NSU Kettenkrad: The Ultimate Off Road Motorcycle.

December 14th, 2006 by William

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Kettenkrad in Saving Private Ryan.

Towards the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan there is a scene where two guys hop on a little tracked motorcycle and speed off to try and lure a group of German tanks into an ambush. When I first saw the vehicle I was really curious what exactly it was. I’m a WWII guru so-to-speak and had never seen one of these tank/motorcycle hybrids before. In the movie they called the vehicle a Rabbit, but I couldn’t find it in any internet searches so I slowly forgot about the oddball bike.

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This week by pure coincidence I opened Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market, and toward the back of the magazine I saw a picture and short write-up of the little Rabbit. It turns out it isn’t a Rabbit at all, it is actually a German made NSU Kettenkrad. A quick visit to Andreas Mehlhorn’s wonderful Kettenkrad homepage gave me more information on this amazing vehicle than I could have dreamed of. Now I really want one and Andreas has three. What do you say Andrea, even swap for my MGB?

The NSU Kettenkrad was a small tractor designed in WWII (it continued production even after the war) to tow a small gun or a trailer over difficult terrain. Although it has a motorcycle front wheel and fork mounted on the front it really is much more of tank than it is a motorcycle. At just under 10 feet long and with room for three people it was the smallest tracked vehicle in service in Europe.

Because NSU only produced single cylinder engines at the time, the Kettenkrad was powered by a water-cooled Opel four cylinder lifted straight out of the Opel Olympia. The motor put out a respectable 36 horsepower which proved to be more than enough grunt to scoot 2700 pound half-track around quite briskly. In fact the stated top speed of the Kettenkrad was 50 mph–tremendous for a down-sized tank–and Andreas reports that the NSU is a very fast vehicle indeed. Remarkably the Kettenkrad gets 18mpg imperial which really isn’t too bad.

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At first glance the Kettenkrad looks like it uses conventional motorcycle steering but this is only partially true. At high speed the motorcycle front tire adds an element of stability and in large arching turns the front wheel is what steers the vehicle. But when the NSU needs to make a tight turn it relies on a steering brake system much like a bigger tank. When you turn the steering wheel sharply the brake is applied to which ever tread you are turning towards, making the Kettenkrad a very maneuverable vehicle.

Slightly over 9000 Kettenkrads were produced and only a fraction of those survive today. It is a pretty obscure find. However, in my search for the Kettenkrad I think I found something even rarer, Kettenkrad Porn. Seriously I found a photo of a Kettenkrad with naked girls posing on it, what a world we live in. With no Kettenkrads on Craigslist it is doubtful that I will own one any time soon, But I will definitely have to add this rare vehicle to my dream car (tank-motorcycle) list.

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-Bill Mertz

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.