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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Category: Classic Vehicles

NSU Supermax

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Neckarsulm Strickmaschinen Union (NSU) emerged from producing knitting machines and bicycles to motorcycles and cars. By the  mid 1950s, NSU had grown to become one of the largest motorcycle producers in the world. It directly translated great success on the racetrack with the Rennfox and Sportmax machines into showroom sales, as they amassed victories in sidecar, 125cc and 250cc world championships (see Of silver dolphins and blue whales). One of the best translations was the NSU Supermax.

The Supermax was introduced in 1953, and was designed by Albert Roder who had worked on the supercharged racing motors. It was a 250cc 4 stroke single, producing about 18hp at 6500rpm, and weighing just 384lbs. The innovative features introduced included a new "calm" air filtration system, and a chain driven overhead camshaft. At the time, these were somewhat ground-breaking on a production motorcycle. It also featured a four speed gearbox which propelled the machine to 78mph. Very respectable for a 250cc thumper. Brakes were drum front and rear, on 19 inch wheels. Other innovations included the monocoque pressed steel frame, and a short rocker front suspension.

The Supermax enjoyed very good sales, helping to propel NSU to become the world's largest motorcycle producer in 1955. They also held world speed records in 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1955, including breaking the 200mph mark for motorcycles at Bonneville. The Supermax model continued until it was replaced in 1961. 



The Variant

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As covered here before, (see the rise of the type 3), Volkswagen was among the first automakers to really leverage a single chassis for multiple variations on a large scale. This was certainly true for the Type 3, where the Notchback, the Fastback, and the Squareback, were all manifestations of the same base. And that base, was the beetle chassis. The Variant (Squareback) was the Estate model, or the Station Wagon model in the USA. It answered the basic need for more room to carry people and/or goods. Just like the VW bus, variety was provided by two variations of the variant (ok, I promise to end this now). There was a two door passenger version, and a two door panel van version, which only had front seats with a large cargo area behind them. While the Type 3 was launched in 1961 with the 1500 Notchback, the Variant first saw production in early 1962, but did not make it to the US until 1966.

Of course, the key to the Type 3 cars was the flattened version of the 4 cylinder air-cooled engine. That engine weighed under 300 lbs, and was only 18 inches tall. The cooling fan was lowered and relocated, the gerator was relocated, and the oil cooler was repositioned. In total, it was a brilliant repackaging of the standard beetle engine. In fact, it came to be called the pancake. Power was not the forte of this engine, as it produced a mere 50hp, and was good for a top speed of 77mph. In later years, it gained the dual carburetor setup and then got the landmark Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Back to packaging, the engine fit below the floor in the rear allowing for a usable trunk. Coupled with a front trunk compartment, storage capacity was very good. With the additional vertical room provided by the "Squareback" body, it was excellent. The interior was relatively luxurious by VW standards. Pleated vinyl, headrests, full carpeting, an attractive gauge pod, more than spartan door panels, the option of an automatic, etc. 

Although sales were small in comparison to the mighty beetle, more than 1.2 million Variants were sold between 1962 and 1973, and that number climbs to 1.45 million if you include Brazilian production as well. This is well over half of the entire Type 3 production. The Variant remains popular today among air-cooled VW enthusiasts and is well represented on sites like and


First Wankel

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NSU Wankel.png

In 1963 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, NSU introduced the world's first production car with a Wankel engine. The Wankel Spider was designed by Bertone, but up front it had a passing resemblance to the Pinninfarina-designed Alfa Giulietta Spider. The car was basically an NSU Sport Prinz Coupe with the roof cut off, and a rotary engine mounted over the rear axle. This allowed for two trunks while maintaining the sporty shape and appearance, but the front trunk was small in order to make room for the radiator and gas tank. The rear sheet metal was modified from the coupe to allow for storage of the folding top, and the rear engine compartment. The two-seater interior was elegantly trimmed in two color leather. 


The 500cc engine made just under 50hp, which was adequate at the time, given the 1500lb weight, but the high revving engine sounded like nothing else on the road. It was good for a top speed of 98mph. However, the materials used in building these first generation engines caused more rapid wear than anticipated, and problems began to surface once the cars were in the field. Engine rebuilds were common at 30,000 miles, although it took a while for most cars to get there. Handling, however, was superior. according to Autocar at the time, "The Spider is really most enjoyable on minor roads with lots of twists and turns, where its exceptional stability and cornering powers, together with the quick reactions of its rack-and-pinion steering, allow very fast averages to be maintained."


