The motorcycle Nimbus was manufactured by Fisker & Nielsen Pty. Peter Bangsvej 30, Frederiksberg (Copenhagen). The same firm also manufactured the Nilfisk vacuum cleaner. Nilfisk was the name used for the firm’s telegraph address, created from the two company founder’s names. When the production of the vacuum cleaners first started, it had to have a name and Nilfisk was chosen. Unfortunately, it was not the best choice, because ‘Nilfisk’ was difficult to pronounce in some of the very important export markets and for a long period of time other tradenames were used. When the motorcycle needed to be placed on the market, a name for it was chosen very carefully. It proved to be a good choice and works in most languages. Nimbus means ‘halo’ or ’glory’. Peder Andersen Fisker was a son of a farmer from Skalmstrup near Randers fjord, born in 1875. His older brother was to inherit the family farm so Peder got an education to become a school teacher. He then served his national service before he started working as a school teacher. It did not take long before he enrolled at the Electrical Engineering School in Copenhagen, and he managed the study here in record time, finishing in 1900. Soon after, he went to the United States of America to learn more and work. He returned to Denmark in late 1904, where he obtained a job with Thrige in Odense. In 1906 he started his own firm in Copenhagen together with H. M. Nielsen, who was also from Thrige. The production was small electric motors. The two partners separated in 1910 as P. A. Fisker had developed a vacuum cleaner which he wanted to mass produce. Nielsen did not wish to do so, and it ended up that P. A. Fisker bought him out. The sale of the vacuum cleaners went very well, and it looked very bright until the outbreak of WWI. The sale, especially in England, France, Austria and Germany had reached high numbers but stopped due to the war. It would therefore have been advantageous if there was another product that was not dependent on the same trends as the vacuum cleaners. It should, according to Fisker be a rational reason for starting a motorcycle production. It seems likely that he also regarded it as an intellectual challenge to construct a motorcycle that would be better than other motorcycles at the time. The first Nimbus prototype was completed in 1918 and was followed by several variants. But it had no name before 1919, when P.A. Fisker felt provoked by a notice about a motorcycle rally in a newspaper which read: Also see Manufacturer Fisker with his homemade 4-cylinder. This was enough for the motorcycle to take the name Nimbus from then on. It could be pronounced in most languages and was well accepted in Denmark too.
This picture shows one of the first sales models, of which nine copies were produced. between 1919 and 1920, which was a very small production, probably due to economic problems. The picture is from a sales brochure, and both the fork and the frame have undergone several changes.
The drawing above was attached to the patent application from 1917. The prototype, as it was said to be, was already running in 1918. From here, there are several pictures of P. A. Fisher and the family on a trip. Comparing with the following images, many differences have occurred. Clearly, what can be seen, however, is how different the front fork is, which proved to be a failure, because of a failed construction of the angle of it. The angle of the frame, "the pipe" - was also different.
Nimbus-A, 1921, ‘The stovepipe’.
From 1920 to the end of 1923, 490 machines were produced of this model. Front fork, frame and many other details underwent changes, which will be too much to mention here. Nimbus immediately received the pet name or perhaps the nickname the "Stovepipe", which P.A. Fisker did not like. That it did not get the sales P.A. Fisker had counted on, were perhaps due to other factors, such as taxes, production capacity and work conflicts as well, which probably had more to do with it. However, the most important thing was that the one-man-owned company in 1920 had an urgent need for money and that his banking institution "Landmandsbanken" basically went bankrupt. He succeeded in converting Fisker & Nielsen into a limited company and thus gaining new capital. This was, in fact, the reason that a large number of motorcycles were first produced in 1921. From 1919 to 1921 only 60 machines were made. Production rose, however, and by the end of 1923, as mentioned earlier, the production had reached almost 500 motorcycles. Nimbus participated in 1921 in several of the then-popular road races, for example, Rome - Copenhagen, Paris - Copenhagen, Berlin - Copenhagen. Here Nimbus placed itself well and took home many victories. The victories were obviously due to the people who drove the machines, but equally, it was due to the solid construction and the strong engine. NIMBUS, therefore, won good recognition and respect, and sales rose. Nimbus deserved this recognition, because it was entirely an unconventional machine that presented innovative thinking in relation to motorcycle standards and design principles at the time. The factory mentioned some of the things that Nimbus featured:
- The frame is unconventional, as the petrol tank is an essential part of the lightweight frame construction.
- The rear wheel is mounted in a suspended rear fork.
- The engine is a four-cylinder in-line with a capacity of 746 cc.
- Powerful but at the same time fuel- efficient.
- It has shaft final drive.
- It is equipped with a kick-starter system. The kick-starter pedal engaged indirectly through the camshaft.
