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.