Sunday, September 07, 2008


In one of those happy coincidences, I was trolling our antiques flea market in Alameda today, and came across a lone water-stained issue of Cycle magazine, from October 1956. A Sportster on the cover wasn't so interesting, but opening the magazine revealed a lengthy article on the NSU effort at Bonneville that year, in which the factory fielded several of their motorcycles in an all-out assault on the record books. "NSU Shatters the 200mph Barrier: Wilhelm Herz, on a blown 500, hits 211--".

I had been speaking with the owner of the Hockenheim Motor Racing Museum just the day before, about his participation in next year's Legend of the Motorcycle event (Saturday May 2, 2009 - at a location to be announced), which features NSU (and Indian).
It's high time some of the incredible NSU racing machines were seen here in the US again, and it sounds like that is a possibility next May... probably not this exact machine, but NSU built an incredible range of technically advanced racers over the decades, and became totally dominant in the 250cc class of GP racing, even after withdrawing official works support for racing in 1954 (in 1955, a Sportmax, based on the roadster Max 250cc, won the World Championship). Consider this the opening salvo in a barrage of NSU posts to come over the next few months.

The story of the record attempt: The NSU team arrived in Utah on July 25th, and began testing the SIX capacity class motorcycles - 50cc, 100cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, and 500cc. The smaller machines wee successfully run during this week, taking many records in short distance and flying mile/kilometer classes. Nothing was left to chance; NSU Chairman Dr. G.S. von Heydenkampf and Technical Director Viktor Frankenberger were on hand to oversee the mechanics, technicians, and officials (including Piet Nortier, from the F.I.M., in charge of timing). A travelling machine shop had been shipped from Germany with enough spares and equipment to deal with any mechanical emergency.

On August 4th, the wind conditions were favorable and at 6am, and Herz hurtled from the starting area under full throttle 'with salt spewing from a wildly spinning rear wheel'. He made 211mph on his first run, breaking the previous record (held since July 2nd 1955 by Russell Wright on a Vincent Black Lightning - 185mph on the Tram Road at Swannanoa, Christchurch, New Zealand) by 26mph! The Vincent connection is truly ironic, as from 1954, Vincents sold NSUs under license to keep the wolf from the door.

Herz didn't have an easy time of his record-breaking, and a few days previously had been pushed off-course by a gust of wind, hammered a timing light, and tore a gash in the nose of the Delphin III (named for the sleek shape of the streamlined body). Also, while testing the 250cc 'hammock slung' streamliner, the motorcycle went out of control at 195mph and flipped over, which ended the 250cc record attempts for this session. Also ironic, as NSU had arguably their greatest technical and racing sucesses in the 250cc class.

Road-racer H.P. Muller (first privateer to win a World Championship title - on a modified roadster 250cc NSU Sportmax, at age 46) piloted the 3 smaller capacity streamliners, and gained 121.7mph from the 50cc machine, 138.0mph in the 100cc class, and 150.3mph with the 125cc, which also overtook the records for 175cc and 250cc categories. Herz was in the saddle for the 350cc category, and made 189.5mph on a 1 mile flying start run.

This 500cc engine, based on the works 'Rennmax' racer (but using a supercharger), is a work of art, and had been used to take the World Record in 1951 on the Munich-Ingolstadt autobahn. For the '56 attempt, a new, longer and lower frame was built, as well as the 'dolphin' enclosed fairing, making the total length 3.7 meters. Girder forks with hydraulic dampers were used up front, and hydraulic plungers at the rear. The unit-construction motor is an inclined vertical twin with shaft-and-bevel driven double overhead cams, with peak revs of 8000rpm. Ignition is by forward-mounted magneto, the supercharger sits atop the gearbox, and is fed by a single very large Amal-Fischer TT carb. The crankcases and covers are all magnesium. This 500cc dohc engine had a disadvantage in GP racing as it's a heavy lump, and while the power was excellent, the much lighter Guzzi singles and Gilera 4's made for a tough time on the circuit. Weight isn't an issue with a speed record though, as it only slows acceleration, not top speed. Thus the Delphin III had a front and rear brake, and lead blocks hung on the front of the frame to keep the front wheel on the salt.

