On pa­trol

Nim­bus in the Dan­ish Army

Old Bike Australasia - - THE NIMBUS - Story Lars Glerup

When the Dan­ish army had to make the de­ci­sion as to what the ‘stan­dard’ mo­tor­cy­cle had to be, the Army Tech­ni­cal Corps were mainly lean­ing to­wards buy­ing mo­tor­cy­cles from out­side of Den­mark. How­ever af­ter tests with many dif­fer­ent brands of mo­tor­cy­cles, it was the Dan­ish Nim­bus that was cho­sen. The Dan­ish army bought its first Nim­bus in 1920, a “Stovepipe”, and an­other one the year af­ter. It was not due to lo­cal pa­tri­o­tism that the Nim­bus was se­lected. In fact, there were many who had pushed to buy the big Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cles such as In­dian and Har­ley-David­son or the Bri­tish sin­gle-cylin­dered ma­chines. Many thought that the Nim­bus, with its four cylin­ders, was frag­ile and not strong enough to pull a side­car. When the Nim­bus, A and B mod­els went out of pro­duc­tion in 1928, many of the top brass in the army were happy, for now they could buy the mo­tor­cy­cles they re­ally wanted – Nor­ton, Dou­glas, BMW, BSA and sin­gle and twin cylin­der Har­ley-David­son mod­els, and a few other brands. It was suc­cess­ful in the be­gin­ning but the first prob­lem for the for­eign brands was over­heat­ing when rid­ing in con­voys at low speed, and many of them spent a lot more time in the work­shop than the Nim­bus ever had done. In 1932, a new Army Act had passed through par­lia­ment and that also meant a lot more funds for the army. The top brass had de­cided that it was time to leave the horses in the paddock and get the army per­son­nel mo­torised. This was also the year where Civil en­gi­neer, An­ders Fisker, had con­vinced his fa­ther, and the board of Fisker & Nielsen that it would be prof­itable to de­velop and man­u­fac­ture a new Nim­bus, the Model C, if pro­duc­tion could reach 1,000 units per year. The army had de­cided it would de­velop all-new mo­tor­cy­cle squadrons. In 1933 the army be­gan very long and sys­tem­atic tests of var­i­ous brands of mo­tor­cy­cles, but the new Nim­bus al­most missed out on be­ing con­sid­ered, as it wasn’t ready un­til the be­gin­ning of 1934. It was first pre­sented to the press on 20th of April 1934. The Dan­ish army took de­liv­ery of its first three Nim­bus on the 30th of June 1934. The tests re­vealed very quickly that the choice would be be­tween the Har­ley-David­son VL, 1,200cc and the Nim­bus with only 746cc. The Har­ley was very heavy and if it be­came bogged, it was a strug­gle even for two men to get it free again, and the an­ti­quated ig­ni­tion sys­tem and car­bu­ret­tor ad­just­ment made it dif­fi­cult for un­trained peo­ple to start the bike. The Nim­bus was lighter, and the ig­ni­tion re­tard and ad­vance were au­to­matic and there was no car­bu­ret­tor ad­just­ment ei­ther, which meant that it was an easy ma­chine to start with­out any prior train­ing. Be­fore the fi­nal de­ci­sion was taken, the army me­chan­ics were asked their opin­ion. They all said that the Amer­i­can bikes were more dif­fi­cult to re­pair and main­tain than the Nim­bus. One ma­jor point was that the Nim­bus has no chains to be looked af­ter. Also, the frame con­struc­tion is so much sim­pler and a job as sim­ple as chang­ing the front fork is so much eas­ier on the Nim­bus. Af­ter all the pros and cons, the de­ci­sion for the army’s ‘stan­dard mo­tor­cy­cle’ ended up be­ing the Dan­ish-man­u­fac­tured Nim­bus.

