Wednesday, March 04, 2015

LAST week, I got into a bit of reverie about motoring and all that it entailed in times past and, as sometimes happens, I just couldn’t shake the subject out of my head. Every so often, during the past week, some other memory would pop into my head.

One very vivid memory predated those of last week’s musings and even pre-dated my memory of cars. Little did I know that this particular memory had a somewhat historical tinge.

My family moved from Roscommon to Galway sometime in 1957 following my father’s transfer to Renmore Barracks. Initially, we rented a house at Knocknacarra on the outskirts of Galway city and my father made the journey to work on a sturdy army bicycle.

After some months, we moved to Salthill, which was only marginally nearer the barracks, so the bicycle was still required. Then one day, something very unusual appeared in our garage. It was somewhat larger than the army bike, which used to live there, and it had an enormous saddle and other paraphernalia that all looked very interesting to a four-year-old.

The following day, my older brother and I needed no encouragement to get out of bed, and it wasn’t the prospect of school that was the attraction. We were up and dressed, by our own hands, and waiting at the garage door to see this new contraption in action.

My father, in full military uniform, donned a pair of those leather goggles, which you might most associate with Biggles, and wheeled this contraption out to the road. I particularly noticed him lean down and twist a little tap-like thing before he jumped up on this oversized bike and started to pedal up the road.

I was just thinking that it seemed much harder to pedal than the old bike, when suddenly the engine burst into life and a bluish, funny-smelling smoke came out of a pipe at the back. And there went my father – a funny looking sight – on his new autocycle, phut-phutting up the road. That sound would herald his going and coming for the next number of years, and I can even remember the make. It was an NSU Quickly.

The NSU Quickly was introduced in 1953, the year I was born. It had a 49cc two-stroke engine and it was developed by NSU Motorenwerke AG of Germany. Designed for the very purpose my father had envisaged – a cheap and effective means of getting to work – in the decade up to 1963 when production of the model ceased, the NSU Quickly and its variants had sold 1.2 million machines worldwide.

As far as I can determine, at the time of their launch, a new machine would set you back less than £50. Though I cannot say what my father might have paid for his machine, £50 would have been an enormous sum to find back then, so it is likely that it was bought on the HP, a common practice at that time.

When we moved to Kildare in 1960, for whatever reason, the NSU did not make the journey with us. For a time, my father was back on the sturdy army bicycle, cycling the four miles or so to the Curragh Camp. Indeed, I have a distinct memory of our very first journey to the Cut Bush School, which was a mile and a bit along my father’s route to work. He walked his bike along, as the ‘three musketeers’ – my older and younger brothers and I – walked alongside. This was a daily journey we would make on foot until we were old enough to manoeuvre our own bicycles.

Unwittingly, we participated by association in some motoring history as we traversed that daily route. It seems the decision of NSU Motorenwerke to cease production of the NSU Quickly in 1963 was a response to the increasing demand for motorcars. By 1963, production of all motorcycle models had ceased at the factory and NSU moved to satisfy the latest consumer demand. Happily for us, one of those cars, an NSU Prinz came into the possession of Mr Price, who lived some miles from our house.

Not many cars passed us on our way to school, so much so that we could identify each by sound alone, without even looking around. And one of our favourite sounds was a certain NSU Prinz, because Mr Price would always stop and give us a lift … and not just us. Of the half-a-dozen school-going families that traversed this route, each straggling bunch of scholars would be collected along the way.

I’m not sure if the designers at NSU Motorenwerke AG Germany envisaged their automobile carrying better than a dozen children, complete with schoolbags, but Mr Price squeezed us all in anyway. And this particular NSU, as far as we were concerned, just as its motorcycle predecessor promised, did indeed get us to school Quickly.

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By Tom Cox
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