Zündapp was a German manufacturer of motorcycles that was founded in 1917. Zündapp collaborated with Porsche in the development of the Volkswagen car and after WWII the company manufactured one car of its own, the Zündapp Janus. Zündapp closed due to bankruptcy in 1984.
The company began as a producer of detonators, but diversified in the 1920s into designing and manufacturing motorcycles. They sold many successful models, several of which were used by the German Wehrmacht. In 1931, Zündapp worked with Ferdinand Porsche on the development of the Volkswagen prototype. After the war, Zündapp continued to produce motorcycles, scooters and mopeds.
In 1957, Zündapp produced their first and only car, the Janus. This was a microcar, often referred to as a bubble car. Zündapp had commissioned Claude Dornier, an aircraft designer, to design a futuristic bubble car in 1954. It was originally called the Delta, but the name was changed to Janus after the Roman god who faced both forwards and backwards. The Zündapp Janus had front and rear windscreens, with the driver and front passenger sitting on a bench seat facing forwards and the rear passengers seated the opposite way at the back, looking at the road already driven on. Just under seven thousand models were produced between 1957 and 1958.
The Janus was powered by a 245cc one-cylinder, two-stroke engine that produced 14 HP. This gave a top speed of 50 mph, which was greatly reduced if the car was fully loaded with three passengers and a driver. The engine was mounted between the seats and the car was entered via front and back doors. The car had a 4-speed transmission and a 12 volt electrical system, with MacPherson strut suspension. There were several optional extras including a heater and a sunroof, with perhaps the strangest being the option of a fake rear steering wheel to give the impression of a car that could be driven both ways.
The lightness of the centre-mounted engine meant that when the Zündapp Janus was fully loaded, the centre of gravity was extremely variable and led to handling difficulties, especially when turning. The car was also prone to water ingress and rusting around the quarter lights. There was very little space for luggage, with the only storage available in mesh nets inside the doors. The car was also much more expensive than other contemporary microcars and production ceased in 1958.
Of the 6,900 sold, only around 70 models remain and are now collectors’ items. The Zündapp Janus was recently immortalized in an animated film, Cars 2. The villain of the Pixar movie is Professor Zündapp, a blue Zündapp Janus.