Jawa has the distinction of being one of the oldest names in motorcycle manufacturing that is still going today.
Frantisek Janecek, the founder of Jawa, produced his first motorcycle in 1929 based on the German Wanderer engine. Today the Jawa company produces mainly commuter machines.
Frantisek Janecek was born in 1878 in the former Czechoslovakia. In his teens he studied mechanical engineering in Prague and Berlin. Initially employed by the Kolben company in Vysocany, he was soon promoted to a management position and put in charge of a new facility in Holland at the relatively young age of 23.
By his early 30s, Janecek had opened his own workshop in Prague where, after serving in World War I, he designed the hand grenade.
By the late 20s the demand for armament had declined, and, having established a manufacturing business capable of making precision engineering items, Janecek decided to go into motorcycle production.
For their first motorcycle, the company decided to utilize engines from outside sources, and after considering Puch and Schliha engines they decided to go with a German company named Wanderer. At this time Wanderer had decided to cease production rather than take on the might of BMW, and after the near collapse of the German auto industry, selling engines to Jawa was a way to keep a limited production facility going.
The Wanderer engine chosen for the new machine was a 500-cc unit. Taking the first two letters from Janecek's name and the first two from Wanderer, the new motorcycles would be called Jawa.
Jawa's first 2-stroke machine was based on the British Villiers engine after English engineer and racer G. W. Patchett was recruited to assist in the design of a simple lightweight machine. This new design was highly successful to the extent that Jawa eventually ceased production of the 500-cc machine.
350-cc SV and OHV machines were also developed around this time (early 30s)as was a 98-cc 2-stroke unit construction (engine and gearbox utilizing the same casings) engine.
The Second World War brought about many changes at Jawa as Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans who forced the Jawa company to make airplane engines and generators. However, during 1940 Janecek was allowed to design and develop a new motorcycle. Unfortunately Frantisek Janecek died in 1941 before seeing the new machine into production. His son, Karel, took over the business.
After the war, the new machine (a 249-cc 2-stroke) was put into production and was one of the first companies in Europe to make available affordable transport for returning troops looking for transport to and from work.
By 1948 most of the major companies in Czechoslovakia had been nationalized, and the ruling communist party decided that the two major motorcycle manufacturers – Jawa and CZ – should be effectively combined. Although in reality the two companies were still separate enterprises - Motokov, the communist run export company of Czechoslovakia - would export the motorcycles together to distributers in various countries. This same year also saw the introduction of another new machine—the Jawa-Ogar which used a 250-cc frame with a 350-cc engine.
During the 50s, Jawa produced an OHC twin 4-stroke (intended for road racing) and a single cylinder 500-cc unit also with an OHC. Tje year 1954 saw the introduction of two new models (250-cc and 350-cc 2-strokes) officially known as the Jawa-CZ 353 and 354 variants of which can still be purchased today.
The 60s saw a commercial agreement to manufacture and sell Jawa motorcycles in India. The Indian company was called Ideal Jawa India Ltd. and was based in Mysore. In addition to the Jawa machines, Indian Yezdi machines were also manufactured at the plant. Production was discontinued in 1996.
MX and Scramble competition success came through machines labeled CZ. Some of the best riders in the world used these machines at one time or another. Better known amongst these riders to use CZ MX machines were Tony DiStefano, Brad Lackey, Roger DeCoster, Sylvain Geboers, Jaroslav Falta, Paul Fredricks and Joel Robert.
Another competition area that was highly successful for Jawa-CZ (albeit for Jawa badged machines) was Speedway, along with its variants grass track racing and ice racing. The engines were originally designed by rider and engineer Jaroslav Simandl who had earned a reputation for modifying and improving JAP speedway engines. The first engines were known as krátkozdvihový S45 which was later changed to ESO. Engines and complete machines are still available today from a separate company called JRM (Jawa Racing Motors).