As Konrad Adenauer slowly rebuilt West German in the post-War era, the resulting Wirtschaftswunder finally realized the economic prosperity necessary for personal automobile ownership; something that Germany had lagged far behind its rivals in until well after the War. Though they had developed the first motorized carriages and had a reputation as a nation of drivers thanks to some clever Nazi propaganda and the development of the revolutionary highway system, the reality was that in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Germany was a nation of riders – motorcycles, that is.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the fledgling car companies which were the most successful at first were able to incorporate motorcycle technology into their automobiles. This kept development and production costs down, and in turn meant that the company could bring a small, economical car to market much more inexpensively than a traditional manufacturer. This worked perfectly for BMW, whose Isetta and later 700 models paved the way for the modern car company you know today. But BMW was not the only motorcycle-engine toting company, and though the name isn’t as well-known today, it was NSU Motorenwerke that was the world’s premier motorcycle producer in the 1950s. So, in the late 1950s, NSU put those great engines to work in the back of their new economy car – the Prinz.
The Prinz would go on over the next decade to develop several times. The Prinz I-III models featured continuous upgrades, better driveability, and more power from the twin. But in 1961 the Prinz 4 model took NSU to a much larger market. It featured modern 3-box sedan styling, though it retained the twin drivetrain from the earlier models. The Prinz 1000 model rectified the motivation issues, introducing a new air-cooled 1000cc inline-4. This package was then further developed into a sporting model; the TT.…
With the burgeoning economic boom of the late 1950s (Adenauer’s ‘Economic Miracle’ in West Germany), many companies tried to capitalize on the success of the middle class by introducing swankier, more stylish versions of their economic models. The hope was that these cars would be expressions of wealth and signature models. To greater or lesser extent, the three that were developed around the same time – Volkswagen’s Karmann Ghia, BMW’s 700 Coupe and NSU’s Sport Prinz – were all relatively well received in the marketplace, though of the three only the Karmann Ghia had mass appeal. That was interesting, as the Sport Prinz offered a slightly different take on rakish Italian lines with pedestrian German underpinnings. Introduced for 1960, the Sport Prinz was built on the Prinz III chassis, a diminutive, air-cooled rear-engine inline-2 economy “sedan”. To take the Prinz upmarket, like Volkswagen NSU turned to Italy. Instead of Ghia or BMW’s choice of Michelotti, though, NSU enlisted famed Bertone in Turin and the designer Franco Scaglione. The resulting design was significantly more dramatic than the Prinz, with long overhands, a swoop roofline and tail fins hinting at greater GT speed. As with the others though, the Sport Prinz offered no performance gain, but at least came to market slightly under the price of the more famous Karmann Ghia, at around $2,400 – top for the NSU lineup in the early 1960s.
“Hey, nice Corvair!” , they’ll shout out the window at you, “What, did you leave it in the drier too long?”
Most people I know seem to view me as some sort of idiot-savant, casually remembering which wheel styles were associated with what model, what colors various cars came in, engine specifications and call numbers – you get the point. But I have to admit to a huge gap in my automotive knowledge. Perhaps it’s a willful ignorance, but I’ll be damned if every single American car from the 1950s basically looks the same to me. I’ll take ‘Generically shaped cars for $1,000, Alex!’:
“What is Hudson!” (beeeeeep)
“What is a Studebaker?” (beeeeeep)
“Uh, what is Nash?” (beeeeeep)
Sure, like the rest of America who grew up before the year 1990, I can ID a 55 Chevy at a distance thanks to Don McLean’s insistence that you weren’t American if you couldn’t, but otherwise there’s this huge void of massive steel shapes that mean little to me.
What’s interesting is that I can so easily identify the differences between the Volkswagen 1500, the BMW 700, and the NSU Prinz. All were rear-engine, three-box sedans that were built at the same time. They all have a very, very similar shape. And yet, to me they’re as different as….well, a BMW and Volkswagen can be. NSUs are rare as the proverbial tooth of a hen here in the U.S., so is this forlorn 1200 worth a roll of the dice?
While I usually try my best to focus on bang for your buck cars, today’s 1972 NSU will have difficulty fitting in to that category. It’s not that superminis aren’t valued as there are many who highly prize and collect the diminutive car class. But I’m talking about literal bang, or lack thereof. At 30 horsepower, the .6 liter single overhead cam inline-2 wasn’t the most powerful engine available, but the Prinz 4 was intended to break into markets where the barrier to automobile ownership was not only entry cost, but tax brackets. Namely, this was problematic in the U.K., where the original Mini reigned supreme. The Prinz 4 offered an alternative, albeit a slow one – even weighed down with only around 1,250 lbs, the two cylinders struggled mightily to motivate the car. Acceleration curves depended on what you had eaten for breakfast, but figure it was the strong side of 35 seconds to reach 60 m.p.h.. But this car was about affordability and economy rather than speed, and threw a dose of more upscale-looking class into a segment dominated by quirky designs:
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that my wife and I get some pleasure from watching the television show Hoarders. Thankfully I don’t believe that we’re in danger of being categorized as people who hoard anytime soon, but the show holds a certain fascination for me. One of my favorite games watching the show is to try to identify the cars that almost inevitably litter the yards of some of these hoarders. Discarded, covered in mountains of trash and sometimes partially disassembled, it’s always a bit of challenge to attempt to correctly identify what make and model that individual decided to hoard. It’s usually complicated by the fact that many of them are obscure cars from the 1960s and 1970s, such as this NSU Prinz 1000. Few were originally sold in the U.S. and even fewer remain in serviceable condition today. Looking through the photos provided by the seller, though, only reminds me of that game I play against myself; without the brochure, build plate and the two older photos of the outside of the car, go ahead and try to figure out what you’re looking at:
If NSU isn’t the most recognizable name to you in German car history, you’re not alone. Few remember one of the more creative producers of cars and motorcycles out of Germany, notably, NSU developed the first Wankel rotary engines, pioneered small car designs, and notably developed the first real aerodynamic family sedan in the often praised Ro80. Additionally, the Prinz-based TT and TTS would offer a practical and very sporty package to the masses in Germany; sound familiar, Mr. 02? Imported in small numbers, there are still a few examples floating around, though show up at most shows and you’ll leave many scratching their heads. Today there is a beautiful example of one of the less-celebrated models available, a pristine Prinz 1000:
Model: Prinz 1000
Engine: 1.0 liter inline-4
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Mileage: 61,000 mi
Price: $20,000 Buy It Now
You are bidding on an absolutely unique 1966 NSU Prinz 1000 with a four synchronized speed transmission. It was repaired, customized and updated in 2009. It was stored until October 2012 when it was registered and driving it since, taking it out only in nice weather. The engine is standard 998 cc but with a TTS camshaft, manifold and Solex carburetors. TT Oil cooler. It is also updated with a Bosch 65 Amp alternator, Bosch Solid state ignition, remote oil filter, oil thermostat and oil temperature gauge. Priming electric fuel pump. Custom header. The compression ratio is standard 1:7.5 allowing the use of regular gasoline. The car is extremely desirable, people are taking pictures of it every where I go. However, I do not claim the car is perfect and the buyer should have expectation of typical minor blisters, chips and small scratches. Seller makes no guarantee, or warranty expressed or implied of this car, it will be sold “as is”.