A section devoted when deemed necessary to cars the engine capacity of which does not exceed 1,000 c.c.
Two diametrically-opposed Germans—road impressions of the N.S.U. Prinz 4 and the D.K.W. 800S
During February, while England was still largely in the grip of an uncommonly hard winter, I was able to sample two well-known German small-cars of notably different basic design, in the form of a rear-engined 598-c.c. vertical-twin 4-stroke N.S.U. Prinz 4 and a front-engined, front-wheel-drive 796-c.c. in-line 3-cylinder 2-stroke D.K.W. 800S.
I tried first the Type 47 N.S.U., a friendly little car with roomy Corvair-style body. N.S.U. of Neckarsulm occupy an important place in the affections of German small-car users, so much so that following the introduction of the smart Prinz 4 in 1961 output rose by 57% to 57,103 units last year and it is said that on the basis of forward orders alone, production this year will have to be raised by at least another 50%, which implies an output of over 300 N.S.U.s daily.
The Prinz 4 has a significant place in this country on account of its competitive price. Introduced at the end of February 1962, the basic price was reduced immediately after last year’s Motor Show to coincide with a G.A.T.T. reduction in duty. The following week British p.t. was reduced, so that the price of the Prinz 4 fell by £176 in less than a fortnight. This means that today the little N.S.U. 4-seater saloon can be bought for £526 1s. 4d. in de luxe form. Even when a sliding roof is specified the price is under £566. According to N.S.U. (Great Britain) Ltd, the storm of orders which were received after the first price reduction became “a veritable hurricane” when our Chancellor of the Exchequer lowered British purchase tax. In anticipation of these considerable developments 180 dealers have been appointed in this country to deal with sales and service.
What has this little car to offer? One of the outstanding aspects of the N.S.U. Prinz 4 is the high standard of its finish and appointments. The nicely-upholstered interior, with generous-sized separate front seats possessing manually-adjustable squab rake, is at once associated with Volkswagen quality. The front-wheel arches intrude to some extent and the pedals are small, the brake pedal being rather awkwardly located and the clutch pedal not allowing much room for parking the foot that operates it, but head room is reasonable, the back seat notably wide, and if legroom for its occupants is limited, the driver and his adjacent passenger have plenty of leg stretch. The front-seat squabs hinge forward to give easy access to the back seat, and the front seats, although hard, are very comfortable, especially in view of their small size.
The instruments and controls are nicely planned. On the left of the painted metal facia there is an unlockable cubby-hole big enough to carry a Leica if not a Rolleiflex camera. Hooded before the driver and easily seen through the very neat little single-spoke low-set steering wheel, are matching Vdo clock and speedometer, the latter reading to 80 m.p.h. and containing the usual warning lights and non-decimals total mileage recorder. To the right of these dials are the controls—a rubber twist-switch for the wipers that washes the screen if pumped, four white press-buttons with identification symbols for selecting sidelamps, headlamps, and off or near-side parking lamps, with, outboard of these, a socket to take a 12-volt lead-lamp or electric razor.
On the central backbone or tunnel two small levers, Renault fashion, pull up, the lefthand one for the choke (a bright pin-point indicator on the right of the facia shines while it is in use), the other to bring in a fairly effective supply of hot air. Further heater/demister controls, in the form of two tiny under-facia knobs, allow individual control between left and right sides of the car. Equipment includes courtesy roof-lamp and fresh-air pull-out vents each side of the facia.
Neat, equal-length stalk-levers below the steering wheel operate, left, the manually-cancelled direction flashers, right, clipped or main beam from the efficient Hella headlamps. Pulling down the latter control provides daylight flashing of the headlamp beam. The central handbrake lever lies normally, there is a convenient-size full horn-ring, dual vizors and fairly good mirror.