From 1924 to including 1928, 762 machines were produced, bringing total production to 1,252 machines. It is noted that the front-fork has yet again undergone a change, this time to a construction that was both solid and effective. There were also many other changes, both on engine and the electrical system.
Joseph Koch driving Nimbus
The young Joseph Koch - 18 years old – rode in many races, and often won with his own "Stove Pipe", which he called, “Metusalem". The image is from the Triangle Rally in 1930. He won so often that he made Nimbus popular for the buying public.
Fisker & Nielsens factory 1924
The drawing shows the size of the factory in 1924. Not only the Nimbus production, but also the production of Nilfisk took place within this plant. After the first difficult years, production was now at a steady pace and produced approx. 200 machines a year. It was not bad for the conditions at the time, but it was not possible within the size of the factory to get a real mass production of motorcycles in progress. It was simply not possible to handle two major productions in the same buildings. It was therefore clear that one of them had to go. The state, (Danish government) basically helped P.A. Fisker with the decision, because in 1924 a sales tax on motor vehicles was introduced, which to some extent destroyed the sales. P. A. Fisker became angry and said that when the government and the parliament obviously did not want to have the motor vehicle manufactured in Denmark, it could have it like that! The production of Nimbus was consequently discontinued during 1926. The motorcycles sold between 1926 and 1928 were assembled from already-manufactured parts, and the Nimbus, sold in 1929, were used machines that the factory had restored.
The Nimbus with sidecar in the picture is owned by Denmark's Nimbus Touring and is located at the Nimbus Museum in Horsens. It is a 1927 model and has production number 1114.
P. A. Fisker had two sons and two daughters. The eldest son - Anders Fisker - graduated as a civil engineer (Mechanical) in 1932, but already, when he was 18 years old, in 1926, he was given his own Nimbus. Anders Fisker was a passionate motorcyclist, and it was a great disappointment that his father had to abandon the Nimbus production. He, himself, began to design a new Nimbus on paper and in 1932 he succeeded in convincing P.A. Fisker and the company's board of directors to resume production of Nimbus. Anders Fisker used sound economic arguments, based on a factory that could handle an annual production of one thousand machines. It was therefore decided to resume production. Father and son jointly designed a prototype, but there is no doubt that it was the son who provided the project with ideas and innovation. The initial work was done in the basement under the family villa at C.F. Richsvej, Frederiksberg. The two worked with sketches, and when they reached a solution, they disappeared into the basement where the design was made as a model. In parallel, there was a new factory building under construction on the company's site at Peter Bangsvej. Anders Fisker became employed there as manager for the draft section and concentrated on developing the new Nimbus. Already in May 1933, a useful prototype was ready, and although many things were changed, it was unmistakably the Nimbus-Bumblebee, as we know it today.
Anders Fisker, 1927 It is Anders Fisker to the right in the picture (19 years old) and to the left is a study friend. The new Nimbus factory was built from 1932 to 1933, was very modern and was built entirely in concrete. The whole construction was designed so that two extra floors could be added on top later. This was also needed quickly.
Fisker & Nielsen Pty. Ltd.’s factory in 1933.
Anders Fisker and Nimbus in 1933.
The picture shows 25-year-old Anders Fisker on the new Nimbus. It is a prototype, presumably the one of two that were made in this configuration. The picture is from May of 1933. On the actual production model, much became different, and the first production number was 1301. Anders Fisker was given that machine in April 1934. The prototype seen here has a very light, front mudguard. It is also noted that in the front right of the cylinder block there is an extension to a plug which might have been the oil plug. A three-brush generator can also be seen. The public was presented to the new Nimbus in April 1934. But at the time, there was only one machine, No. 1301. By the end of June, the first sales models came on the market and they were immediately successful. The public quickly gave the machine the pet name, "Bumblebee", and this name was far better accepted by old Mr. Fisker than the "Stovepipe." Nimbus became popular and became part of the street image of the day. It was generally known as a solid machine with good durability, and use for it was quickly found in the military, postal authorities and police, as well as at the various public institutions such as electricity and water supply companies, gasworks and also the fire service and small couriers. In the period before the Second World War, Nimbus reached such high sales figures, that in the capital, every second motorcycle sold was a Nimbus. The factory was unable to keep up with the demand and did not reach the production figures it was looking for. This only occurred in 1938, when 936 machines were produced and in 1939, a total was reached of 1085 machines. The Second World War broke then broke out and the project overturned once more. There was continuous product development, and the model that was sent on the market in 1939 as a 'Sport' model, was probably one of the best of motorcycles of its time. This Nimbus distinguished itself from others by: Having 4 cylinders cast in one block Overhead camshaft Cross-flow cylinder head, with hemispherical combustion rooms and oblique valves Automatic ignition