Only 2375 were built, and only a paltry 215 made it to the US. Ironically, one of those 215 became the first Wankel race car, competing in SCCA H Modified. It is believed that the relatively high price, and low production numbers were evidence that NSU introduced the car more as a test bed for the rotary engine. An improved version was introduced in the NSU R080 sedan in 1968 (see NSU R080). 


Classic RS Rally

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It is hard to imagine, but the original BMW R100RS was launched in the fall of 1976 as a 1977 model, and is now 40 years old.  There have been many variations and iterrations since then, but the original production vehicle still defines the model. At the time of its launch, the RS was a radical departure from other machines of the time. It was a fully faired machine compared to naked machines, it offered bold futuristic styling,  and relatively luxurious accommodations to envelope the pilot as he consumed miles by the hundreds each day.  A top speed of 108 mph, and 70 hp in a 535 pound machine was a very good performance package at the time. It was a true "Gentleman's Express".


The RS started with a recognition by BMW Motorrad that their bikes were sort of....well...dated, and were in danger of appealing only to an older demographic. Their solution was to employ stylist Hans Muth to spruce up the line, and get younger customers excited. He used the wind tunnel to design and then test a multi piece fairing that would look modern if not futuristic. The result was a 5.4% reduction in drag, and a 17.4% reduction in front wheel lift. To put this in perspective, lots of riders of all marques were buying and attaching Windjammer fairings to their machines for touring at the time. However, the R100RS was considered the first production model to come fully faired off the showroom floor.  At the time, Motorcyclist's Bob Greene said "In one bold move the Germans have advanced motorcycle styling several years". More than that, the bike offered great protection from the elements. Many consider this motorcycle to be the birth of the Sport Tourer. A special Motorsport edition was later launched with a signature red nose on the fairing, and many RS machines including K bikes and R bikes to the present time, occupy BMW showrooms and enthusiast garages.

Which brings us to Todd Trumbore, and the 40 year celebration of the RS. Todd has been a guest author for Classic Velocity, a great motorcycle enthusiast in general, and is well known for his annual rides. He is also known for his R90S 40 year celebration a few years ago. Once again, he has gone above and beyond in bringing Hans Muth to anchor a celebration of his design. The lineup of silver blue 1977 RS machines was spectacular, including serial number 001. The collection of attendee machines was impressive as well, including a million mile R100S. Camping and tech workshops and lectures, and the Airhead Store, and food and drink, made this a true Rally worthy of the BMWMOA organization. But it was essentially the work of one man. Great guy, great machine, great event.



Mercedes 200D : Building The Diesel Legend

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 Mercedes Benz has always been a premier luxury marque, but they have also been a producer of basic workhorse transportation. Pick a movie from the sixties and seventies set in Europe, the Middle East, or the third world in general, and you will note their legendary role as the taxi cabs of the world. That legend started with the W110 in the early 1960s, and in particular with the Diesel variant. Mercedes was never the cheapest sedan, but in the case of the 190D and 200D, they quickly built a reputation for running millions of kilometers, tolerating heavy loads, and being generally indestructible. Those are the key attributes of a commercial vehicle, but in this case, they were embodied in a sedan.

The W110 series began in 1961 with the introduction of the 190 cars., replacing the W111 series and confounding the once logical Mercedes nomenclature. They were part of the Heckflosse (Fintail) series covered here before (see The Heckflosse Champion), and had the signature appendages in the rear. In the front, they looked like the preceding Ponton cars (see Ponton Production) with the round headlights and the snub nose. Inside, wood was replaced with Bakelite, and luxury seats were replaced with fixed back items. But the key gamble that Mercedes continued to take was in promoting the Diesel engine. At the time, diesel engines  were noisy and visibly produced soot out of the tailpipe. They also had extremely sluggish performance. The press was not kind to these machines, and the traditional Mercedes customer did not view them positively either.


However, the taxi cab industry had quite the opposite view. These were robust, relatively fuel efficient vehicles with enough comfort to be the ideal conveyance. If it was good for taxicabs, then it was good for others desiring rock solid transportation, and sales grew along with the reputation. Between 1961 and 1965, the diesel variant outsold the gasoline version by over 95,000 units. In 1966, a second series of the W110 was introduced. The inline 4 diesel in the 200D now had a 5 bearing main crankshaft, twin carburetors, and increased bore to yield 1988cc. This produced a whopping 60hp, and a top speed of 130kph in a vehicle weighing 2794 lbs. This was not a performance sedan! However, it also went on to outsell the gasoline variant by over 51,000 units between 1966 and 1968. 

