1493070682828 - Could the iconic N-Zeta scooter return with electric power?

Could the iconic N-Zeta scooter return with electric power?

In Europe, the C-Zeta Type 501/502 scooter, produced between 1957 and 1963, was affectionately nick-named “the pig”. Over here, we called the New Zealand-assembled version “the torpedo” for the distinctive long snout that housed a luggage area and the headlight.

The 501 and 502 were rebranded as N-Zetas by JNZ Manufacturing Limited, the Kiwi company that built 4000 scooters under licence at a South Auckland factory during the early 1960s.

Now the N-Zeta could make a return to this market as an electric scooter, following the rebirth of Cezeta in the Czech republic, and the launch of the new 501-502-mimicking Type 506.

So far, no New Zealand motorcycle distributor has announced its intentions to import the Type 506, and the opportunity to revive a two-wheeled Kiwi icon remains just that – an opportunity. However, establishing a heritage has proved to be a successful aid to the marketing of motorcycles, so any attempt to import the new Cezeta 506 will be best done under the N-Zeta brand. It’s an absolute no-brainer.

If such a venture starts up, it’ll no longer have to conform to the restrictive import licencing laws of the 1960s in this country. Back in the days of JNL, 25 per cent of the N-Zeta’s content had to be sourced from within New Zealand’s borders, and the paint, tyres, exhausts, and handlebars were all Kiwi-made, while the electro-plating of chrome-coated parts was also done locally.

Add the New Zealand work-force that assembled the bikes, and the N-Zeta just squeaked above the “25 per cent” barrier.

For any Kiwi entrepreneur who wants to get involved, just a change of badge would be required this time around. Cezeta have already announced plans to sell the Type 506 in the UK, US, and Australia, and it seems a small step to include New Zealand in its marketing to English-speaking nations.

Further to this, the revival of the Czech scooter brand is being led by a Brit, Neil Eamonn Smith. Smith moved to the Czech Republic from his native Great Britain, and first noticed a C-Zeta when attending a wedding soon after his arrival there in 1998.

“I said what is that? I was with a friend and he said it was a C-Zeta, a “pig” – or “prase” as they call it. I was instantly in love with her, it was a fantastic thing, and I immediately went out and bought one.”

His ownership of the C-Zeta led Smith to develop a business restoring old scooters and replacing their smoky two-stroke combustion engines with electric motors and batteries. This in turn led to his most ambitious project of all – the restoration of an old motorcycle factory in Prague to house his new company, Cezeta. Thus from the ashes of Communism in Eastern Europe, the successor to the once-famous C-Z brand was born.

Work soon began on the Type 506, which would eventually retain just the exterior design cues of the original C-Zetas, and discard virtually everything else. Even those are changed slightly – the 506 rides on 13 inch wheels instead of 12 and has a longer rear swingarm – both in the interests of blessing the scooter with extra stability.

Smith soon found that he could not retain the pressed steel monocoque construction of the 501/502, and opted to build the 506 with an aluminium spaceframe clad with composite bodywork instead. The cost savings allow the 506 to be priced at around 5000 pounds in the UK, and approximately $8500 in USA. Such prices would appear to translate to the Type 506 selling for $15,000-$17,000 in this market.

An interesting design feature of the 506 is the flexibility built into its battery packaging and its connections to the wiring loom of the bike, so that owners of earlier models can easily upgrade their battery packs as better energy storage technologies develop.

The first 506 came with a 3.5kWh lithium-ion battery array that allowed a range of 60km, but there are now 5kWh and 7.5kWh options available, that increase the range to 90km and 130km respectively. If that’s not enough, a single-wheel battery trailer can be towed behind the scooter that extends its range to 250km.

A rear-hub- mounted brushless electric motor drives the 506, and can produce 8kW of power continuously or 11kW in short bursts. There is 215Nm of riding force available right from the get-go – 10 times more than my Vespa 300GTS. The 506 weighs 130kg without the battery, and can accelerate from 0-60kmh in 3.2 seconds. When equipped with the largest battery, top speed is a giddy 120km/h.

The Type 506 comes with a fail-safe automatic charger that is built into the bike and will recharge the bike in four to five hours before turning itself off. An optional fast charger can reduce the recharging time to 30 minutes. The Panasonic LiFeYPO4 battery cells are the same internal battery components as used by Tesla and Toyota, and the Type 506 comes with a warranty of three years/45,000km.

All the numbers add up to the most convincing electric scooter that has emerged so far. That it can also play the heritage card and could easily occupy a place amongst all other Kiwiana can be regarded as bonuses.

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