CLASSIC MOTOCROSS IRON: 1972 CZ 400 YELLOW TANKER
The Czechoslovakian CZ brand (Ceske Zavodny) had once been the premier motocross brand in the sport. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, they had Roger DeCoster, Paul Freidrichs, Brad Lackey, Joel Robert, Tony DiStefano, Vlastimil Valek, Victor Arbekov, John DeSoto, Jaroslav Falta and Dave Bickers racing for them. They won 13 World Motocross Championships and were the two-stroke brand that pushed the big four-stroke singles out of the sport. Manufactured in Czechoslovakia (the first CZ bike was made in 1932), the 1971-1972 yellow tankers were classic CZs. The commissars at the Ceske-Zavodny factory only made modest upgrades through the years, but most CZs can be told apart by their distinctive gas tanks. Red gas tanks were used in the late ’60s and 1970; the yellow tank in 1971–’72; the steel coffin tank in 1973; and the flat-silver coffin tank in 1974.
The 1972 CZ 400 was a close relative of the 1970 and 1971 models. The old CZ 360 was bored out to 380cc and called the 400. Some of the most noticeable changes from the older versions were the two-piece fender and separate airbox, split downtube in front of the engine (instead of under it), bare shocks (without the chrome covers) and a longer steerer tube. Most notably, the gas tank was painted yellow with rubber knee pads. As with most CZs, the vast majority of parts were interchangeable with older models.
Competition from the Japanese factories made life difficult for CZ, as its best riders abandoned the Czech factory, most notably Roger DeCoster and Joel Robert, for the Japanese teams. CZ bike sales in the USA slumped. The last serious-but-short-lived racing effort came in 1982 with the Type 981 single-shocker. Also in the late ’80s, there was another failed attempt to return to the scene with the Type 519 125 and the Type 520 250, both equipped with new, liquid-cooled engines.
New and never-ridden CZ machines are considered the Holy Grail for collectors, but they are hard to find. Most of the new and never-ridden CZs have found homes with collectors. For the 1972 model, the most important part to have is the yellow gas tank with checkerboard stripe and rubber kneepads. The 1972 CZ400 sold new for $1315, but expect to pay $4000 or more for a restored version. Look for an original machine with an undamaged 1.8-gallon tank, Pal rear shocks, 32mm Jikov carb and the proper 981 or 981.1 engine.
Cagiva bought into CZ in 1991 to produce affordable street bikes for the Italian market. CZ built the inexpensive Cagiva Roadster 521 in the Czech Republic. This bike was a flop. The Cagiva partnership went belly up in 1997. CZ motorcycle production was terminated, and the factory began producing gearboxes for Skoda cars. In a final gasp, Czech Republic motorcycle dealer MCF started building CZ motorcycles again by rebadging left-over 2014 Italian-built TMs as 2015 CZs. They also failed quickly.