- Post is under moderationCAR #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU
RUN BY Martin Buckley
OWNED SINCE 2009
PREVIOUS REPORT August 2018
Itching to use a ‘proper’ car after months of reliable but somewhat dreary Mercedes W124 estate winter motoring, I exhumed the NSU from the shed late in March for two trips to London. Actually, this wasn’t its first 2019 outing because I took FAR 666K out on a sunny Sunday in February to photograph it near Colesbourne in the Cotswolds. Rather than the usual half-hearted snap with a tree growing out of the roof (or the back end obscured by a wheelie bin), I took a bit of time over these. Happily they are good enough to be reproduced here (below).
The first London trip in the Ro80 was with my dog Ruby to meet up with Nick Kisch for a VW show. I’m not massively into Beetles (although I’m intrigued by 411s and Type 3s), but it was an excuse to get out of the house, the wife having disappeared to Majorca for a three-week ‘working’ holiday. Our plans were thwarted by the fact that they don’t let dogs into Sandown Park, so we had a quick scoot around the car park and moved on to Brooklands Mini Day.
Once again, no dogs. So I left Nick to it and visited Jason Yorke-Edgell to look at his rusty Monteverdis, which was probably more fun. My second London visit was really to Longcross for David’s memorial lunch; the ‘Ro’ was his favourite of my cars. The blue Husky Ro80 model he gave me is still on my mantelpiece.
On the way home I left the slow moving M4 at junction 14 and took the B4000 cross-country along the Lambourn Downs, pausing to run a business card through the points – it only takes a speck of dirt to make the engine falter when it should be singing. It worked and I pressed on, frightening myself somewhere on the B4001. Braking late for a bend, the back end uncharacteristically locked up and unsettled the car’s (and my) composure. I must check the brake proportioning valve.
The NSU fitted the bill again when I was invited to Paul Blofield’s 60th-birthday bash. Paul is a VW man to the hilt – he owns probably the oldest Beetle in the UK and an amazing Porsche-engined split-screen – so I reckoned the Ro80 was our best bet to join the selection of tastefully patinated ‘Splittie’ campers and ’50s/’60s saloons. I wasn’t the only non-Beetle: there was a very rat-look Jensen-Healey and a bumperless Alfa Romeo 750 Spider that belongs to Chris Mann and his wife. It was Easter Sunday and we were blessed with probably the warmest weather of the year.
The Ro had been having cold start problems the day before, put down to plugs, but a good thrash over to Slad up the A419 seemed to clear them. I was pleased to see that Mia could do her mascara in the vanity mirror at 90mph [Ahem, not on a public road of course… Ed].
A weird thing happened the day before. I spotted a familiar car – and a familiar face – conked out at the side of the road: Fredrik Folkestad and his (up to now totally reliable) #NSU-Wankel Spider.
If he and I had a tow rope between us, you would be looking at a unique picture of a Ro80 tugging a Wankel Spider up the road. By the time I’d run Fredrik back home for the rope, the Spyder had righted itself and sprung back into life. Even so, not a sight you are going to see every day.
Good weather over Easter led the NSU to join its VW cousins at Paul Blofield’s birthday gathering, among patinated cars aplenty. The NSU Ro80’s first outing of the year: to Colesbourne to be papped by Buckley.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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- Post is under moderationCAR: #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU /
Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since 2009
Total mileage 66,310
Miles since February
2017 report 2065
Latest costs £185
ROTARY PROVES A SPEED MACHINE
It’s now nearly a year since I last reported on the NSU, which is odd because I use it more than any of my other cars – mainly because it’s the most reliable, which is either a reflection on the poor standard of my other cars, or confirmation that the Ro80 is vaguely dependable.
To keep on top of the body, I had the rust on the nearside rear wheelarch sorted by a shop in Swindon. They did a nice job, but had terrible issues matching the paint, and were then flummoxed by the Ro80’s starting procedure. So when I finally came to collect the car, I was glumly informed that: “It won’t start mate.” I then astonished the painter when I had the thing fired up almost before the last syllable had tumbled from his lips.
