Road Test: NSU Quick 50

NSU Quick 50

Mopeds may not be your scene and, for you, conjure up images of comedian Jasper Carrot’s moped man. But when they’re as well engineered as this top of the range Quickly, they’re worth a second look.

On the continent, mopeds – like all other lightweights – were taken seriously. Although clearly aimed at the economy market, the majority were far from cheap and nasty. Instead, mopeds like the entire Quickly range were well engineered machines, built to last. And without the stigma accorded by some in the UK to moped riders, they were ridden by a variety of owners, right across the wealth spectrum – people who used a moped, often more for convenience than economy.

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Although other makers had already launched mopeds, which were eating into the existing cyclemotor and autocycle market, the economy market was sewn-up by the sophisticated 49.7cc two-speed Quickly-N. Though less than 10,000 Quickly-Ns were built in 1953, production leapt to 123,671 in 1954, and 228,135 the following year. Variants, including the Quickly-L, Quickly-Cavallino, Quickly TT and Quickly S models were progressively launched and then, for 1962, came the Quickly-N-23 and Quick 50. As the Quickly-N-23 was in effect a re-working of earlier moped models, the 45mph four-speed Quick 50 was NSU’s last new motorcycle design. It was also the last motorised two-wheeler built by NSU and, when the final Quick 50 rolled off the production line, NSU had built 1,121,067 Quicklys and derivatives.

NSU Quick 50Bought five years ago from a Malvern vendor, the subject Quick 50 was complete and not too damaged though in need of a full rebuild. With direct access to his own small firm dedicated to keeping Quicklys on the road, Roger Worton completed the task… quickly! (NSU Quickly Spares, tel 01908 314797 evenings,  or www.nsuquicklyspares.co.uk).

Luckily the chrome-lined cylinder barrel was sound, needing no more than a clean and new piston rings fitting. While the engine was apart Roger installed new crankcase lip seals but, despite much use, the gearbox and clutch were as good as new after a clean and re-assembly. Surprisingly – since they look as though built from clock cogs – Quickly gearboxes are tough and withstand years of unfeeling abuse; a tribute to the quest for quality at Neckarsulm and the firm’s sound ability to harden metal.

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Although all the bodywork and the frame were sound, the distinctive and rare headlamp nacelle was broken. Unable to obtain a new part, Roger repaired and rebuilt the nacelle remains with glass fibre, after which the rolling chassis was re-finished in Hammerite garage-door blue paint with sprayed Ford Sierra cream as appropriate. I’ve known Mr Worton for 25 years and can only marvel at the finish he achieves with a paintbrush; there’s no evidence of bristle marks just a superb high gloss finish at a fraction of the cost many spend with painters.

Wheel building and re-chroming work was undertaken by local contacts, while RK Leighton (0121 359 0514) made an excellent job of the two-tone dual seat. Unable to obtain a sound Quick 50 silencer, Roger adapted a Zundapp part and a replica front pipe was bent from stainless steel tube. Re-assembled in double quick time, this Quick 50 has been a regular on the British and German moped and NSU scene for the past five years.

NSU Quick 50Unfortunately our UK politicians aren’t as enlightened as their continental relatives. Here in Great Britain, to ride a moped on the road we need road fun licence, an MoT test (if the machine is over three years old) and insurance at a total cost of around £130-plus if all goes well. Our mainland brothers fork out between nothing and around 60 Euros, a fee which covers the equivalent of both insurance and road fund licence. Much easier, less paperwork and each moped on the road keeps another car from our city centres.

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Testing a moped, albeit a four-speed 45mph model, is an experience far removed from riding a parallel twin or a lusty ohv 500cc single. Or at least it should be. Fuss free, convenient and fun is what a good moped is – and Roger’s Quick 50 is just that. I can’t feign surprise at how good the NSU or for that matter Kreidler, Zundapp etc mopeds are. I started riding them, aged 16, in 1967, up and down the mountain roads around my uncle’s home near Hanover. Although I’d already gained my motorcycle licence – albeit with a £1 test – my German relatives did no more than insure their mopeds and get aboard. Fuss free!