The stubby central gear-lever is splendidly placed, there is a grab-handle on the facia for the front-seat passenger, the quarter-lights wind shut by means of not-quite-100%-effective knobs, the window-winding handles (3 1/2 turns) are well made (the back windows are fixed), and coat-hooks-cum plastic “pulls” are provided on each side, while the doors of the de luxe Prinz 4 have wide, elastic-topped pockets. There are big drawer-type ashtrays front and rear, the front doors possess arm-rests, and the aforesaid clock incorporates a clever float-type petrol gauge which displays varying colour-bands that act in conjunction with the clear calibrations, finally showing all-red when sufficient fuel remains for about 35 miles driving—simple, accurate to about half a gallon, and effective.
Luggage accommodation in this rear-engined car is by no means ungenerous. After pulling a knob on the left under the scuttle and releasing an easily-located wire safety catch, the front boot-lid can be lifted, revealing a capacious well, in which the spare wheel is mounted vertically at the front. If this space, and the interior stowage, are deemed insufficient, there is a well, normally covered by a plastic lid, behind the back seat. The manner in which the boot-lid closes, the nice action of the doors, and the ease with which the rear engine-compartment lid opens and supports itself, endorse the quality construction of this well-finished, stylish, big-windowed N.S.U.
The Germans go some way to discouraging car thiefs, and the release for the rear-boot lid is hidden within the body of the Prinz 4, while the very well-placed fuel filler, on the edge of the front compartment, is also concealed when the lid is shut and the car locked, while the exterior push-button door handles should depress the casual door-tamperer. The ignition key also locks the steering.
The modest swept volume, under 600 c.c., makes tax-sense in Germany but appears rather mean in England, or would if the overhead camshaft, inclined-valve engine (the clever camshaft drive of which Motor Sport discussed in some detail last January) in this 11 cwt. vehicle did not give excellent performance. As it is, 30 (net) b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. provides acceleration which, if not worth quoting in terms of seconds elapsed, keeps the little Prinz well up with the town traffic rat-race, the gear ratios of the 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox being well chosen. It can achieve 60 m.p.h. in 3rd gear and its timed top speed is nearly 74 m.p.h. Yet it will consume regular-grade petrol, the c.r. being 7.5 to 1.
This N.S.U. has a vertical-twin air-cooled engine and, although it is a big-car-in-miniature in the fullest sense of the term, it thus falls in the category of small cars of an earlier decade, like the Rover Eight, Stoneleigh and A.B.C., which could in no sense be referred to as cyclecars, yet adhered to a simple engine and eschewed vulnerable water radiators. I am delighted that so many engines of this kind are still found in modern economy cars and the only penalty in the ease of the Prinz 4 is a “2-cylinder” buzz when accelerating hard. The test car was suffering from an awkward flat-spot at a speed equivalent to 45 m.p.h. in 3rd gear but thereafter the little power unit smoothed out most commendably and ran willingly to high maximum r.p.m.
Two other very good points must be emphasised. The gearchange is one that any enthusiast is bound to praise. The little remote central lever is properly rigid, has the right length of movement, and selects the gears rapidly and precisely. It sometimes gets hung up on the gate in finding bottom from rest, it tends to unscrew, and if it is pushed farther than is necessary to change gear it transmits much vibration, but the changes themselves go through beautifully, and reverse is fairly easily located beyond bottom gear position.
The next very good feature of the Prinz 4 was its instantaneous starting, even when left out in the recent severe winter nights and snowed upon. An earlier N.S.U. I tested let me down, its dynamotor refusing to spin the engine, but on the present Prinz the 12-volt 130-w. Bosch dynastarter gave impeccable cold and hot starts, although operating at the customary very low speed. Indeed, even in the coldest conditions, choke was unnecessary if the throttle was depressed once or twice, although momentary choke helped the engine in pulling away. And was I glad of a no-freeze, no-boil type of engine!