I’ve done two or three trips to London, where the NSU copes fine, although early in the year it gave me a surprise when its throttle cable snapped (luckily not far from mate Nick Kisch’s house, where I was staying), which meant a call to the good old AA in the morning.
They got me mobile within an hour and the car is still running the temporary cable they fitted, although Phil Blake sent me the correct one in the post the next day. Phil also picked up a new rear parcel shelf for me in Germany at the 50th-anniversary Treffen in May; this reproduction item is not cheap, but it looks great. I just need to stick some sound deadening on it, because you can now hear stuff rolling about in the boot.
Phil also loaned me a set of alloys to get refurbished so that I didn’t have to take the Ro80 off the road. Mercedes-Benz W123 specialist Mark Cosovich got them done for me by his man in Wales and they came back looking great, although I have not yet got round to fitting them and I will need to sort myself out a good set of wheel bolts and centre caps to do them justice.
After a long sit in west London traffic the other week, I noticed an unwillingness from the rotary to pull over 5000rpm, but this was quickly resolved by removing the plugs and carefully dousing them in carb cleaner. I also became aware of a water leak from the engine, which turned out to be coming from a pinhole in the expansion tank. Rusty water is dropping onto the voltage regulator for the alternator and, if left to its own devices for long enough, spits out sufficient coolant to make the engine run a bit hot, which obviously isn’t good.
The other issue has been the brakes, which are starting to feel a bit soft at the pedal and are pulling to the left a touch. Mike Conner at Purley Road Garage freed off one Run by Martin Buckley Owned since 2009 Total mileage 66,310 Miles since February 2017 report 2065 Latest costs £185 of the front calipers, which helped, but I suspect that I am going to need a pair of refurbished items if the anchors are going to get back to what they should be. There is still oil coming from (I think) the torque converter, although it is not clear if this is getting into the brakes.
Having said all of that, it went through its MoT test with nothing more than an advisory on a driveshaft boot, and I even managed to get myself a speeding ticket on the way home, my first for 15 years.
FAR 666K had its moment of fame in June when Petrolicious came to see me to do a little film about the car, which you can see online. Then, at the beginning of August, it was time to go and see Ro80 guru Phil and his wife Ally for the car’s 50th-anniversary event in Tannington, deepest Suffolk. I didn’t mention it in October’s Backfire, but I was quietly chuffed when my car was voted third favourite by the assembled NSU cognoscenti.
I used the opportunity to leave the car with Phil for its next round of sorting: the snag list is headed by the brake and water-leak problems, and I’m hoping that he will also sort a windscreen leak and dodgy front passenger window regulator, plus come up with a definitive answer to the excessively soft suspension and the suspicious clonk on lock from (I think) the nearside front strut. I hope that he doesn’t need to hang on to the NSU for too long, though: I’m missing it already.
THANKS TO Mike Conner at Purley Road Garage: 01285 221304 Phil Blake / The AA: www.theaa.com
/ Mark Cosovich: w123book.com
Buckley Ro80 was voted third best at Suffolk meet. Below: in the drive with latest buy, a Lancia Appia. NSU joins Austins for a local street party. With Fredrik Folkestad’s Ro and Citroën C6. Nearby meet drew Flaminia and Mustang.
‘I even managed to get myself a speeding ticket on the way home from the MoT test – my first for 15 years’Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationCAR #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU
Name David Becker
Occupation Lighting engineer
From Surbiton, UK; lived in Seaforth, Sydney, since 1981
First classic Citroën DS23 EFI
Dream classic Iso Grifo (S1)
Favourite driving tune Ring the Bells James
Best trip Old Pacific Highway, New South Wales, Australia
EXPAT FINALLY FULFILS A DREAM
As a schoolboy growing up in England in the ’60s, the sight of an NSU Ro80 was like witnessing the arrival of a spaceship. Compared with other family saloons at the time, the Ro80 had an otherworldly quality about it. It was both stylistically and technically a major leap forward in design. It looked and sounded unlike anything else.