timing with bobweights Battery ignition Pressed steel handlebars with all controls built-in, incl. speedometer, ignition and light switch Enclosed generator, which simultaneously drives the camshaft and oil pump via the crankshaft Electrical system with voltage regulation (except for the first 250 machines) Ignition coil and distributor in one unit mounted in connection to the camshaft and something very new: telescopic front fork, patented just before BMW Some found that it was a step back that Nimbus removed the suspended of the rear wheel. However, there were many problems with the suspension and it was expensive and difficult to manufacture. Since the shock absorber was not yet invented in 1934, it was found that the most sturdy and stable way to mount the back wheel was in a solid frame. This meant also, the removal of the back wheel could be done in a few minutes. To disassemble the rear wheel on a "Stovepipe", on the other hand, is a difficult task. A sore point was - especially in the beginning - the brakes, which were only 150 mm in diameter, and because of the construction, they also required good forces, to achieve a certain braking effect on the front wheel. The front fork was, despite the innovation, in no way dampened. This problem was initially solved by making the so-called ‘knob-forks’ which had a friction-piston dampening the bottom stroke of the forks. For rallies and trials, a so-called scissor-friction damper was installed, which can be seen in many pictures. The solution was only found in 1939, when Nimbus introduced a truly oil-damped fork. At the same time, it also got a 180-mm full-width hub brake on the front wheel. The rear wheel was already fitted in 1937 with a 180-mm brake. The first 250 machines were equipped with a pressurised crankshaft and a three-brush generator without a voltage regulator. None of the parts were of any success, and the lubrication system was changed to the re-tested splash or drip lubrication system. The generator was reconstructed to a two-brush type with a voltage regulator. Both changes were made already in 1935. The factory offered the customers with these machines, to do the modification for a very small cost and in some instances for no cost at all.
Nimbus model 1934, production number 1492 This '34 Nimbus belong to Jens Bisbjerg Andersen.
Nimbus model 1939
Nimbus model 1939. The image shows a page from a promotional print. The motif is a 1939 Nimbus Sport with the new front fork with oil damping and 180 mm full-width hub brake.
This shows the expansion of the factory plant at Peter Bangsvej in 1940. Because of the war, no new development took place until 1950. Until then, something had always been built. Note that there were now two extra floors at the Nimbus factory, and that the front house was now fully expanded with five gabled dormers.
Fisker & Nielsen Pty. Ltd.’s. factory 1940. During the German occupation period 1940 to 1945, only about 600 Nimbus were produced, the factory managed not to work for the Germans. This meant that the workforce was cut down to the least possible. Only a few key employees were retained. During the war, the company's long-standing operating engineer left the company and Anders Fisker took over his position. When it was time to go back after the war, it was difficult to recapture the workforce and the specialised staff. Production, however, came into place in 1946. Provisionally, they produced the models that had been made up to 1940. A 1940 Nimbus did not differ significantly from one in 1946, but the war had been tough on some German subcontractors. The company, Riemann, which had supplied headlights and horns, was just a ruin, and was based in the eastern zone and could therefore no longer supply F&N. The company Hella, which also made headlights and horns, replaced the supply instead, and after some waiting time, the speedometer manufacturer VDO could also deliver again. Nimbus managed in the meantime with other suppliers, and for military supplies, Smith's speedometers and Lucas headlights were used exclusively. But in general, the supply situation was very bad, for example such things as tyres and batteries could not be obtained. What did they do then? They delivered the motorcycle without tyres and battery, deducted the amount from the invoice and wrote this: 'without rubber'. Paint was also in short supply, so that they could not deliver in the standard colours.
This picture is from 1946 and shows two NIMBUS delivered to the dealer Fisker-Jensen (family relation to P. A. Fisker). Due to the situation of the shortage of rubber immediately after the war, the motorcycles were delivered without tyres, tyre tubes and battery. The cost of these items was deducted from the price. It became the customer's problem to get these items on the "black" market.
Nimbus 1948 with sidecar frame
The picture here is from a brochure for sidecar frames from 1948/49, but also shows the first edition of the "high" front fork. Note the narrow English front mudguard, Smith's speedometer and Lucas headlight. The machine is strangely equipped with sport exhaust. Also note that the saddles are mounted with coil springs. The rubber-band seat suspension came in 1950.
From 1948 everything was under control again, and from production number 7501 major changes took place. One of the most visible was the introduction of a new front fork, the ‘high-front fork'. Basically, this front fork was the same as the one from 1939, but with longer sliding tubes. Here was the front mudguard bracket mounted so that the guard was moving with the wheel. Therefore, a lighter and more elegant guard could be used. In the past, the guards had a deep-valanced side to keep the wheel moving up and down. This new fork was maintained until production ceased. In addition, as mentioned from 1950, the saddles were suspended in rubber straps.