The little car has interesting suspension, incorporating coil-springs, at the front with an anti-roll bar, Prinzair auxiliary air springs with its i.r.s. This provides good, roll-free cornering and very comfortable riding, although bad surfaces promote lively movement and some pitching and the suspension units can be heard working hard. It is useless to pretend that oversteer is absent (or that side winds do not deflect the car) but this is not unduly pronounced and the positive, firm rather than light, rack-and-pinion steering, geared 3-turns lock-to-lock of that delightful little 15-in. steering wheel, catches tail-slides very effectively. Indeed, this completely positive, “quick” and accurate steering in conjunction with anti-roll suspension, renders the little car fun to take briskly round roundabouts and through open corners. The 4.80 x 12 German Dunlop B7 tyres on their very smart disc wheels do not protest at ambitious cornering. The turning-circle is small, making the Prinz easy to park, and visibility through the curved screen and equally big back window is excellent. The brakes are powerful, the clutch reasonably easy to engage.
The external appearance of the fan-cooled engine would startle anyone accustomed only to conventional power units, for about all that is visible are the cooling cowls and a dip-stick buried in the bowels of the huge air-funnel. Ignition is ingenious, with a Bosch coil to each plug, and brake fluid reservoir, fuses and car numbers are all easily accessible in the front boot. The little engine proved entirely fool-proof. Under winter conditions involving much additional low-gear work, the petrol consumption check came out at 40.6 m.p.g. (I fed it mainly Esso Extra from force of habit). After 860 miles a pint of oil was required. There are only two greasing points calling for attention every 4,500 miles.
The N.S.U. Prinz 4 is a willing, spacious, extremely well-finished miniature car with a great deal of character. It makes an ideal runabout, its makers are friendly and practical-minded, and at £526 it should make many new friends this year. It cannot fail to appeal to those who are advocates of air-cooled rear-engined cars, and a Prinz 4 would make an excellent second car for a Volkswagen family, perhaps already using a Karmann-Ghia or VW 1500, or an N.S.U. Sport Prinz Mk. II (selling for £768 14s.) would pair nicely with a normal VW. The British concessionaires are N.S.U. (Great Britain) Ltd., 1346, King Street, London, W.6.
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N.S.U. announce that later this year they will introduce a high-performance 5-seater saloon car. It will have an in-line 4-cylinder engine set transversely across the back of the car. Contrary to the guesswork indulged in by a well-known weekly contemporary, we are informed that this engine will be air-cooled, will have a capacity of just under 1,000 c.c. and that the special N.S.U. o.h. camshaft drive will be abandoned in favour of a conventional chain-drive in order to eliminate the noise of the two reduction gears—in any case, N.S.U. have always claimed that their eccentric drive is best suited to a 2-cylinder engine.
Also in 1963 a Wankel-engined N.S.U. drophead coupé developing some 50 b.h.p. is forecast, which is scheduled for series production in the spring of 1964.
The D.K.W. 800S (normally called, and labelled, the Junior De Luxe) is quite different technically from the N.S.U. It has a 3-cylinder in-line 2-stroke engine at the front, driving the front wheels through an all-synchromesh gearbox controlled by a steering column lever, and suspension of the front wheels and dead-beam back axle is by torsion bars.
I road-tested the D.K.W. Junior 40S in September 1961, and the 800S is similar, but with the bore enlarged from 68 mm. to 70.5 mm. (the stroke remains at 68 mm.), increasing the swept volume from 741 c.c. to 796 c.c., the output now being quoted as 34 b.h.p. at 4,000 r.p.m., which is achieved without any deterioration of the smooth, quiet flow of power for which Auto-Union two-cycle power units are famous. The engine is now provided as standard with the oil-injector which we discussed and illustrated in January. This means that refuelling the car is a normal process, sufficient oil for 1,500-1,800 miles being contained in the reservoir of the mechanical injector, which supplies the cylinders with clean oil from the moment of starting, throughout the life of the car. The reservoir holds about 6.7 pints, so that, even taking the lower mileage figure, oil consumption, allowing for sump draining as well as replenishment required with 4-stroke engines, is not excessive.
The D.K.W. 800S is a 2-door saloon with detail work typical of current German small-car practice. By this I mean that there is a steering column lock, no trip mileage recorder, manually-cancelling direction indicators, stalk lighting control, and so on.