Overall, over 387,000 of the W110 diesels were produced by the time they were replaced by the W115 series in 1968. They cemented the legendary status of the Mercedes Benz Diesel engine, which also became popular in marine applications. It also provided a reputation for reliable, durable vehicles to complement the image of premier luxury automobiles. Remember the 600 Pullman was produced in the same timeframe, as were trucks and vans. No other manufacturer at the time had such an effective grasp of both ends of the spectrum.

The Neander Meander

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Ernst Neumann Neander of Duren, Germany was a man of many talents. He was known as an artist, with works in sculpture, painting, and poetry. However, he reportedly built one of the earliest motorcycles in 1886. He later returned to motorcycles in 1926 when he designed the machine seen here. It had many signature features, the most prominent of which was the box section frame made or Duralumin. But for the headlight, you would be excused for thinking this was a machine from 30 years later. The frame looks like a modern twin spar, the tank could be postwar, etc.  The frame went on to be licensed by Opel, which used it with some success in racing. It also featured a unique articulating fork. Neander used several different engines in his machines including JAP, Villiers, and MAG.    Although some small displacement machines were created, the majority were either 500cc or 1000cc machines. Overall, the look was very modern for the time, and it was thought to be both artistic and innovative.  However, they were not to everyone's taste. Only about 2,000 Neanders were produced over almost a ten year period, and they went out of production in the 1930s. They also produced tricycles and quadricycles, which never appealed to the public and were short-lived.  Neander also produced several very interesting cars during this time, but that is a story for another post. The name has been resurrected in recent times to be used on a turbo diesel motorcycle. 


Victoria Bergmeister

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Victoria as a marque has been covered before (see The Victoria Ventures). The word Bergmeister dates back some time, and refers to the Foreman of a mine in Germany and Austria. However, in the context of Victoria, it is intended to translate to Mountain Master.  The model was introduced in 1951, and was quite remarkable at the time. It featured a 4 stroke ransversely mounted 80 degree V-twin reminiscent of a Moto Guzzi. It was air-cooled, and had pushrods activated overhead valves. A single Bing carburetor served the 350cc motor, which produced 21hp, The engine is also noted for its streamlined Art Deco appearance. The cases are smooth, and enclose the aforementioned carburetor, giving an appearance common to today's no-visible-cables custom bikes. Elegant body panels and frame paint added to the blend of old and new.


The transmission used chains rather than gears which reportedly produced a quieter ride. The 4 speed  fed a shaft drive system. Total weight of the bike was 398 lbs, and it was often used in combination with a sidecar. Suspension was telescopic forks up front, and a plunger rear end. It took until 1954 for the Bergmeister to make it into production. It was very expensive to produce into a market with good competition from NSU and BMW. However, it did well in hill-climbs and other trials at the time to become well regarded. Reportedly, only about 5,000 Bergmeisters were produced until Victoria merged with DKW in 1958 to form Zwierad Union. 



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From 1952 to 1957, Fahrzeugwerke Kanneberg produced stylish scooters featuring "Jet Age" design. The key design element was a jet turbine looking feature beneath the seat, but they also had side air scoops and a smooth front end profile. The scooters were very well regarded from a quality and styling perspective, but they were high-priced. They also produced a three-wheeled commercial vehicle with a front-wheel mounted engine. 


Eventually, the high pricing killed sales, and production ended in 1957. 

Neue Klasse Homologation Special

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In 1962, BMW broke even for the first time since the war thanks to a strategic infusion from the Quandt family, and some surprising success with a few models (see Birth of the Bavarian Sports Sedan and The Halo and the Hail Mary). This allowed them to introduce the Neue Klasse sedans in 1963 which immediately began to sell well. A 1500 model was introduced in various trim levels, all using the now famous "3 Box" design, and the M10 engine. The 1500 gave way to a 1600 model (except in countries where 1500cc was an important tax limit), and the a 4 door 1800 was eventually introduced. 


A homologation special, the 1800 TI/SA, was introduced in 1964. It was produced to support the factory works effort, and took the TI (Turismo Internationale) production version and upgraded it to SA (SonderAusführung) specifications. This involved higher compression (10.5:1), twin Weber carbs rather than the twin solex TI, larger brakes upfront and rear disc brakes, a 5 speed gearbox, and a hotter camshaft. In the cockpit, there was a special tachometer and sport seats. On the exterior, there were no bumpers, and plain wheels without trim or covers. The end result was 150 hp compared to 120 hp in the TI. Only 200 of these specials were produced, and they were sold only to race teams.