Fisker & Nielsen Pty. Ltd.'s factory in 1955 Here is the factory plant, as it appeared in 1955. The Nimbus production was moved to a newly- constructed building, as seen at the top right. Nilfisk production now spread throughout the rest of the buildings. The move of the Nimbus production to the other building, was made necessary, due to the introduction of an assembly-line system that ran as an endless belt throughout the Nilfisk production, but not in the new building.
In the last few years of production, various prototypes have been tested, including both front forks and rear suspension and other engine designs. A very promising patent was one of a valveless engine. It had a rotating tube with holes replacing the valves. The factory succeeded, based on Anders Fisker’s idea, and carried out by engineer Johannes Ersgaard to solve a problem that many engineers had experimented with, namely "the valveless" engine. The construction was patented, but it never came into production, mainly because Anders Fisker was seriously ill and the other constructors were in conflict. During the war, Anders Fisker, who was the driving force behind Nimbus, had already experienced the first attacks of the disease that would end his life, disseminated sclerosis. He fought vigorously, but gradually became more and more paralysed, and eventually he died in 1964, 56 years old. Anders Fisker’s father, P.A. Fisker, survived his son by eleven years and died in 1975 at the age of 100 years. He was succeeded as director by his youngest son Erik Fisker. Another equally promising engine project, under the name MC100, was also set aside. It was a traditional engine design, but far more modern than the standard engine and with solutions to all the known problems. Only one engine was made in 1954, which was tested in one of the two prototype frames previously mentioned. The project was later reignited by engineer Ersgaard who improved it a little and then manufactured one new copy. Ersgaard drove to Nordkap in 1956 and returned home on this machine. He has later told that the engine delivered just over 32hp, which, at the time, was equivalent to a 650cc British machine. There is no doubt that it would have been a significant improvement if this design was put into production. It was a good engine and it did not have the problems that may have occurred with the ‘valveless’ engine - even though it was highly advanced (perhaps therefore). This machine was an attempt to make a Nimbus with rear-wheel suspension, new rear wheels and a new type of Earl’s-type front fork. Many other details such as reversed exhaust, extended petrol tank, reinforced handlebars and panel with parking lights under the front headlight, were to be found on this prototype model. Two of this variant were built and two of a slightly different frame structure. In addition, it was meant, that one should be able to choose between the standard fork and the new one as well as between the standard rear wheels and the new one. It could probably have increased sales, but it was abandoned.
The end of production
The production of Nimbus was officially ceased in 1959, and in 1960 the last machines were delivered to the army and postal authorities. An agreement with the state was to continue the spare part production for another 15 years, which coincided with the fact that the defence force phased out the last machines in 1975.
Different explanations have been attempted for the end of Nimbus production, but the simple explanation was, that fewer and fewer Nimbus were sold. In 1958, only 53 were sold, and in 1959 the number was 61. No motorcycle manufacturer can exist on that! It can be argued that they should have product-developed and kept ahead of the market, but the driving force was, from the beginning, Anders Fisker, and the situation with his illness meant that no actual coordinated development occurred. But even if Anders Fisker had been well, the factory would probably only have bought a few more years for Nimbus production. During the 1960s, for example, all German brands of motorcycles disappeared except BMW, and by the end of the decade only three British brands remained. Small cars could be purchased for the same price as a Nimbus with sidecar, and for buyers with a modest economy it was still more attractive with a roof over the head. However, Nimbus has experienced a new golden era. Denmark's Nimbus Touring was founded in 1974 and today has approx. 1,600 members at home and abroad. The Central Register for Motor Vehicles has stated, that in Denmark there are approximately 4,300 Nimbus motorcycles registered. It is known that there are approx. 500 Nimbus abroad, and that many Nimbus owners have more than one machine. So, a careful estimation is that approximately 7,500 Nimbus still exist. This is a very high survival rate, so high that it can be said that no other motorcycle brand in the world can show this equivalent for one single edition, around 60 years after the end of production -- more than half still exist. This is quite a unique record, and it is partly due to the sound principles of the construction of the motorcycles, the vision and high standards set by the Fiskers, and the energy and devotion that the private owners put into the maintenance of their machines. Nimbus is truly Denmark's motorcycle!
The above image shows the latest type of Nimbus emblem. This emblem (about 80 cm wide) was awarded to the dealer in Odense, M. Nielsen, when he had sold five hundred Nimbus.
Text and layout: Allan Kløve Nyborg (slightly re-written and abbreviated 2018) English translation by Lars Glerup 2018.