Clubman Classics is a personal blog inspired by the fearless, amateur road racers who competed in the 1947 - 1956 Isle Of Man Clubman's TT races and their production based machines.

Thursday 15 July 2010

NSU SpecialMax and SportMax

At first glance both bikes below seem very different. On the left sits the quirky but stylish NSU 1955 SpecialMax 250 and on the right a racing spec 1956 SuperMax 250 based SportMax replica. Let's take a closer look at how NSU transformed the Max from road bike to racer..

Using a pressed steel frame the innovative SpecialMax features leading link front forks and a mono-shock design along with a tractor style sprung seat unit, in perfect keeping with your Lederhosen and Bratwurst Mein Herr! The SpecialMax is easily distinguished from the first NSU Max of 1952 by the full width hubs and larger petrol tank.

The Max provided reliable transport from its launch, at a time when NSU were the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, employing an innovative overhead cam 247cc engine with "over-square" 69 x 66 dimensions and alloy head. Use of the Albert Roder designed Ultramax reciprocating long con-rod system to drive the cams resulted in a 17 BHP power output and respectable performance for a 250 machine- an ideal starting point for a competitve race bike.

World Champions in 1953, 1954 and 1955 NSU enjoyed great success with their ingenious SportMax racers. Produced in small numbers with virtually all of the parts differing in some form or other from their road based cousins, SportMax's were built to exacting standards to perform well in the rigours of road racing. The large aluminium or sometimes magnesium, hand-beaten petrol tanks were very advanced for their day.

The factory produced race bikes were expensive to buy when new and to this day retain an aura of high quality engineering and exclusivity, resulting in high market prices for genuine bikes with racing history.

NSU Sportmax machines were raced by top riders of the day including Werner Haas, Mike Hailwood, John Surtees and Sammy Miller, amassing many victories in the 250cc Class as well as taking a factory supported rider, HP 'Happy Muller' to a World Championship title in 1955.

The Sportmax in these images, a later 1956 SuperMax twin-shock based replica, was purchased by its current owner from a former Manx GP rider in a non-roadworthy state, partly disassembled and looking rather sorry for itself. The bike was then transformed whilst in the very capable hands of Harold Nuttall, the UKs No.1 NSU Max expert.

The engine has a Sportmax piston, a special con-rod and a cam to "GelandeMax" specification, together with a 30mm Amal carburettor and close ratio gears. Running an open megaphone and on Castrol R this current spec provides a glorious sound and smell whilst the broader power band makes the bike easier to start, although it does like to be warm..

The 1950s image below right illustrates the lengths NSU went in order to achieve the correct set-up. As the mechanics prepare the race bikes, heaters blowing warm air are aimed at the barrels. Once started they would switch to cool air in order to maintain working temperatures during tuning, thus permitting very fine piston tolerances.

Responsible for the introduction of the 'Dolphin Faring' (above left), NSU were the first manufactuter to develop the open wheel design following the ban of streamliner farings in the early 1950s.

Im planning to enter the Sportmax racer replica you see here in a classic track day and after sprinting the bike at Wroughton airfield, I feel confident in the little 250's handling and riding characteristics. With very little in the way of intrusive vibration and a very positive gear change, the Sportmax will undoubtedly feel more at home on smooth track than it ever did on a bumpy, disused runway.

For other fantastic NSU images not belonging to myself visit this flickriver site.


sfb said...

I had the pleasure of seeing these two bikes earlier this evening (among countless others!). Absolutely beautiful.
Love the blog, I've plugged it on www.classicbikeforum.co.uk

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From Finland said...

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