In the late ‘thir­ties the Nim­bus was, yet again, up for com­par­i­son with other brands of mo­tor­cy­cles, this time it was the Ger­man brands, BMW and Zün­dapp, the tech­nol­ogy of which had come a long way in a very short pe­riod of time. BMW and Zün­dapp were con­structed to the most mod­ern con­cepts, whereas the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can brands were un­changed. BMW and Zün­dapp had now as well as Nim­bus, gone for the out­side frames and shaft drive. The BMWs were, from 1935 on­wards, fit­ted with oil-damp­ened tele­scopic forks, whereas Zün­dapp still had the pressed steel trapeze forks. The engi­neers at Zün­dapp also stuck with a gear­box that had in­ter­nal chains in­stead of the more con­tro­ver­sial gear­box with pin­ions. Even though the Ger­man brands were very good, it was de­cided to re­tain the Nim­bus, as it had proven to be a very ro­bust ma­chine in the

pre­vi­ous five years. The threat of war from over the bor­der may also have had some in­flu­ence. In 1939-40 the Dan­ish army had a to­tal of 487 mo­tor­cy­cles of var­i­ous brands for its dis­posal. In that year all the mo­tor­cy­cles trav­elled to­gether a mere 2,287,526 km; an av­er­age of 4,697 km per mo­tor­cy­cle. In or­der to keep a bet­ter record on costs, a cost­ing cal­cu­la­tion was made, based on amor­ti­sa­tion and op­er­at­ing ex­penses such as petrol, oil, tyres, re­pairs and main­te­nance for the dif­fer­ent brands of mo­tor­cy­cles. In the fi­nan­cial year of 1939-40 the army’s av­er­age cost per kilo­me­tre for a mo­tor­cy­cle was 20 cents. If the costs were set up to com­pare the dif­fer­ent brands of bikes, the Nim­bus had the low­est cost of only 8.04 cents/km, Har­ley-David­son 9.80 cents/km, Nor­ton 15.00 cents/km, BSA 17.50 cents/km, Ariel 21.60 cents/km and the most ex­pen­sive, the ‚

Dou­glas at 24.12 cents/km. The fig­ures speak for them­selves. There was no doubt in keep­ing the Nim­bus made good sense.

At 4.15 am on Tues­day morn­ing, 9th of April 1945, Ger­man troops started what was called ‘Op­er­a­tion We­serübung’; the com­bined at­tack on Den­mark and Nor­way. The pur­pose was for the Ger­mans to se­cure one of Den­mark’s air force bases in North Jut­land. It also gave the Ger­mans the abil­ity to ac­cess the North Sea very eas­ily. On the Dan­ish side of the Ger­man/ Dan­ish bor­der fight­ing be­gan early that morn­ing and a num­ber of Nim­bus with 20mm ma­chine­guns mounted in the side­car came into ac­tion and made quite sub­stan­tial dam­age to the Ger­man troops. How­ever the Dan­ish Gov­ern­ment de­cided to sur­ren­der as their army had no chance against a 40,000-strong Ger­man army, plus Luft­waffe and Navy. The Danes lost 16 sol­diers and 23 were wounded that morn­ing, while the Ger­mans ca­su­al­ties were much higher. With the war on the pro­duc­tion of Nim­bus came to a bit of a halt. Fisker & Nielsen with P.A. Fisker in the Di­rec­tor’s chair had ab­so­lutely no in­ten­tion to make any­thing to ben­e­fit the Ger­mans, as they were very in­ter­ested in the mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion and the size of it. F & N did, in fact, very de­lib­er­ately, cre­ate con­fu­sion in its books of the Nim­bus pro­duc­tion, in or­der to keep the Ger­mans away. In the years 194045 only a very lim­ited num­ber of Nim­bus were man­u­fac­tured, and they were only for civil­ian use. As petrol be­came ra­tioned and only is­sued to doc­tors, am­bu­lances and fire brigades etc., it put a brake on sell­ing Nim­bus mo­tor­cy­cles. It also be­came harder and harder for F & N to get raw ma­te­ri­als, and things such as tyres be­came al­most im­pos­si­ble to get. Af­ter the Ger­man ca­pit­u­la­tion in Den­mark on the 4th of May 1945, where Field Mar­shal, Bernard Mont­gomery signed the sur­ren­der with the Ger­man armed forces in North Ger­many, Hol­land and Den­mark, it was an­nounced via BBC Ra­dio, London, that same evening. Den­mark could cheer again and so could F & N, as the Nim­bus man­u­fac­tur­ing could recom­mence. It took some time be­fore F & N was back on its feet and it was not un­til the 19th of April 1948 that the Dan­ish army re­ceived its first de­liv­ery of 200 Nim­bus fol­low­ing the war. When Den­mark be­came a mem­ber of NATO in 1949 and also be­cause of the cold war, the army placed some big or­ders with F & N. It was 100, 200 and some­times 300 Nim­bus at the time, as well as a large num­ber of side­cars. The big or­ders from the army did, in some ways, cre­ate prob­lems for the civil­ian mar­ket. In the ‘fifties, Nim­bus deal­ers coun­try-wide were ask­ing for more de­liv­er­ies than F & N could sup­ply, and all pro­duc­tion to the civil­ian mar­ket was stopped for months when the or­ders for the army had to be com­pleted. Un­for­tu­nately, the good times for F & N’s Nim­bus pro­duc­tion had eased off by the end of the ‘fifties and in 1957 F & N an­nounced that the pro­duc­tion would cease by the end of 1959. The last Nim­bus mo­tor­cy­cles were sold to the army in March 1960. From 1934 un­til 1960, the Dan­ish army had bought a to­tal of 2,329 Nim­bus mo­tor­cy­cles. The to­tal num­ber pro­duced in the same pe­riod was 12,715 which meant that the Dan­ish army had bought ap­prox­i­mately 20% of the en­tire pro­duc­tion. Due to the an­nounce­ment of ces­sa­tion of pro­duc­tion, the army had set up a con­tract with F & N to sup­ply spare parts for the next 15 years. In the first cou­ple years af­ter the pro­duc­tion had ended, F & N also over­hauled a large num­ber of Nim­bus mo­tors. That ar­range­ment then went to a pri­vate en­gine ma­chine-shop in Jut­land, which over­hauled up to 150 mo­tors per year for the army. In the end, not much money or ef­fort was spent to keep the bikes go­ing. If there were ma­jor prob­lems with, for ex­am­ple, the mo­tor, gear­box or rear bevel gear, an­other Nim­bus was used for spares. Thus, many of the ex- army Nim­bus have no longer match­ing en­gine and frame num­bers.

