quattro Magazine Q3_2020: NSU 1200TT: Father of the Current Day Audi TT

words: Per Eliasen, photos: Per Eliasen, George Achorn

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the Q3_2020 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, join Audi Club here.

It all started while attending a vintage car event in Copenhagen back in 2007.

“Dad, you should get one of those NSUs and start racing!”

“Son, I am a gearhead but I have never heard of any NSUs making it to the USA….”

A number of the cars were out on track and exhibiting fantastic performance. It was easy to get smitten by these “boxy little cars with big windows”. Much like the old BMW 2002 but with four-ring pedigree. This is what kick-started my NSU racing addiction.

Before immigrating to the US, I was auto crossing a BMW 2002 on dirt roads, in gravel pits, and paved parking lotsbut I never did road-racing. After 15 years in the US, I picked up another 2002 and participated in driver’s schools and track day events. That was the extent of my racing experience until I got fully immersed into vintage racing with my NSU.

As a teenager back in Denmark, I took some automotive lessons and my teacher had been road-racing an NSU 1200 TT at that time. He focused a lot of his teachings on the engineering of the NSU engines, which gave me the first taste of the cars.  Little did I know that 45 years later, I would be racing my own. Talk about full circle.

After returning back to Colorado from Denmark the summer of 2007, I asked my car friends if anyone knew of NSUs available in the US. To my surprise, I found a couple of 1200 TTs for sale in the Denver area, plus a generous stash of spare parts. Shortly thereafter, I found a third TT in southwest Colorado, which is the one I race today.

This 1200 TT racer is from 1967 and it took about three years to complete the transformation from a shell to a race car. A lot of the time was spent collecting all the “hot parts” in order to make it all go together correctly. Luckily, there are many suppliers in Germany, both for more “pedestrian” parts, as well as performance components. What I did not know at the time, but inevitably found out, is that there is a rather large group of NSU racers in Europe participating in road racing, auto crossing, and hill-climbs. Google “Kampf der Zwerge” (Fight of the Dwarves) and you’ll find plenty of entertaining proof of this.

Besides finding all the right parts, it was also a task to find a race mechanic in Colorado who was willing to wrench on the little NSU. Unfortunately, my race car project was delayed for almost two years when the first mechanic gave up on the project. Luckily, I found a race mechanic within my vintage race club (Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing) who had the skills and experience to get the project completed. Pete Christensen of Total Precision Engines gets full credit for making my dreams come true.

By 2012, my TT was complete and race-ready and the fun began. I quickly found that the TT was a blast to run on the track, in spite of or perhaps because of, the fact that it can be a challenge to run with larger cars all the time since there are not enough small race cars to make our own run-group.

The strength of the NSU is that it grips the track like a Porsche 911. Just like the Porsche, it’s got a rear-engine configuration, although not as far back as found in a 911. I have learned to “dance” with the car in the corners, by getting off the throttle just enough to make the car start sliding. Once the sliding begins, you get back on the throttle hard, which makes the chassis squat down and grip again. Naturally, it takes practice to know the balance between over-steering and correcting the car’s path. With about 70 percent of the weight over the rear wheels, the brakes are dialed in to be biased towards the rear. This set-up enables you to brake very late before a corner so you can catch up with faster cars in the corners, which otherwise pass on the straights.

My racing highlight so far was to get invited to participate in the 2018 Rolex Motorsports Reunion at Laguna Seca during Monterey Car Week. Running that legendary track was an incredible experience, while going through the legendary corkscrew drop-off of a corner put a grin on my face that lasted for months. I even had the pleasure of meeting Tom Kristensen of Audi Sport. Tom shared that he had raced an NSU and was kind enough to provide some advice for future fine-tuning of the TT. The only thing I really miss is to be running with other NSUs. There are a few others in the US and my hope is that someday we can get a group of us together and run as a pack on the track.