OCT 23rd 2015

Goodwood Greats: NSU Sportmax

It could be argued that our Goodwood Greats fall into two basic categories: Those whose greatness has already been established (Dale Earnhardt‘s Chevy Monte Carlo, the McLaren F1 GTR etc etc …) and those whose greatness deserves more recognition. Today’s candidate is from the latter category.

McLaren 570S promo

There will even be some motorcycle fans out there who are unaware of the NSU Sportmax, which was generously brought along to this year’s Festival of Speed by Audi as part of its ‘Audi Tradition’ selection of vehicles, which included the legendary Quattro Sport and of course the 1939 ‘Silver Arrow’ Auto Union Type D.

nsu Sportmax

Ralph Waldmann, two-time runner-up in the Motorcycle World Championship rode the 1955 machine up the hill. A similar bike to the one pictured won the 250cc championship in the hands of Hermann Paul Muller that year. Remarkably, Herr Muller (a former Silver Arrows driver from the Thirties) was 45 years old at the time and won the championship as a privateer. It’s also worth nothing that the riders who finished 6th and 7th that year were also present at FoS: A couple of English blokes called Sammy Miller and John Surtees, apparently …

So this is a quality piece of kit, no doubt about that. But above that, just look at it! Whether it is a pretty thing or not is up for debate, but there’s no questioning the effectiveness of its ‘Dolphin’ bodywork. At the Isle of Man TT in 1954 it helped NSU bag a win in the 125cc class, whereas in the 250cc class it swept the first four places. 

nsu Sportmax

Despite that and a raft of other notable successes, NSU pulled out of racing and opted instead to support privateers, which brings us back to the remarkable Muller triumph in 1955. The company still set 11 speed record in the 50cc and 125cc classes, but it wasn’t enough to convince them to persevere with two wheels having recognised that European tastes were shifting more and more towards motor cars.

Notable for producing rotary-engined cars once bike production had ceased, NSU was eventually taken-over by Volkswagen in 1969. By 1977 the name was dropped and NSU became just a memory. Such a shame. Who’s to know where they might have ended up if they’d carried on the success of the Sportmax?

Photography by Antony Fraser

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