The smaller machines all used the 'flying hammock' seating position, in which the rider sits with legs outstretched, to make an especially low motorcycle with minimal frontal area for the best wind-cheating layout. The Cycle correspondent (Ron Britzke) makes note of the superior handling and aerodynamics of these smaller machines, and reckoned that the 'dolphin' fairing had seen its limit, while the potential of the 'deck chair' design 'has apparently just been tapped'. How right he proved to be.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. D´Orleans,

after visiting your Website,I found that it would be great if I can help with some details about NSU Motorcycles.
As a private Collector of NSU Vehicles (since I was a schoolboy) and anything about the History of this 1873-founded factory, I became Official Independent Restorer of AUDI AG in Neckarsulm.
In my Workshop, near the famous Racing Track Nürburgring,I restored most of their Works Racing and Landspeed-Record Motorcycles and some Racing Cars as well as Road Bikes and Touring Cars. With my own NSU Racing Cars I raced many years on the Circuits in Europe,and rode my street Bikes as much as possible.With the Vintage NSU Club I prepared some great exhibitions, for example the Bremen Classic Motorshow and Techno Klassika in Essen .

Over the Years I had so much Informations about NSU Racing Bikes from former Racing Mechanics and Racing drivers, as well as most internal Papers from the Racing Departement in my hands, I wrote the Book "NSU der Weg zur Motorrad Weltmeisterschaft" together with a professional Bookwriter. [NOTE- this book is avaiable at - pd'o]

For the past decade I also prepared NSU Racing Bikes for classic Events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Lap of Honour in the Isle of Man in Great Britain, and Major Events in Italy,Belgium France,Netherlands, Austria and in Germany. In 1999 I was part of the AUDI Tradition Team which was featured marque at the Laguna Seca Circut in Monterey during the Classic Races. We brought only two Racing Bikes from the AUDI Works Museum Collection; the triple Cylinder DKW which was Vice World Champion in the 350cc 1956, and the NSU Blue Whale(Full fairing) Rennmax 250cc from 1954/55 which gained the World title by winning all races it started in this year. But I also prepared NSU Racing Cars and enjoyed while parading together with the AUTO UNION Silver Arrows with a Supercharged GP NSU Car from 1926 which was restored by me too.

Now I've heard that in California, NSU Motorbikes will be Featured Marque in 2009 during a Classic Weekend [the Legend of the Motorcycle - pd'o].
On my Website you can see that I can support you in this event if needed.
You show some very nice Pictures on Your Site from the NSU- DELPHIN III the first Bike which break the 200 mile Barrier on the Salt Flats in 1956.
The Original Record Machine and also the "Hammock" BAUMM II who breaks the 50-125cc Record was restored by me,and is in the hands of AUDI Tradition in Neckarsulm.
My Friend Heinz Herz, Son of famous German Record Holder Wilhelm Herz built also with my help a Replica and appeared two years ago to celebtate the 50th Aniversary of this,in USA during the 2006 Speed Week in Utah again because AUDI aren´t present with there Motorbikes since around 2004.

The Genuine Record Machine and his spare chassis are not running,but the genuine Engines are still back in the 350 and 500cc Road Racing Bikes from 1939-1950.You can see it in the attched U-tube Video when I road the 110HP Bike last Weekend in the " Hamburger Stadtpark Rennen" Revival.
Its the Kompressor 500 from AUDI.It is not easy to get these Bikes out of there Museum at the Moment,because 4 wheels are there favourite.
Both Original World Champion Winners 125 and 250 from the FIM 1954 Season ,the Rennfox and Rennmax are in the Hockenheim Museum, as is one of the 500 Kompressor of 1949/50 and some Prewar Singles "NSU Bullus". We have also some of the SPORTMAX Production Racers, Semi Works which won many National Championships and the World Title in 1955. One of it with a full Alloy whale Fairing is my own.
Best Regards

Wolfgang Schneider

Anonymous said...

I think you will find that Russell Wright used his Vincent Black Lightning - a racing model.

The Vincent Black Shadow was a road model and much slower [ only about 120 mph ].

david j jones.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting, on your blog, the pictures of the NSU Baumm 3 streamliner. New pics of this machine are astonishingly rare. I don't suppose you took any other's that didn't make it onto your web site. If there are, would it be possible to get a copy? Many thanks.