One of the Best of the Babies

A Brief Discourse on the Excellence of the 583-c.c. N.S,U. Prinz

Although in this country it is considered that the minimum generally acceptable size of car is the ten- or twelve-horsepower four-seater saloon, in Europe far smaller cars abound, and these provide excellent second-cars for British families and often appeal to enthusiasts who like vehicles which are different and jolly.

I have observed previously that life would be poorer without these modern cyclecars, and I have just discovered that the N.S.U. Prinz II is one of the best of the baby cars.

Although this four-wheeled product of the famous Neckarsulm motorcycle firm is truly diminutive dimensionally, which confers considerable advantages for parking and when negotiating dense traffic, it seats three adults — four at not too painful a pinch — and has both speed and acceleration that enables this tiny car to hold its own with Eights and Tens.

The N.S.U. engineers have no time for two-stroke engines or for those chain drives found too often in our minicars. A 583-c.c. oversquare fan-cooled vertical-twin four-stroke engine is mounted at the rear of the Prinz, with inclined o.h. valves operated by an o.h. camshaft driven by the “Ultramax” eccentric-strap gearless drive. In unit with this power unit, which gives 24 h.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m., or some 7 b.h.p. more than the heavier pre-war Austin Ruby saloon, is a four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox. Swing-axle i.r.s. is used, employing coil-spring strut suspension members, as does the wishbone i.f.s. The body shell is well constructed, and the two trailing doors possess sliding windows which have winders needing 2¾ turns from shut to fully open; no draught is experienced with the windows wound back. A really splendid heater/fresh air supply controlled by a big central knob (marked in blue and red, German fashion, to indicate cold and hot), and simply enormous rigid pockets in each door, supplemented by a large open sensibly-contrived cubby-hole in the facia, forgive two rather sharp welded joints inside the body, luckily where feet are kept away because of the front-wheel wells. There is also a useful space behind the back seat and the rear-seat squab folds forward if required.

The N.S.U. has rather too-small front seats, yet a long day’s motoring does not induce fatigue, the maker’s claim that hard seats are fitted deliberately on the advice of an orthopaedic specialist as being more comfortable than soft seats thus being justified. The wide doors and the extremely fine all-round vision are other points in the N.S.U.’s favour. There is a drawer-type ash-tray in the facia.

Driving the Prinz is great fun. Although it is permitted an unladen/laden weight ratio of 1,093 lb./1,851 lb. the suspension functions admirably. There is, not unexpectedly, some rather lively up-and-down movement but the ride, even over bad surfaces, is comfortable, although not up to the standard of the Citroen 2 c.v. Moreover, the Prinz clings to the road in splendid style round fast corners. Other drivers tend to try to keep up with it, if only to attempt to read the name on the back, and in this way I found it was possible to shake off Volkswagen and Morris Minor 1000 opposition. This safe handling is one of the highlights of the little N.S.U.

Of course, the noise level is high, but mostly noticeable at low or flat-out speeds, and the hum at 50 m.p.h is gear and exhaust roar, together with hum from the cooling fan, rather than mechanical clatter, so the silent o.h.c. drive is justified. And the little N.S.U. really motors. An indicated 60 m.p.h. is fairly easy to induce on the 80-m.p.h. Vdo speedometer and a happy cruising speed is 50-55 m.p.h. Moreover, acceleration low down is distinctly brisk and power is maintained from 40 m.p.h. upwards, even uphill in top gear. The little engine pulls smoothly away in top gear from about 28 m.p.h. and will run at lower speeds without a change-down.

I found that 40-m.p.h. averages were attainable without difficulty without favourable conditions and no-one could possibly say truthfully that this 583-c.c, motor car impedes conventional-sized vehicles, rather the reverse. Reasonable performance and outstanding cornering are matched by real brakes, the 7-in. Lockheeds with ribbed, steel-lined drums being foolproof, powerful and progressive under light pedal pressure.

The Prinz oversteers noticeably but this is instantaneously corrected by mere wrist movement on the finger-light steering, the two-spoke wheel of which asks but 21/ turns, lock-to-lock, in conjunction with a usefully taxi-like (28½ ft.) turning circle. This pleasant, accurate rack-and-pinion steering, free from lost-motion or kick-back or vibration and with gentle castor-return, is matched by a jolly gear-change, effected rapidly with very small precise movements (reminiscent of a motorcycle box) of a delightfully-placed short, rigid central lever. On the test car the synchromesh had disappeared on second gear, but this was no disadvantage apart from resulting in some mild crunches if hurried. Reverse is spring-loaded, beyond first gear. The central handbrake is excellently placed. The clutch is smooth, given care, and light but the foot has to be parked beneath the pedal.