About 10 years ago, by then living in Australia, I decided it was time to hunt down a Ro80 so that I could convert those memories into physical effect. I set off searching via all the usual channels and eventually a car on the Scottish border caught my eye. It was from the last year of manufacture, #1976 , with just 46,000 miles on the clock, but – of all the fabulous colours – it was a disappointing metallic brown. Other than that, it seemed to fit the bill.
A deal was done and the NSU arrived about four months later. It was a horrible wet day when I set off to Port Botany to collect the car, which was parked at the back of a dismal and filthy shed, looking forlorn and covered in dust. After some effort, it coughed into life.
I set off back to Manly, a trip of about 30km, in the rain. The car was running very rough, stalling at every stop. I had read Martin Buckley’s comments in C&SC about how coarse these engines are at idle, but surely not as bad as this. The fanbelt was slipping and the car decelerated dramatically when lifting off the throttle, suggesting binding brakes. I got out after a couple of kilometres and felt the wheels. Both of the back ones were really hot, but I decided to press on with caution. As I approached the Harbour Bridge, I heard a sharp noise – the fanbelt had snapped, and the temperature started to rise quickly.
The traffic was getting busy so stopping was not a desirable option. I decided that, with luck, I could get to the bridge crest, coast down the other side and then pull off.
Anxiously, I watched the gauge shoot up… and it dawned on me that I might seize the engine on my first drive. As I turned into North Sydney, steam was spewing out and coolant poured onto the ground.
By chance, there was a workshop a few paces away and, after waiting an hour, I drove the NSU into the garage. It was fixed the next day, and I continued the journey home with only slightly less trepidation. That night, I was reading a fabulous Brooklands compilation of road tests through the life of the Ro80. The last story is by Buckley, from C&SC, July 1995. As I looked at a photo of him cornering with gusto, there was something familiar about the English numberplates.
I went outside with a torch and, sure enough, there parked on my drive was NMX 630P! My thus far soured experience was transformed in an instant. It felt good to own the actual vehicle featured in a publication, particularly one examined by such a notable enthusiast.
I quickly set to with remedial work. The brake pistons were all in poor condition, but, once cleaned and with the odd replacement plus new seals, they worked perfectly.
With a fresh set of plugs, a thorough clean of the carburettor and a few miles of use, the engine started to run well. There’s no smoke on start-up, indicating that the rotor seals are in good shape. There was some minor rust in the front wings that I’ve attended to, but the NSU was otherwise in great shape.
Some years ago, I was pottering around a second-hand shop and noticed a classic car encyclopaedia, co-authored by Martin. I casually started flicking through it until I reached the NSU section. There, to my astonishment, was a doublepage article featuring NMX! So, with such published exposure, any thought of a respray to replace the brown is banished from my plans.
The NSU is incredibly modern to drive, and lives up to the expectations formed in my youth. I like everything about it, in fact. It’s adequately powerful for today’s traffic conditions and supremely stable at speed. It’s still a relaxing and very capable high-speed car. Modern risk-analysis techniques ensure that any advancements in automotive engineering are incremental.
So no car manufacturer today could come up with the sort of leap forward that the Ro80 represented in 1967. To quote Buckley: ‘We will never see its like again.’
‘As I looked at the photo of Buckley cornering with gusto, there was something familiar about the plates’
Buckley’s enthusiastic cornering style hasn’t changed much in 20 years: here he is, putting the car now owned by Becker through its paces, for C&SC’s July ’1995 issue.
With backdrop of Sydney Opera House… …and the Harbour Bridge in the distance. Brake calipers needed seals and pistons. Alongside De Lorean, at CARnivale in 2014.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationCAR: #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU /
Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since 2009
Total mileage about 54,000
Miles since October
2015 report approx 250
Latest costs £250
NEW MEMBER OF THE ROTARY CLUB
The first thing my daughter Caitlin always says when she sees the NSU is: “Can I have this car, Dad?” She’ll be driving before long I suppose, but I’m not sure that she would keep up with the fuel consumption out of her student finance. Still, she was pretty much brought up on these cars. I used to drive her around in my first light blue N-reg example to get her off to sleep and we went on several family holidays in them, so they are certainly in the blood.
