hands of such capable riders as Adolf Weil and Graham Noyce, for them to finish third and fourth respectively in the 1976 500cc World Championship.
Between 1970 and 1976 maico’s enduro machines ridden by Egbert Haas, Lenz Muller, and Herbert Schek were enormously successful in International Two Day Trials; Schek, during that period in fact, won the European Championship in the over 350cc class and finished runner up in the 250cc and 350cc category.
In 1973 a new enduro model range based on the World Championship motocrossers was introduced. The new enduros differed only from their motocross counterparts as far as gear ratios were concerned and the fact that they were fitted with lights. They shared the same two stroke, single cylinder, piston port engines and duplex cradle frames.
For the 1976 International Six Days Trial thirteen Maico GS enduros were entered, all of which finished. They collected nine gold and four silver medals and also second place overall for the West German Silver Vase Team.
As the prestige of the motocross machines has grown throughout the 1970’s so has the standing of Maico as one of the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturers. The only drawback appears to be that the success of the competition bikes has been at the expense of Maico’s road going machinery.
Unlike the motocross and enduro bikes, the styling of such Maicos as the MD50 and the MD125 at the start of 1977, was showing distinct signs of age. A notable exception was the MD250. This eye-catching lightweight had a radially finned, two stroke, rotary valved single cylinder engine with a capacity of 245cc. The MD250 developed 27 bhp at 7800 RPM and proved a good seller on Maico’s home market.
Like the Spanish companies Bultaco and Montesa, Maico’s future midway through 1977 was firmly founded on competition bikes.
However, as one door closes another often opens and quick to react to the dismal situation Maico swiftly retooled. Returning to the only other thing they knew, the Maisch brothers once again began to build motorcycles. With the knowledge they had gained since 1934 and by the virtue of their larger plant at Pfaffingen, they were now in a position to produce complete bikes. The first Maico engine, a 150cc single cylinder two-stroke unit, was introduced in 1947 and was used in one of the company’s post-war models, the M150.