From starting the Quick 50 to the end of my day it was exactly as I remember from my teenage days. Roger fettled the carb, depressed the kick starter and we were in business. No frantic wringing of the twistgrip’s neck or desperate homage to the machine’s better nature. We let it idle while we casually donned our helmets and gloves, by the time we were sorted the Quick 50’s warm and we’re off.

Despite its clock cog-like proportions the gearbox is both precise and solid. Gearchange action is almost switch-like and, although I feel aware the box has engaged first, as I hoped there’s no lurch or crunch. Diminutive engines need plenty of revs if they’re to move my 13 stone bulk, and remember this moped was designed to move two of me.

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NSU Quick 50Peak power is achieved at 7000rpm, but usable effort comes in at above 3000rpm – heady stuff for me, whose veteran/vintage models peak at around 2000rpm or even less. But I know I needn’t worry; small light parts moving short distance rapidly wear no quicker than the mechnaicals in my favoured slow revving long stroke motors.

First gear on the Quick 50 is incredibly low and does little more than get me rolling, which is all that is intended as the Quick 50 is devoid of pedals to help get the plot underway. With two on board this low first gear is even more vital. Upward changes see me engage top at around 30mph, the speedo soon gains another 10mph after which it slowly creeps to the factory claimed 45mph, the engine buzzing sweetly below.

Some gearchange mopeds notch on down changes but the Quick 50 remains switch-like and vice free. However, changing up too soon or allowing the revs to drop on an incline result in the engine rapidly dying, to a point where no audible firings are detected yet the twistgrip is still on the stop. On knocking down a couple of gears the motor again chimes in and resumes normal service.

Riders needn’t worry about wrecking the engine by revving it – they don’t break, as I well remember from climbing those German mountains 40 years ago with first gear engaged, the engine spinning at 6-7000rpm for kilometre after kilometre, day-in, day-out. Nothing happened other than it kept going and no bits fell off. True, hill climbing was dead slow but it never failed and, to me at 16, it was a magic carpet.

With a top speed of no more NSU Quick 50than 45mph handling is near impossible to access but the Quick 50 corners well, steers precisely and doesn’t wander. Braking is surprisingly good, with front wheel braking serving for slowing on most occasions, although a light dab on the foot pedal helped. As with other leading link type front forks, the Quick 50 rises at first under hard braking but – unlike teles – doesn’t dive.

Comfort-wise the Quick 50 is as good as any of its ilk from the period. The dual seat offers some give and the suspension works well enough, but I’m almost 6ft and the four-speed NSU moped suits youngsters somewhat shorter and lighter than me.

Performance often rears its head in road tests. From being snotty nosed kids we’ve asked ‘what’ll it do?’ With today’s worries of growing holes in the ozone layer the ‘what’ll it do?’ question still applies, except now mpg is relative and the Quick 50 will get to the supermarket on about one sixth of the fuel of the common 4×4  shopping trolley.

Although many riders have covered fuss-free, mega-mileages and completed epic trips on mopeds and sports 50s, they were developed as short distance transport and, in the case of sports models, local fun machines. Yet to underline their quality of build and dependability manufacturers fostered loyalty offering awards to owners who covered high mileages; Kreidler for example gave away many tie-pins to each owner whose speedo hit the 100,000 kilometres, while NSU offered incentives too.

NSU Quick 50If you despise mopeds and sports 50s you’ll continue to do so, but if you fancy something a little different with endless light-hearted fun on tap, a sophisticate like this NSU Quick 50 may be just the job.  

Quickly forebears
NSU was established by Christian Schmidt and Heinrich Stoll in 1873 on the Danube Island town of Riedlingen to make and repair knitting machines (strickmaschinen). Within a year the business was flourishing, and new works were established at Reutlingen.

Business was good but Schmidt was restless – he wanted to build cycles. In 1880 the partnership split, Stoll remained in Reutlingen while Schmidt established works, named the Neckarsulm Strickmaschinen Union, at Neckarsulm, with a staff of four. Again business was successful but Schmidt died in 1884 – aged 39 – without ever having built a cycle, and control of the business was taken over by Schmidt’s bother-in-law Gottleib Banzhaf.

