The Swiss Condor motorcycle was described by UK’s Classic Bike magazine in 1997 as “the bargain classic of the year”. At the time it was selling street-registered in the UK for £1350 ($2500). Pretty cheap, eh?
Surplus to Swiss Army needs, hundreds of these hybrids were being auctioned and distributed around Europe, with several ending up down south. In 1996 a friend told Rob Labordus, a Netherlands-based motorcycle fanatic who regularly travels to Australasia, he could pick one up for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars.
What’s so special about this ex-army, single-cylinder slugger?
The Condor A-350 is actually a Ducati-engined classic, using a detuned 1970s 350cc engine in a Swiss-made frame with Italian suspension and brakes. It was considered a blank canvas in the 1990s for enthusiasts of simple, reliable old motorcycles.
TALE OF INTRIGUE
“I did some digging and discovered the Swiss were off-loading their complete Condor fleet – pronto,” Rob says. “There was a bloke in a valley near the Swiss town of Chur where you could go to get a bike so off I went, assuming there would be queues of people wanting one.”
A day or two later he found the place and was stunned to find it deserted. Eventually he found the right person and was told the deal was a six-metre (20ft) container with 16 bikes inside.
“All were prepped and in good nick,” he recalls. “I don’t remember the exact amount but it was something like 400 guilders ($260) a pop, plus there was rental for the container and transportation to the Netherlands.”
Considering the value of money back then, it wasn’t petty cash but still a good deal. “I signed up, paid 10 per cent, and wandered off wondering if this was just another scam.”
Weeks passed and Rob was convinced he’d been diddled when one autumn day his receptionist told him someone was at the front desk waiting for him. “It turned out to be a Swiss truck driver carrying a 40-foot (12m) container with my name and address on it,” he says. “Shit, it’s actually here, I thought.
“So I cancelled appointments and ushered the driver to where I kept my collection of motorcycles.”
Rob had two weeks to empty it before it was to be picked up again.
TWO FOR ONE
Rob and his mate unsealed the container, opened the doors and were shocked to see 26 A-350s perfectly lined up and strapped to the floor. Six more were attached to a mezzanine.
“So 32 A-350s when I’d only bought 16. And that 16 were already pushing my storage capacity,” Rob says. Indecision struck. What to do? Grab and run or call the seller?
“Assuming someone else had got 16 instead of 32, I decided to call up and had a speech ready about the extra costs and not paying a penny to ship them back. The bloke on the line was adamant they were all mine,” Rob says. He acted quickly.
“I sold a batch of 12 for 1000 guilders ($640) each to a dealer, which covered the entire deal plus a few grand to spare.” Looking at that Classic Bike article of 1997, Rob’s dealer sale obviously left a lot of profit for the buyer. But there was another bonus.
“The 40-foot container, of which there were several I heard later, had a compartment to the side which contained two boxes in army livery,” he says. “One held the official toolbox with all the tools needed to tear down a A-350 [and any other Ducati single for that matter] to its constituent parts and a very big box – also in army green – with enough spares to maintain 32 A-350s through World War Three, assuming the Swiss would remain neutral again.”
Rob sold the rest of the A-350s over the next few years to a variety of people. “Quite a few farmers wanted one [without any registration] to tootle around the farm,” he says. “I worked in the north of the Netherlands at the time so the people there heard about the story of the 32 Condors and that was it.
“The north is an agricultural area and, seeing I priced them accordingly and offered some post-sales support, they sold quicker than anticipated. “By 1998 I was Condorless.”
WHAT’S A CONDOR?
A marriage of a Ducati single-cylinder engine to a Swiss-built frame, the Condor served the Swiss Army from 1973.
Swiss company Condor started motorcycle production around 1900, initially for the country’s postal service. Over the decades it built several different models, mostly with engines from other manufacturers. It manufactured motorcycles for the Swiss army from before World War I until its closure in 1978. Before the A-350, its military mainstay was powered bu a low-compression, side-valve boxer twin.
The Condor’s detuned Ducati 350 valve-spring (not desmo) engine was supplied from either Italy or Ducati’s Spanish partner, Mototrans. It was fitted to Condor’s own twin-loop frame which used rubber engine mounts.
With typical Swiss efficiency, the Ducati engine’s durability was increased by fitting a cartridge oil filter and a bolt-on mounting flange for the exhaust header rather than Ducati’s troublesome standard screw-in arrangement.
The combination of a milder cam, a 27mm carburettor (2mm smaller than standard), lower compression and restrictive muffler reduced power output to 17bhp from the standard Ducati MkIII engine’s 30bhp.
A Condor can nevertheless cruise at 100km/h but will never reach the Mk III’s 160km/h. Around 3000 units were built between 1973 and 1978 and were still in use until 2001.
The 1997 Classic Bike test recommended Condor buyers paint over the Army green. Forget that! The Condor now oozes chic, right down to the gun muzzle bracket fitted below the nose of the seat.