To be honest, FAR 666K has been doing my head in of late, although in fairness most of the problems have been of my making rather than the car’s. It was meant to have had its moment of fame on the C&SC stand at the NEC last November, but, by the time I got to the Air Balloon roundabout (about 30 miles away), the charging light had come on. Mission aborted. It turned out that the voltage regulator was full of water and all was well again once it had been dried out.
Then, having not used the car for weeks, I decided that it would make ideal transport to attend the New Year’s Day gathering at Brooklands with my pal Brian King. That plan was dropped when I discovered that the battery was flat and, in haste, used my new compact booster pack on it. That instantly ‘killed’ the spark-amplifier box (as I had been warned that it would) and, with that out of the picture, the engine was never going to fire. This daft error on my part began a whole series of frustrations and expense.
Good old Phil Blake sent me a functioning second-hand amplifier, which sort of worked… but sort of didn’t and had the effect of making me look elsewhere for the problem. Suspicion was cast next on the plugs, the converted RX-7 #NGK s with NSU sleeves that have not been any problem up to now. I did notice that, when I fitted a random set of old Berus, the engine seemed to fire quite readily. So I ordered some fresh NGKs as well as a new set of the original-type plugs to cover all eventualities.
After a bit more fiddling (including new points), I thought that I’d cracked it and set off to Bristol to see my son Sean for lunch. I’d only gone a couple of miles down the A419 before I realised that all was far from well and spent an hour parked in an Esso garage awaiting the AA.The patrolman had a fiddle, although eventually we decided that it would be best to get the NSU back to Mike Connor for a thorough investigation. The AA bloke towed me back on his A-bar and, at the first opportunity, I got the car into gear and wound the engine over fast enough to fire, which it did fairly promptly… then conked out again outside Mike’s place.
He diagnosed that the amplifier was still at fault so I asked Phil to find me another one. By then I was becoming so impatient to get the car on the road that I decided to drive over to the Blake residence in Suffolk. I took up the kind offer of Justin Lazic’s mighty Mercedes S600 V12 coupé to get us there, which it did, in effortless comfort. It’s too new to get me very excited, although I can see the appeal of it.
While Mike had the Ro80, I asked him to fit a new wiper switch because the one on the car had been haywire for a while – refusing to let the wipers self-park and randomly setting off the washers when you didn’t want them. I have stacks of Ro80 spares but never, it appears, anything that I actually need. Sure enough, it turned out that the column stalks I gave Mike were the wrong version. So I had to put yet another call into Phil and hopefully I will soon have wipers that function properly again.
All the turning over of the engine also seemed to finish off the starter motor. For once, I had the correct item. Since Mike replaced it, I have realised that a lot of the NSU’s laborious cold starting over the years has been the fault of a lazy starter because it now bursts into life almost instantly – hot or cold.
I do like a happy ending, although FAR 666K had one final tantrum when it lost its passenger-side wiper arm on the A419. There was no chance of finding it and, of course, all my spare ones are the wrong sort. Anyway, to cheer myself up, I bought an owner’s manual for the NSU on eBay for £35, so there.