Under Banzhaf the business continued to expand, leading to the Union’s first cycles-ordinaries in 1886 and cycle manufacture proper in 1889. Like Schmidt, Banzhaf was ambitious, astute and hard working, and his keen business sense led to a change of company image and direction in 1892. With the lucrative boom years of knitting machine manufacture over production was phased out, cycle and cycle component manufacture was stepped up, the company’s trading name was changed to Neckarsulmer Fahradwerke and the letters NSU were adopted for the first time. The full logo now read ‘NSU im Hisrchron.’

Before the end of the century NSU were experimenting with motorcycles. Prototypes were unveiled in 1900 and a year later manufacture of Swiss Zedel (ZL) engined NSUs began. Founder Christian Schmidt’s son – who’d trained with Gottleib Daimler – joined the firm in charge of design and produced the company’s first motorcycle engines in 1903.

Rapidly the NSU range grew to inclNSU Quick 50ude singles, V-twins and racing models. Although not Germany’s first motorcycle manufacturer – that honour goes to Hildebrand & Wolfmuller – NSU quickly became the most successful. Cycle and cycle component manufacture still played a lucrative role – in fact NSU were still making cycles in the early 1960s.

Ever ambitious, Banzhaf wanted to diversify further – and branched into three-wheeled van-type delivery vehicles then cars, vans, lorries and chassis for coach builders. Despite WWI, business boomed for the next 25 years.

Alongside, NSU continued to develop their cycle and motorcycle business. During WWI various models were supplied to the military, and after NSU continued with more of the same plus a growing car/commercials range. However, it was this car business which all but finished NSU.

A new, massive, up-to-date Automobilwerk was built at Heilbronn. NSU moved in c1927/8 and was no sooner established than the business was severely hit by the worsening financial situation, Wall Street Crash and the depression. Following some behind the scenes activity, Italian car makers Fiat took over the plant – at least NSU weren’t bankrupt, and continued with cycle components and motorcycles.

NSU Quick 50English ex-Norton designer Walter Moore joined NSU, who continued to up the motorcycle game in almost every field from lightweight commuters to fiery ohc racers. With regard to the Quick 50, the subject of this feature, of perhaps more importance was the launch in 1931 of the 63cc two-stroke pedal-start powered cycle named the NSU Motosulm Motorfarrad. Around 25,000 were sold before it gave way to the 97cc two-speed pedal start NSU-D Quick launched for 1936. A staggering 116,919 were built by the start of 1941 and another 118,522 after WWII. Manufacture of lightweights, medium weights and up to 600cc singles continued until the war. In addition to motorcycle supply to the German forces during WWII, NSU also supplied 7813 Opel-engined Kettenkrad HK-101 military vehicles with a single disc-type front wheel with heavyweight girder front forks and twin caterpillar-type tracks.

Restricted by the Allied agreement after the war, NSU returned to production with cycles and a few Quicks in 1945. Small scale manufacture of 125/250cc motorcycles began two years later. The first 125cc Fox 4-Takt went into production in 1949; Lux and the Konsul range began in 1951 followed a year later by the ground breaking ohc 250cc Max. If not awesome in capacity or style, sales figures of the ground-breaking 49cc Quickly were.

NSU Quick 50Max and Maxi variants, Prima scooters – initially based on Lamberetta design, but later NSU’s – and many versions of the Quickly followed. Motorised two-wheeler production peaked at almost 300,000 units in 1955 and although falling and fluctuating thereafter, still hit over 150,000 in 1960. Then, as the German motorcycle market rapidly shrunk and export sales dwindled, NSU lost heart with motorised two wheelers in favour of car manufacture, which restarted in 1958. But their drive wasn’t for any old car, but rotary engined cars.

Based on Felix Wankel’s work, NSU launched the NSU Wankel/Spider in 1963. The last motorcycles – the 174cc Maxi along with the last Prima Scooters – left the works in 1964 and two wheeled production finished a year later with the final 2700 Quick 50s. Despite what can only be described as ‘modest’ sales of the Wankel Spider, the company seemed focused on nothing else than the rotary engine leading to the famous – or infamous – rotary-engined NSU Ro80. Again strapped for cash, NSU were taken over by the Volkswagen-Audi group and the last NSU cars – Ro80s – were made in 1977. bike

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