The TISA was successful in competition, winning the German national championship in the hands of Hubert Hahne in 1964, and coming second at the Spa Francochamps 24 hour race. In 1965, the TISA won Spa in the hands of Pascal Ickx (yes, father of Jacky Ickx). Today, you can still find the TISA at events like Goodwood and the Monterey Historics, but they are mostly tucked away in private collections and museums. 

A Fuel's Errand

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Simplicity is good. Few moving parts, a basic electrical layout, black paint, no frills. This could be a description of the Ford model T, but it is not. It is a description of our BMW R26. A 1956 single cylinder, single carb, 6V standard motorcycle. It does not get much simpler, no matter how far you go back. The motto of the Airheads (of which we are members) is "Simple by Choice", and this machine beautifully embodies that motto. It is a beautiful machine built for a purpose, at a time when quality efficient transportation was key. It even has points for sidecar attachment, despite having just 15hp at its' disposal. If you have ever been dragged along the ground by 15 horses at a gallop, you will know that it is more than adequate power.  So with such a simple and well-built machine, what tale do you have to tell ? Glad you asked.

It started with the smell of fuel n the garage. It took a while to trace it to the R26, but there was definitely a more pronounced smell around that machine.  There was no visible stain or wet spot, just a lingering smell of fuel. The usual suspect on machines like this is the float bowl of the carb being faulty, and failing to shut off the fuel supply leading to a leak. The bottom of the float bowl was suspiciously moist, and the engine casing below it was suspiciously clean, so it seemed like an open and shut case. Upon examination, the float had trapped some moisture, and so a new one was sourced (ridiculously expensive for a brass float compared to plastic, but this bike is nice enough to warrant original). A new float bowl gasket was ordered as well. Once received and installed, I went for a test ride and all seemed well. 

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. there was a droplet of fuel forming at the same spot on the bottom of the float bowl. At this point, I began to see if there was a route to the bottom of the float bowl coming from some other part of the carb or the fuel hoses. There was nothing obvious, although at one of the fuel hose connection points, the fabric-covered fuel hose was definitely damp from fuel. Since this motorcycle is just gravity-fed for fuel, there were no clips on any of the connection points. Despite not liking the look, hose clamps went onto every connection point. There was no other place where fuel was evident, so I took a brief test ride and checked. And then I checked again an hour later. The problem looked solved.

Next morning, faint smell of fuel. I laughed the kind of laugh that pokes fun at oneself, but which really indicates that the situation is not really funny anymore. Upon examination this time, there was no longer a droplet at the bottom of the float bowl, but there was a clean spot on the engine case right below where one of the hose clamps now lived.  Well I was planning to do a carb rebuild anyway, and so I did. Then, climbing a diagnostic ladder toward the fuel tank, I encountered a moist area right at the petcock lever. Aha ! A notorious spot for problems due to the disintegration of the o-ring gasket. Not content to stop there, I also ordered the petcock gasket for the attachment to the tank. Parts arrived a week later, and took only a few minutes to install. I sat watching the petcok with the fuel turned on, and the machine off. No detectable leakage. I waited an hour and checked again. No detectable leakage. I took a test ride. No detectable leakage. I waited 2 hours and looked again. The petcock was moist with fuel. 

From what I could tell, the fuel began right where the petcock threaded on to the tank. But it had a new gasket that I had just installed! I drained and removed the tank and concentrated my attention on the petcock flange. Nothing detectable. I put the petcock on it, plugged the cross connection, and threw in a little fuel. Nothing detectable. I then put the tank in its normal position, and taped some paper towel to the tank encircling the petcock flange. I let it sit. An hour later, Bingo ! The paper towel was moist with fuel. Not much, but certainly enough to form a drip over many hours. I repeated the experiment. Same result, a small fuel leak from the tank itself.


I emptied the tank and began to lightly sand the area around the flange. It was built up with solder, so someone had been here before. I could not find the specific point of the leak, but there were a few suspect areas once the paint was removed. After some days of drying, and then work with a wire wheel and dremmel tool, most of the solder was removed, revealing a hairline crack. It was clear then, that vibration was probably the key ingredient to making it leak and find its way through the solder patch job. Once cleaned up, it was properly welded, and the the paper towel test was repeated. Bone dry. 