For a car sponsored by Daimler-Benz some of the detail work is disappointing. For example, there is a small open cubby-hole large enough only for the traditional pair of gloves, the figures of the total mileage recorder were not properly aligned with the speedometer face and consequently you had to stand on your head to read them, stowage for small objects is lacking, apart from the small cubby-hole, for neither door pockets nor facia shelf are provided, facia lighting is poor, only the driver’s door operates the interior lamp, and there is no ash receptacle in the rear compartment. Moreover, during the first three days of the test the heater was virtually inoperative. At first I assumed this to be a device to assist the German economy, for no-one able to keep their food in this mobile ice-box would need to purchase a refrigerator as well as a car. Frozen to the extremities, and unable to demist screen or windows, I took the little car back to the Auto-Union service depot on the Gt. West Road, where the heater was made to function very effectively in a very short space of time. As I drove in, with P.R.O. Erik Johnson beside me, the driver’s window winding handle “came away in me ‘and”; the horn had already become temperamental. Under the circumstances the back-window slogan “Auto-Union D.K.W.—Only The Best,” which I felt had personal implications(!) (I hate advertising slogans on Press cars anyway) infuriated me and when, two days later, the clutch pedal subsided to the floor and remained there in rush-hour Piccadilly traffic, I thought seriously of adding some rude comments of my own. Again, however, very prompt repairs at Brentford restored my good humour.
Apart from these disappointments, the front-drive 800S is a pleasing and fascinating little car, although not a handsome one, for the headlamps are stuck into the high front wing nacelles rather like tin-lids, and the back of the body is cocked up in the air, exposing the rear axle arrangements, at all events when only the front seats are occupied. But the smooth-running engine, with its 6-cylinder torque, and the silence with which it pours out the power, is a truly notable feature of D.K.W. motoring and as there is brilliant acceleration for a car of under 800 c.c., to the discomfort of normal Minis that were giving away 52 c.c., driving this Junior from Germany is a notably relaxing undertaking. The high quality of the finish and upholstery also contributes to the general air of well-being, while it is nice to have Bosch electrical equipment.
Although I have criticised some of the detail work, the car is in general well appointed. The facia is of realistic imitation woodwork capped by a plated strip—rather an acquired taste in a small modern car—but non-dazzle and restful. The oblong 90 m.p.h. speedometer incorporates the usual warning lights, including one that shows when the oil reservoir is getting empty, and fuel gauge, water temperature gauge and mileage recorder sans decimals. There is a small drawer-type ash-tray, a panel bearing the name “D.K.W. Junior” to take a radio, a cigarette lighter, and three white unlabelled knobs on the right, two large, for choke and lamps, a small central one for the screenwipers, which fail to clean the outside edges of the windscreen. An excellent item is a really almost over-powerful foot-operated screenwasher that, unless discretion is used, squirts innocent bystanders. Another unusual feature is an oval steering wheel, designed to clear stout stomachs but appearing very odd when it is turned! Three neat vertical-quadrant levers look after heating and ventilation, together with inaccessible flaps under the scuttle.
Two big comfortable seats are provided in front, which cannot be lifted to give access to the shallow but wide seat until their locks have been released by operating a large knob adjacent to each cushion, these controls being accessible from the back seat. Forward visibility is reasonable, although the steering-wheel rim might well be a few inches lower; the screen pillars are rather thick. From the steering column extend two, light-action, white stalks, that on the left selecting dipped or full headlamp beams and providing for full-beam daylight flashing, that on the right actuating the direction indicators. The front-wheel arches intrude but the pedals are not unduly off-set; the floor is flat, as it should be on a f.w.d. car, and the Junior could carry six persons in an emergency.
The gears are changed by a long, slender l.h. steering-column lever with the position marked on its knob. Quick changes are possible, but the movements are rather excessive and there is no spring-loading. The lower gear positions are uppermost and reverse is fairly easy to engage beyond and above the 1st gear position. The central handbrake lies normally; there is a two-stage treadle accelerator and a somewhat heavy clutch. The doors have quarter-lights with thief-resisting catches and extra, draught-proof fresh air is admitted via short cut-aways of the top of the main window glasses. The rear windows are fixed.
