Thursday, October 02, 2008


During my recent trip to Germany, I had the opportunity to see some amazing motorcycle collections - public, private, and hidden. These 'secret spy photos' of a not-open-to-the-public NSU collection were only possible via access granted by my gracious hosts.

My friend Wolfgang Schneider (on the left, behind a Walter Moore-designed 'Bullus' ohc NSU) kept me occupied for a few days at Hockenheim and surrounding areas, and had arranged for a visit with Ralph Plagmann (right in the photo), who heads the NSU department at the Audi factory in Neckarsulm (Audi, formerly Auto-Union, purchased NSU in 1969, but no 'fifth ring' was added to their logo...). The Audi factory, which consists of a lot of small and large buildings, is well integrated into the town somehow, and not shunted to the outskirts. My goal in this visit was to secure the loan of a few 'gems' from the Audi collection for next year's Legend of the Motorcycle Concours - NSU is one of the featured marques (the other is Indian), and as far as I know, there are no ex-Works racing NSUs in the States. Thus, if any of these amazing machines is to be on display at the Legends, a few European collections will have to stretch across the pond. The Legends has always had high-end auto sponsorship (those Bentleys looked pretty good on the grass), and the rationale for Audi to sponsor such a trip has to be 'it's good advertising, Audi sells a lot of cars in CA...'.
Ralph Plagmann didn't need much convincing, as he is fully committed to the NSU marque, but there are higher-ups at Audi who have yet to see the Legends as a perfect venue to display a few of their motorcycles, while garnering a little positive glow for their auto sales.

Ralph led Wolfgang and myself into a warehouse which isn't open to the public, housing the collection of NSU road and racing motorcycles, and a few other things like the Kettenkraftrad (that freakish mating of a motorcycle and a tank - see pic), and a
'drone' waterski boat - controlled by the skier like a motorcycle, from very long handlebars (no, it didn't sell - see photo, it looks like a prop from 'The Prisoner').

And I'm making this all sound very academic; actually I was in a state of high anxiety, as I was VERY excited to see this collection, and my camera was dead as a doornail! So, we walked into this big warehouse full of impossibly cool motorcycles, but I don't have a camera, as my battery charger didn't like the change from 110v to 220v in Europe... and there is no way I can see this collection and NOT take photos. I remembered my US cell phone sitting in the car, so I ran and grabbed it and took 100 photos with the worst camera in the world....BUT I got the shots!

Lined up are a bunch of road bikes, from the 'teens to the 60's, lightweights and big v-twins, plus spare car and motorcycle engines on shelves, an example of the first NSU knitting machine from the late 1800's, all sorts of stuff.... but the racing bikes caught my eye... the NSU Rennmax and Rennfox are, in my humble opinion, on a very short list of the most beautiful bikes ever ever. Hand hammered aluminum bodywork and fenders, sculpted to fit a crouching human body, plus those perfectly proportioned engines. Breathtaking.

Standing in one corner was the Baumm III streamlined 'flying hammock', so called as the rider lays down in it and steers feet-forward; apparently it was incredibly stable, but looks like a wingless 50's jet. This particular machine was used in a fuel-economy test (1 liter/100km) and was road legal! The lower photos shows a plexiglass cover on the 'tail', which houses a stop and taillamp. Flaps on the sides of the cockpit open to allow the rider's legs to prop the machine at a stop. This is a fully water-and-weatherproof vehicle, and was a prototype for possible commercial development. A forerunner of the Peraves 'Eco' and Monotracer enclosed motorcycles. Given the extremely small output and precarious finances of the Peraves project, NSU was correct to put this one aside.

I got to pull the tarps off many of these machines while Wolfie and Ralph talked incessantly about other things - Wolfgang
was the restorer of many of the machines present, so the two of them had much catching up to do, and I was left alone to do as I wished.

Lined up with the Rennmaxes was the remains of the fearsome 4-cyl dohc NSU racer, only the engine was missing. 'Where is the engine?' I interrupted, and Ralph looked a bit puzzled - they searched the warehouse, but no engine. 'It's in a blue box, probably at our other location' in another town. Too bad, I would have really liked to have seen it. See the photos of the front wheel and forks - serious stuff.

On the way out, Wolfie insisted we open a roll-up garage door outside - and in a little garage with a custom-built trailer sat the 1956 'Delphin III', the world record breaking streamliner... amazing. To see this historic machine in person after writing about it just the week prior (on the blog) was a real treat. There are two of these machines - one sits in the Deutsches Museum in Munich, with the original aluminum fairing but a 'hollow' engine, while the Audi machine has a fiberglass fairing and working supercharged 500cc dohc engine. Heinz Hertz made a replica of this machine on his 50-year Anniversary trip to Bonneville (in 2006) to commemorate his father's World Record in the original Delphin III.

