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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

The History of NSU

The town of Riedlingen on the Danube river, is the place where, in 1873, Ferdinand Gröber operated a workshop for knitting machines. The takeover of this company by the two mechanics, Christian Schmid and Heinrich Stoll, is considered to be the founding date of the HSU company. After 7 years, Stoll moved to Reutlingen and Schmid to Neckarsulm, 150 km to the north, to an old gypsum- and saw-mill. The name Neckarsulm by the way, has less to do with the city of Ulm, it is derived from the names of the two rivers, the Neckar and the Sulm.

In 1884 Christian Schmid died at the age of 39. His brother-in-law was responsible for a different form of company, the 'Neckarsulmer Knitting-machine Factory' of which he became director. Two years later their main sales of knitting machines in winter was complimented by the sale of bicycles in summer. One relied on the Penny-Farthing 'Germania', which now, about 15 years after its invention, was experiencing a true boom, even though, due to its price, only the more wealthy could afford it. It was used, e.g., in bicycle racing where speeds of over 40 km/h were reached.

From 1897 -> 'Neckarsulmer Bicycle Works AG'

With the development of the ball-bearing and other mechanical components a considerably safer bicycle with a low frame, a chain drive and later also a freewheel, appeared relatively quickly. Parallel, In addition to this, the frame construction was of course, also altered. The first racing bicycle, exhibited in London, weighed 9 kg and had a price-tag of 375 Marks. In the field of frame building the company must have had a great deal of knowledge, because they were asked, in 1889, by Maybach and Daimler, to build the frame for their tubular-steel vehicle. By the way, in 1892 the production of knitting machines was stopped. Instead of supplying only complete bicyles, they also sold bicycle parts.

1905 - sprung front fork

1907 - participation in the Tourist Trophy (Isle of Man), the oldest motorcycle race in the world

What the company now needed was a new short name. It was at this point, that the abbreviation 'N. S. U.', derived from the place names, first appeared, and until 1912, still contained blank spacing and full-stops. During the crisis in 1901, the production was extended in the direction of motorcycles, which were actually, bicycles with auxiliary engines. Before, in 1903, they developed their own engines, they had to rely on supplies from the Swiss company Zedel, these were engines under De-Dion-licence with 200 - 250 cm³ and producing 1 - 2 Hp.

Neckarsulm, the first German production site for motorcycles with global distribution

A peculiar vehicle, which in spite of having an engine, only weighed 40 kg. The belt-drive ran parallel with the chain to a freewheel at the rear. This way, when riding uphill, one could also use pedal power. In the case of a defect, the belt could also be completely removed. In its first year, it was fitted with a surface carburettor, in the second year, a spray carburettor and the ignition was supplied by a dry battery which was supposed to last for 2000 kms, however, it was later replaced by magnetic coils.

1911 - NSU-motorcycles make up approx. half of the German exports.

From 1912 -> 'Neckarsulmer Vehicle works AG'

It never remained with just one delivery of a chassis to Daimler/Maybach, rather were the customary chassis, after the turn of the century, further produced and delivered to the Daimler company and their business partner Peugeot. Thus, it was only a matter of time until the NSU company attempted, after 1905/6, with the model 6/8 HP, to produce their own motorised vehicle. As if often happens in the changeover from motorcycles- to automobile manufacturing, e.g., later with the Japanese, the transition occurred through the three-wheeler. That's also the way it was with N. S. U. The vehicle was called the Sulmobil and the single front wheel was chain driven by, in this case an exception, a water-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke engine with 400 cm³ and producing 3 kW (3,5 Hp). As was normal at the time, only the rear wheels had brakes, nonetheless the price was 2500 Marks, it was used as a means for transporting people and goods and remained only one good year in their program. Previously they had taken over a construction from the Belgian Pipe company.

No, one could not have described the company's entry into car manufacturing as successful. Nevertheless, they did manage, also in the four-wheel sector, to make a name for themselves. In 1909, they took part, fairly successfully, in competition with much heavier vehicles, in the Prinz-Heinrich-Tour. Until the end of the automobile production in 1929 they achieved racing sucesses, particularly against much more powerful competitors.

In 1914 victory in the automobil race 'Circuit through Marocco'

In 1923 the class victory for small cars on the AVUS (Berlin)

They wanted to concentrate themselves on the building of motorcycles, by expanding the nation-wide leadership that they had before the Second World War, to then become the number one in the world. After all, in 1909 they already held the first world speed record. The last one dates back to the year 1956. Other than in the motor car sector, NSU could could serve the entire performance spectrum. What was missing in the four-wheeled vehicles, also later, was the bigger engine.