Naturally, the two-stroke engine lacks torque if the revs fall, so good use has to be made of the gear-lever, but, once the revs begin to rise there is seemingly no limit, and speedometer readings of 34, 45 and 64 m.p.h. in the lower gears are obtained without difficulty. Top and cruising speed is around 74 m.p.h. Apart from subdued two-stroke noises when idling and the traditional hum as it accelerates, this is a splendidly quiet engine, especially for top-cog cruising. It started instantly, given normal choke, in very low temperatures and consumed the cheapest-grade petrol without protest. It is started by the ignition-key, which has a return-stop and also locks the steering. The door key, slightly “fumbly” as it operates through the external push-buttons, also unlocks the large luggage boot. The boot-lid props automatically but calls for assistance in releasing itself. The floor of the very big luggage compartment is flat and has a durable-looking mat. The spare wheel is mounted vertically against the off-side wall.
The bonnet has to be propped open manually. The triple Bosch ignition coils that are complementary to the simplicity of the D.K.W. power unit are immediately accessible, and the engineering of the oil-injector linkages is in the Mercedes-Benz tradition. The filler cap incorporates a dip-stick. The fuel filler cap at the back of the car is unsecured; the tank holds just under 8 gallons. Equipment includes arm-rests on the doors, sill-door locks, non-swivelling sun-vizors, driver’s external mirror (also found on the N.S.U.) and Mercedes-style pull-out interior door handles.
On the road the impressive step-off and acceleration of the D.K.W. 800S and its aforesaid quiet, effortless cruising gait make it a very pleasant car for long journeys. The suspension is soft, absorbing shocks well, although really nasty pot-holes cause it to bottom and the tide is marked by animated motion and some swaying. There is noticeable roll when cornering fast, but if power is kept on, the front-wheel-drive pulls the car round without tail slides developing and with the anticipated, but faint, understeer. I had evidence of the extremely good traction when the car clawed its way up an ice-covered hill, recovering from almost stationary, in a situation saved only by bags of throttle and sawing on the steering, no finesse being possible, to crest the brow triumphantly, whereas normal cars wouldn’t look at the gradient.
The steering is very light although geared at 2 1/3 turns, lock-to-lock, and if not outstandingly accurate, displays little sponge and no lost-motion. It transmits some of the tremors from which the body-shell suffers. There is useful castor return action and nothing of disadvantage to proclaim that the front wheels are driven. The Firestone tubeless 5.50 x 13 tyres did not protest at sudden changes of direction.
The two-stroke engine lacks braking power on the over-run, unless 2nd gear is selected, but powerful brakes, inboard at the front with big turbo-finned drums in the best racing-car style, look after retardation very effectively. Towards the end of the test they pulled a little to the off-side.
No performance figures were taken, but the makers claim 0-50 m.p.h. in 15 sec. and 0-60 in well under 29 sec. Petrol consumption checks, involving a good deal of traffic driving at which a two-stroke engine is not at its most economical, came out at 28 m.p.g.—of 4s. 4d. a gallon fuel. The oil tank needed 2 1/8th pints to replenish it, in 660 miles. The Hella headlamps give an excellent beam, the body was notably quiet except for rattle in the region of the passenger’s door lock, and the D.K.W. Junior is roomy for its size and comfortable. The price—£799 17s. 6d.—in this country is against it but those who enjoy the thought of owning “a small Mercedes-Benz” and all who enthuse over two-stroke engines, will be glad that it is available, with full servicing facilities, in England. Auto Union (G.B.) Ltd., Gt. West Road, Brentford, Middlesex handle D.K.W. cars in this country.
I like the silence and willing response of the D.K.W.’s unusual power unit very much but prefer the controls and detail arrangements of the N.S.U. Certainly these two diametrically-opposed German small cars more than add their quota of interest and variety to the modern motoring scene.—W. B.