So what did we learn? A repeated lesson shared before in To Fuel or not to Fuel, and in On Getting Grounded and in To Spark or Not to Spark. Obvious solutions, and the usual suspects sometimes mask the culprit. I did not go to the tank first, because carbs and petcock are notorious for fuel leaks, and I thought I found the problem with the float bowl (which did have an issue, just not the main one). In this case, the simplicity of the machine contributed to a sense that the solution must also be simple. It was, that is once I found the root cause....

Ponton Production

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Mercedes had been slowly rebuilding its manufacturing capacity after the war, but in July 1953 they really regained that capacity with the production of the "Ponton" cars. These cars were so named because of the external body styling which resembled pontoons. They were really the first true postwar vehicle from Mercedes, as machines such as the 170D were really just postwar versions of prewar cars. The cars and the styling are thought to be the work of Freidrich Geiger who was later responsible for the 300SL. First up were the 4 cylinder W120 sedans, which were dubbed the 180 models. The following year a 180D model was introduced to provide a diesel model, and the legendary straight 6 was introduced to create the 220a sedan. 


1955 introduced the 190SL coupe and then the roadster, and a year after that, new versions of the 6 cylinder were introduced dubbed models 219 and the 220S. There were also new versions of the 4 cylinder cars, the W180 II. A handsome cabriolet was introduced to round out the Pontons. Finally, 1958 saw the introduction of the 220SE, and production fuel injection. In 1959, a third and final generation of the Pontons went into production, which technically lasted until 1962. Overall, there were over 580,000 Ponton cars produced, firmly returning Mercedes to high volume production, and putting them in position to attempt a purchase of BMW in the late 1950s. But that is another story....



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What comes to mind when someone asks you about an automobile manufacturer from Stuttgart that produced rear engine cars? Porsche would be the most obvious answer, but there was another manufacturer that would also be a correct answer. Gutbrod. Actually, they were in Feuerbach, which is a suburb of Stuttgart, but close enough. What comes to mind when someone asks you about a German company that first started producing motorcycles in the 1920s and then went on to produce cars starting in the 1930s? BMW would be the most obvious answer, but there was another manufacturer that would also be a correct answer. Gutbrod. They produced motorcycles under the brand "Standard" beginning in 1926, and went on to produce their first car under the same brand in 1933. The cars were small basic rear-engined machines. The fact that we are not all riding or driving around in Gutbrods today, tells you that their story is very different from  Porsche or BMW. 


Wilheim Gutbrod started out high quality producing motorcycles in 1926 and immediately grasped the value of racing to publicize the brand. Gutbrod was both active and successful with machines ranging from 250cc to 1000cc in the late 1920s. They had particular success with the 1000cc sidecar class. Gutbrod purchased the Swiss motorcycle company Zehnder in 1930, which was ironically what enabled the production of cars. The company transitioned to son Walter and motorcycle production ended in 1939.


Postwar in 1950, a new small car now called the Gutbrod Superior was introduced using a 593cc or a 663cc front-mounted two-stroke engine.  It was developed by former Mercedes engineer Hans Scherenburg (who later returned to Mercedes). This link with Mercedes is probably responsible for the Gutbrod being the first production fuel-injected car in the world, a few years before Mercedes introduced theirs. Models included a ragtop, a station wagon, and a sedan. There was also a sport roadster. The car only weighed 1433 lbs, and top speed was around 62mph (100kph). In 1954, Gutbrod was forced to close its' doors for auto production, but lived on via the sale of engines and farm/lawn equipment. The Norwegian Troll car company produced cars using the Gutbrod chassis for a brief period as well. 

Horch Sachsenring

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Most think of Horch for their massive luxurious pre-war cars, but they existed in the postwar period as well. From 1956 to 1959, Horch produced the P240, better known as the Sachsenring. Manufacturer VEB Kraftfahrzeugwerk Horch Zwickau introduced the Sachsenring as the East German option for a luxury vehicle. It was a 2.4 liter 6 cylinder 4 door sedan which was tiny by the standards of pre-war Horch, but generous by post-war standards. 

Horch intoduced a cabriolet version and an estate version to maximize leverage of the platform's tooling and (it is suspected) to impress government officials. 

Sales were predictably dismal in the postwar eastern block. In addition, the Comecon which controlled who produced what, decided that either Horch or more established Tatra should produce luxury cars, but not both. Trials were conducted to evaluate both options, and Tatra prevailed. The Sachsenring ended production in 1959, but there was a brief resumption in 1969 for some parade cars. 

