One of Europe's earliest and largest motorcycle manufacturers, NSU went into motorcycles in 1901. The company originally made knitting machines, in 1880, at Neckarsulm, Germany. NSU stands for Neckarsulm Strickmachinen Union – don't try to pronounce it with a mouthful...
By 1905 there was an office in London. From 1903 to 1905 the company made 2250 motorcycles, Britain taking 25% of its production, via the London office, so its was clearly well respected. The First World War spoiled that business as the factory produced for the German Army. Post hostilities, NSU was soon back in action, employing 3000 people in 1922 and introducing production-line methods of assembly. In 1929 it recruited Norton's chief designer, Walter Moore, with big money and a house with servants. Moore designed big bikes as well as the 98cc two-stroke 'Quick' that sold 235,000 between 1936 and 1950. 1939 saw another world war and Moor came home.
Back in civilian production NSU produced a range of four-stroke singles and in 1953 launched the 49cc 'Quickly' moped; it was to sell over a million. At the same time it launched the luxurious 250cc Max with two eccentric rods driving the overhead valve gear to give very quite running. It was the most sophisticated 250cc road motorcycle money could buy. NSU developed race motorcycles and dominated the 125 and 250cc classes in the early 50s. It also took the world speed record to over 321.86km/h with a supercharged 500cc streamliner, just to remind everyone of its engineering capability. In 1955 the factory built almost 300,000 machines but the boom was over and a year later 640 workers were laid off and the factory working week was reduced to 36 hours. Grim times. NSU made a small car, the Prinz, to meet the growing demand, as motorcycle production slid further.
In 1963 rumors that NSU was to stop making motorcycles were denied, but it was concentrating on cars, with the revolutionary Wankel-engined RO80 launched in 1967, shortly after two-wheeler production had come to an end. The RO80 was widely acclaimed, the company very bravely said the engine was indestructible and any that did go pop would be replaced free of charge. That boast cost it dearly as engines did break and the company soon followed. In March 1969 Audi NSU Auto Union was absorbed by the Volkswagen group and the old name disappeared from the industry listing. The motorcycles however are remembered with respect and coveted by connoisseurs today..... And the chance is high that VW will return to the two-wheeler market as rumors that VW Group is interested in buying Ducati Motorcycles.