As to controls, the speedometer, with total mileage indicator, is the only dial. Five warning lights signify ignition on, low oil pressure, low fuel level, headlamps on main beam, and direction-flashers working, with the proviso that on the test car a reserve petrol tap replaced the warning light, trapping sufficient fuel for about 23 miles. There is also a wooden graduated petrol dip-stick. Two stalks protrude below the steering wheel, that on the left operating the non-self-cancelling flashers, that on the right dipping the headlamps, sounding the horn or flashing the lamps as a visual warning (British designers please copy) — and nothing could be more convenient than these controls. The lamps and excellent self-parking wipers (independent of the ignition circuit), have switch-knobs on the facia but the aforesaid stalk flashes the lamps independently of the switch. The ignition key operates the dynastarter and also locks the off-side door. A choke toggle ahead of the gear lever and a front boot-lid toggle release are the only other controls — the Prinz is simple and foolproof to drive. The horn has a delightfully high-pitched Continental note. The test car had neat coconut mats on the floor and the somewhat restricted central mirror was supplemented by a rather useless right-hand wing mirror. A tiny interior lamp and vizor are supplied and the doors have effective “keeps.”

I have praised the interior accommodation for maps, parcels, etc. The front boot (the light lid of which props up automatically after the safety catch has been released but has to be manually released) with flat floor takes plenty of luggage, the petrol tank not taking up much space. The engine bonnet stays open automatically. Only curiosity made me open it, because no trouble was experienced and in more than 1,000 miles only a mere pint of Castrolite served to maintain the oil level at the “full” mark — and this lubricant serves gearbox and final drive as well as the engine; the dip-stick is reached easily by putting a hand down through the cooling air intake tunnel and the filler cap is accessible in the camshaft cover. The Bing carburetter has a Mann air-cleaner. It is reassurring to find Bosch electrics, including headlamps, the 12-volt system having a Bosch 6-volt coil for each cylinder. In driving in torrential rain only a drop or two of water entered the car.

The surprisingly good performance of the Prinz has been proclaimed; speeds in the gears are, respectively, 16, 32 and 49 m.p.h., and flat-out in top nearly 65 m.p.h. is possible; 0-50 m.p.h. occupies 26 seconds. Fuel economy is of equal importance in a minicar and while the N.S.U. suffers from the common failing of not being economical enough — 55 or even 60 m.p.g. would be welcome — it is better than many miniature cars of lesser performance. Driving it very hard, two up, against a strong headwind, I achieved 51.3 m.p.g. Later, pottering about, with lots of stopping and starting, just under 100 miles were covered on two gallons, and fast driving, plus London traffic, increased consumption to 45 m.p.g. Including approximately half-a-gallon reserve, this represents an average range of 25 miles. This justifies the maker’s claim of 2¼ gallons per 100 miles at 45 m.p.h.

Starting from cold is instantaneous on the silent dynastarter but choke is needed for opening up. There was a tendency for the accelerator to stick open when the engine was idling, but this never happened while driving the car, being caused by clutch and accelerator pedals sharing a common shaft.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent with this N.S.U. Prinz, which is one of the best of the miniature cars, endowed with handling qualities and performance to delight enthusiastic drivers. I soon ceased to regard it as a very small car and used it for long journeys to Prescott and Silverstone without anxiety. I can well imagine what enormous fun it would be to drive the 34-b.h.p. N.S.U. Sport Prinz Bertone coupe, for which 85 m.p.h. and 0-50 in 16.4 sec. at 47 m.p.g. is claimed. But I would be quite happy to own a normal Prinz as a second car. The price is now £604 16s. 2d. in this country, inclusive of import duty and purchase tax. Proof of our high opinion of the N.S.U. Prinz is confirmed by an order placed for one by Stirling Moss, who has specified the Sport engine. — W.B.

The N.S.U. Prinz II

Engine: Two cylinders, 75 by 66 mm. (583 c.c.). Inclined overhead valves operated by single o.h. camshaft. 6.8-to-1 compression-ratio; 24 b.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m.

Gear ratios: First, 18.74 to 1; second, 10.0 to 1; third, 6.39 to 1; top, 4.52 to 1.

Tyres: 4.40 by 12 Michelin, on bolt-on steel disc wheels.

Weight: 9 cwt. 2 qtr., ready for the road, without occupants, but with approximately ¾-of-a-gallon of petrol.

Steering ratio: 2 1/ turns, lock-to-lock.

Fuel capacity: 5 ½  gallons (including approximately ½-a-gallon in reserve). Range approximately 258 miles.

Wheelbase: 6 ft. 7 in.

Track: Front, 3 ft. 11¼ in. ; rear, 3 ft. 10¼ in.

Dimensions: 10 ft. 4 ½ in. by 4 ft. 8 in. by 4 ft. 5 in. (high).

Price: £426 (£604 16s. 2d., inclusive of import duty and purchase tax).

Makers: N.S.U. Werke, Aktiengessellschaft, Neckarsulm, Germany.

Concessionaires: N.S.U. (Great Britain) Ltd., 7, Chesterfield Gardens, London, S.W.1.