We went back to Ralph's office so I could buy some books ('some'; I now own every book in print about NSU, plus a groovy knit blue NSU sweater, very Old School). As I wanted Everything, we had to go into the basement with a secretary to dig up all these books from storage (the NSU office isn't really set up for retail), and while they were finding books and boxing them up, I was snooping around in this basement, and found a groovy old NSU telephone from the '30's on a shelf, and a lot of other unusual relics. Around a corner I spied a row of NSU bicycles beside a stack of boxes.... Wooden boxes, old ones, and one is blue with 'NSU' in white... with two smaller boxes with 'Spares for the TT', in English!

'Wolfgang I found the Four-Cylinder engine!' And sure enough, we opened it up, and there was the thing itself. Awesome... what a kick to dig around in somebody else's basement! Many pix taken, and Wolfie and I took our leave for another part of town, with him hoping we can bring the record-breaker streamliner to CA next May... which would be COOL.


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
the Hammock you´ve seen in the AUDI Facilities was the Baumm III,this was an economic Test projekt,1 Liter Fuel for 100km.H.P.Müller had a 500km Record ride on this at the old Hockenheim Circuit(only two bends and 2 longlong straights.) in 1956.There was an Idea to make this on public road from Munich to West- Berlin,but the Eastern (comunist) Authorities didn´t allow this on there Transit Roads...
You can see on your Photo a Plexiglass Housing on the Tail,this was for Stoplight and Taillight.The monocoque was designed as a prototype for a closed Public Motorbike,which shoul protect its Rider against Rain,Dust and Coldness.The Idea was to find a way to have a Kind of Microcar which became more and more popular in Post War Germany.BMW Isetta,Messerschmitt Kabinenroller,and some other Manufacturer where the 3 or 4 wheeled ,motorcyle Engine powered alternatives for the People to NSU´s Motorbike Productline.
The Baumm 3 had special Flaps to have a secure start and stop,with both Feet outside to stabilise this vehicle.The result was a change to the " Max Cabine ".This Prototype had a turbine cooled 250 Max Engine,1 Wheel rear,two in Front. Very ugly and while the Time was running,the other Manufacturers had built more and more bigger cars which where bought more than these small Matchboxes which exist by the other Factories.Germans Witschaftswunder in the Fiftees was growing fast,so the Dream of most ex motorcylist was a real Car as the VW Beatle or a FIAT 500/600.
So the BAUMM III went in the Basement after a short appearence in the Motorpress about his Economy Record....

The Baumm II which won several records in UTAH 1956 fro, 50cc up to 125cc is located in a exhibition near Sinsheim.This is much longer,but taller an has a vertical Wing on its Tail like a Torpedo(and most Record Machines from present)

Sorry you misunderstood the Facts around Heinz Herz 2006 and the Delphin III you saw in Neckarsulm.

Heinz Herz built a complete Replika with an exact Copy of the Fairing but in Carbon Fiber.The whole thing is just a HONDA Fireblade with 19 Inch Wheels an a very long rear Swingarm,There is nothing from NSU,AUDI wasn´t involved,it was was Heinz Herz´s Private thing.

The Delphin III which you saw ist the complete Original Mechine(still able to run) with a replika Fiberglass Fairing.
The Spare frame with its empty Engine is located in Munich,since the 50ts but owner is still AUDI.So they have the complete Thing,but not complete actually.The reason was that they broght two chassis with a 350 and a 500 engine but only one shell to Utah.One of these was disignt to hold up the 250 Rennmax Engine(Special Brackets) but this didn´t work after the 250cc BAUMM IV was crashed.
So it was H.P.Müller who won the Record just with the 125cc Engine in the Baumm II



Anonymous said...

I read your NSU blog, what a fantastic tour of the unseeen world. Audi needs to set up a museum. I have a 36 501-OSL super sport, a very fun ride, often mistaken for a camshaft motor. Audi was kind enough to research it and all numbers match and it was sold new to Emil Recke in Long Island New York.
My real reason in writing to you is my search for information on two obscure French machines, One is a De-De belt drive V-twin, 2 speed, the other is a Laumadiere et Mauger belt drive single with a 2 speed hub-clutch-pulley laced next to the wheel.

Thank you,

Bruce W