NSU Sport Prinz

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NSU introduced the small NSU Prinz in the mid 1950s as basic transportation for the masses. the company was dominant in the two-wheeled market, and has been featured many times in this blog. Like many, they wanted to compete with the VW Beetle, and appeal to people moving up from motorcycles and sidecars. Today we would call it a microcar, but it was just a small economical car at the time. In the late 1950s, NSU saw the possibility of a more upscale model. Italian Franco Scaglione of the design house Bertone produced the styling. This might explain why it had a passing resemblance up front to the Alfa Sprint Speciale launched in 1959, also from the pencils of Scaglione.


NSU basically mated two single-cylinder Super Max engines together to form the car's engine. Initially, the 583cc two-cylinder motor was good for a claimed 85mph and 47mpg. Later, a 598cc motor was fitted which raised top speed to 99mph. The transverse-mounted air-cooled engine was rear mounted and performed reasonably well. It had a claimed 0-60mph time of 27.7 seconds, which seems absolutely dismal today, but it was faster than the VW Karmann Ghia, viewed as the main competition. It also featured rack and pinion steering, and a four speed manual. The later engine produced 30hp, but 33 ft/lbs of torque. Helping things immensely was the 1226 lb weight of the vehicle. Overall, the package was competent for its' target.


The first cars were assembled by Bertone while Drautz in Neckarsulm Germany began to ramp up its capabilities. Eventually, the 3 year contract for Bertone came to an end, and Drautz produced the vast majority of the cars up to the eventual total of 20,831 by 1968.  The interior was relatively Spartan, although there were ashtrays and a glove box, and vinyl padding in places. The instrumentation was also basic, being dominated by a single large VDO speedometer. Other information came from simple dash lights. Behind the front seats was a parcel shelf, and potential room for small children (although without any padding . The Sport Prinz was a success for NSU, and was only ended to create manufacturing capacity for the new RO-80. It was a great example of a small, light, package with handsome styling, which began to diminish in importance as the automotive market demanded larger more powerful options. 


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Bielefeld was the German capital of bicycle production from the 19th century into the 20th, so it was a natural place to be the hub of motorcycle, moped, and scooter production as well. Like many others, Gustav Bastert produced bicycles and sewing machines starting in the early 20th century, and established a successful business. Fast forward to 1933, and light motorcycles were added to production. After the war, following the death of Gustav, son Helmut Bastert saw an opportunity in postwar Germany to provide quality fuel-efficient transportation. In 1949. Bastert Werke began to offer Mopeds and 50cc - 250cc motorcycles. They were equipped with ILO motors, had handsome styling, and were initially well received.


However, their most famous product was probably the Einspurauto, a luxury motorcycle/scooter introduced in the early 1950s. It was developed in association with the University of Braunschweig, and featured a comfortable seat with backrest, a long wheelbase, excellent protection from the elements, two tone paint, and capacious storage. The motorcycle part came from larger wheels and ILO engines of 150cc, 173cc, and then 200cc. They also came with three and then four speed manual transmissions. The styling, however, was that of a unique scooter, with a relatively flat front fender, and a cigar shaped rear. Despite good features, contemporary styling, and even good press, the price was high, and sales were low. Unfortunately, by 1953, the development costs for the Einspurauto sank the company into financial trouble, They soldiered on based on their more traditional motorcycles, but the doors closed in 1956.


The Rise and Fall of a Champion

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The concept was simple. A small, inexpensive form of transportation in the postwar period that would be economical, and have many benefits over a motorcycle and sidecar. This was the mission of Champion AG in the early 1950s. There was clear inspiration from the Volkswagen Beetle with a small rear-mounted single cylinder engine, and rounded shapes front, rear, and roof. 


Hermann Holbein was a former BMW engineer who produced the first cars in 1950.  They used a 200cc two stroke engine with a supercharger, and were very basic Spartan machines. The best evidence of this was the starting handle common to machines from 30 years prior! This of course means that they were very inexpensive, and this appealed to a certain postwar customer looking to migrate to a car. Champion had a rapid succession of assemblers and owners who all saw the promise and potential, but who also could not create a viable business model. The machines grew a bit more complex and added displacement with each iteration. 250cc, 400cc, and 500cc versions were developed. A cabriolet and an estate version also followed. Prices increased, eliminating the cost advantage, and reducing sales.


The downward business spiral continued with Danish entrepreneur Thorndahl attempting a recovery in 1952. However, this attempt also failed, and the company was placed on the selling block at bargain prices. The eventual buyer was Maico, known for its' motorcycles. The Champion name disappeared with that transition, but the concept continued.........