Thus, in the manufacture which was converted to war-time production of a tracked vehicle, they had to utilise the engine from the Opel Olympia. The first car built after the war, the NSU Prinz, was also powered by an engine derived from the motorcycle. Even after giving up the motor car production to Fiat in 1929, the thoughts of manufacturing a motor car were still never really abandoned. As early as 1932 Ferdinand Porsche was given an order and built three prototypes.

Thus, up to the year 1957, all that remains for us, is to report on the motorcycle production. Their success is undoubtedly due to their motor-sport results, as it so often is in the automobile business. Apart from the world speed records, it was the world championships, won in 1953 and 1954 in two classes at the same time, and the hattrick in the 250 class. The reputation of NSU-motorcycles spread to Japan where the first copies would later be the basis of global success.

Indeed, NSU also profited from other manufacturers. William Moore, who came from Norton, worked for the company from 1930 to 1939. A great many details allow conclusions from Moores experience in Britain. From 1936 onwards, the second man in the production was Albert Roder, who took over from Moore after the war. Thus, he played a large role in the worldwide success of the post-war models.

NSU is the German road-racing champion
Motorcycles with sidecar
1947600 cm³Hermann Böhm
Karl Fuchs
1948600 cm³Hermann Böhm
Karl Fuchs
1931500 cm³Werner Huth
19331000 cm³Paul Rüttchen
19341000 cm³Hans Soenius
1935350 cm³Oskar Steinbach
1935500 cm³Oskar Steinbach
1936350 cm³Heiner Fleischmann
1937350 cm³Heiner Fleischmann
1947350 cm³Heiner Fleischmann
1952125 cm³Otto Daiker
1953125 cm³Werner Haas
1953250 cm³Werner Haas
1954125 cm³Werner Haas
1954250 cm³Werner Haas
1954350 cm³Hermann Paul Müller
1955250 cm³Hans Baltisberger
1956125 cm³August Hobl
1956250 cm³Hans Baltisberger
1957125 cm³Karl Lottes
1957250 cm³Horst Kassner
1957350 cm³Helmut Hallmeier

While we're talking about names, we would like to remind you of two racing drivers. First of all, Wilhelm Herz, who in 1939, came to NSU from DKW but could only get into the points in 1948 by winning eight of nine races, thus becoming the German road-racing champion. He stands for the, possibly most spectacular world record, of 339 km/h on the Salt-Flats in Bonnevile (Utah, USA) with an 81 kW (110 Hp) compressor NSU.

Werner Haas, came, through his successes in 1952 and the falling out of two works riders, into the NSU racing team. He was, e.g., responsible for the 1953 world championship. Just have a look how often he appears in the list of the German road-racing championships. However, he gave up motorcycle racing together with his employer at the end of 1954, and died two years later in an airplane accident.

The development of their own engines began in 1903 with the timid increasing of the perfomance. They continued to use the belt drive. In 1909, in Los Angeles, they were at least, capable of setting a track record of 124 km/h (over the mile). Apart from their capacity, the engines didn't change much. All that changed in the timing, was the vertical exhaust valve in the cylinder head from automatic control to push- and pull rod operation.

From 1926 onwards there were OHV-engines. Particularly with the attachment of side-cars in mind, experiments with two cylinder engines were taking place, this of course raised problems as far as the (air) cooling was concerned. Sometimes only the front cylinder was slanted forwards, while the rear cylinder remained upright. Water cooling was also considered, but did not assert itself. By the way, side-cars were not only used to transport people, but also meant for operators of small businesses.

1913 - approx. 9 Hp, multi-disc clutch, three speeds, chain-drive -> the London Olympic show

The belt drive was also awkward, not only for the side-car drivers. Although two gear ratios were available quite early, to change from one to the other a sort of crank was needed, which made the procedure quite tedious. From 1913 onwards, the unusual 1000 cm³ V-engines, together with clutch, hand-change gears and chain drive to the rear wheel, were available in Germany. Through track-racing, these machines also appeared as solo-motorcycles.

All in all, the years shortly before- and after 1910 were plagued by sales problems of the heavy machines. Thus, also in the USA, Harley Davidson suffered more and more from the falling prices of the Model-T Ford. Because (particularly the heavy) motorcycles were not meant for the relatively meagre wallet, this also applied to the home market, indeed, on a much higher price level. Once again, this was the hour of the the light motorcycle, indeed, they now had reinforced frames.

The First World War, and above all, the post-war era, threw the German manufacturers far to the back. The total export-collapse could not be compensated for by military orders, and after the war it was even worse. Only at the end of 1923 could the production figures of 5 cars, 30 motorcycles and 120 bicycles per shift (10 hours), be improved. However, the next crisis of 1929 was again on the horizon. In spite of all this, in 1927, the first, highly acclaimed production-line manufacture of motorcycles was completed. 01/11               Top of page               Index
2001-2015 Copyright programs, texts, animations, pictures: H. Huppertz - E-Mail
Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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