In the late ‘six­ties and early ‘sev­en­ties, the Dan­ish army started to de­com­mis­sion its fleet of Nim­bus mo­tor­cy­cles. It was done by auc­tion and the Nim­bus was sold in bun­dles of 10 ma­chines at the time. The bid­ding was very low and of­ten only reached the scrap me­tal price. It was mostly Nim­bus deal­ers who bought them and then re­stored and painted them in civil­ian colours. The left-over spares from the army were also sold by auc­tion, of­ten in large boxes on pal­lets. The bid­ding was on a whole pal­let at the time and yet again it went for scrap me­tal prices. The re­place­ment for the good, old, trusted army Nim­bus was the Bri­tish BSA B40. The joy with them was rather short-lived as they spent more time in the work­shop than on the road, so it hap­pened of­ten that the few Nim­bus which were still in de­pots around the coun­try’s army bar­racks were dusted off and yet again pressed into ser­vice. That meant that in the late ‘sev­en­ties, Nim­bus could still be seen be­ing used on army ex­er­cises. I re­mem­ber from my time in the Dan­ish army, 1977-80, that the BSAs we had spent more time in the back of a truck than on the road. The BSAs were re­placed in the early eight­ies with two-stroke Yama­has, but then in 1989, the army came to its sense and bought BMWs!

ABOVE L-R More lo­cal lovelies: The late Alec Marsh with his Model C; Nim­bus on the road in the 2009 Bathurst Easter rally; The late Chris Har­ley rid­ing his Model B. BE­LOW Antony Gul­lick’s 1954 Model C.

1965 photo of a sol­dier with his 1948 model.

Lars Glerup’s 1954 Model C Nim­bus.

Lars Glerup’s Nim­bus ad­mired by mem­bers of the late Ray Owen’s fam­ily.

10 ex-army Nim­bus bikes at dealer Er­ling Dreiager’s shop.

LEFT An army Nim­bus Model B in 1924. ABOVE A 1954 Dan­ish army Nim­bus.

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