THANKS TO Mike Connor, Purley Road Garage: 01285 652365 / Phil Blake: 07875 556193
‘For once, I had the correct type of starter motor and the engine now fires almost instantly – hot or cold’
Caitlin has taken a shine to the old man’s car, but he reckons it’s too thirsty for her. Nearside wiper arm went AWOL on the A419. Wiper stalk also ex-Blake; manual on eBay. Wankel now fires pronto with good starter. Spark amplifier was supplied by Phil Blake.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationROTARY FINDS A NEW VOCATION / #NSU-Ro80 / #NSU
Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since 2009
Total mileage 64,245
Miles since July 2016 report 1914
Latest costs £342
‘It’s fascinating to see what attracts people’s attention when they get in… usually the lack of rear seatbelts’
The NSU was used alternately with the Gamma during the summer, usually for long trips. I took it to Buxton in July for the Maserati vs Ferrari vs Lamborghini September cover shoot (where it received almost as much attention as the exotica). I also used it for a run over to Gravesend in September to see Paul Harris at Pallas Auto for the Citroën DS in the ’60s Best Buys. It did 23mpg on that 280-mile roundtrip, which is fairly good going for a Ro80, but it needed a drop of water when I got back. My lower seatbelt anchorage had managed to unbolt itself, which was a bit worrying. I also almost lost my front nearside lower door trim, which had been put back on the car with insufficient clips, but I sorted that one myself.
Prior to this, I had FAR fully rustproofed at STP Motor Services in Malvern, something that I’ve been meaning to do for ages because it is very sound and largely original. It would be a shame if it went rusty having survived this long. There is evidence – in the form of little black plastic plugs in various places – that it was protected from new in 1972, That’s probably why it is still alive and well, plus the fact that it is a less rot-prone, non-sunroof car.
STP had the NSU for three days because it needed to dry out before they could set to with the preservative oil in the various crevices. The smell faded quite quickly and it’s reassuring to see the brown gloop dripping from every seam.
I had the umpteenth new battery fitted in May, another Power Bull, but this time I bought the biggest one that would fit in the hole. It turns it over vigorously and I have had no subsequent electrical problems, other than a wiper motor that suddenly decided to get very noisy. Fortunately, I had a spare that Mike Conner fitted to remedy that. Claus Stig Christensen, a Danish entrepreneur, contacted me about his BookAclassic service. He described it as “the Airbnb for classics” and (once I’d looked up what Airbnb actually is) I saw his point.
Basically, he’s set up an easily negotiated website through which you can hire a variety of classics. There are 15,000 on his books (across 13 countries) for personal or commercial events, be it a birthday do, TV or film work – or just a jolly. As he put it: “I love old cars and I want to see more of them being used rather than all this boring, characterless modern stuff.” Amen to that.
Anyway, I signed up myself and the Ro80 (it took only about five minutes) and, within a few days, I was collecting my first victims from Kemble station. Julian McDonnell, a London tour guide and awardwinning tourism film maker (see www.joolzguides.com) had come from Bath with his cousin Gill. It’s fascinating to see what attracts people’s attention when they get inside the NSU for the first time. For non-car people, it is the lack of seatbelts in the rear and the “weird” way that the front ones operate. The beginnings of my explanation about the workings of the rotary engine fell on deaf ears, so I gave up and concentrated on the tour. We went via Cirencester, Nailsworth, lunch in Tetbury and a look around the shops (Julian found himself a Telly Savalas LP) and then a whizz up the M4 to drop them off at the park and ride in Bath.
It was a fun afternoon for which I earnt myself £168. Even taking the NSU’s thirst into account, I think I came out ahead and, moreover, it was an interesting thing to do. The next jobs that I would like to tackle are the corrosion on the nearside rear wheelarch and finding someone to polish the alloys.
More pressingly, the brakes have developed a pull to the left at speed, which I’m hoping is not connected to the fact that the torque converter is leaking and allowing oil to find its way onto a disc. The only cure for that is to take the engine out and, to be honest, given that it has weak compression on one rotor, it might as well be rebuilt if it is going to come out. I was hoping to put that job off for a couple of years because it starts readily from cold and easily keeps up with motorway cruising speeds. Fingers crossed that it’s just a partially seized front caliper!
THANKS TO STP Services: 01684 563307
Gill and Julian enjoyed their tour with Buckley, the world’s fastest taxi driver. They arranged it via www.bookaclassic.co.uk
Nearside rear arch corrosion needs doing.
Brake pull is hopefully just a stuck caliper.
Ro80 models and German cartoon cushion.
Prized Minichamps 1:18 with promo print.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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