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Tag: NSU

1972 Audi 60

The Audi…60? Yep, you read that right. For a short time after the union of NSU-Auto Union and Audi in 1969, Audi launched a series of model names that were in effect slightly reworked DKW F102s from the early 1960s. If they look like older Mercedes-Benz models, you have a good eye – in fact, for a short time Daimler-Benz owned Auto Union, and the F102 had been updated during their ownership from the oddball two-stroke engines DKW utilized to new Mercedes-Benz four-stroke powerplants – the M118, which was unique to Audi’s use and only lasted a short time. With displacements between 1.5 and 1.8 liters, the F103 came in three power outputs initially; 72 horsepower, 80 horsepower, and 90 horsepower – and as a consequence were named the Audi 72, 80, and Super 90. In 1968, the 72 was replaced by the 75, and a new, lower-output version was launched; the Audi 60, which actually only had 54 horsepower. As mentioned these were short-lived cars, because in 1972 the revolutionary Volkswagen EA827 water-cooled motor was used and slotted into every pretty much everything the company produced.

The F103 is thus a strange bit of Audi history, helping to cement the brand’s reintroduction. A bit over 400,000 were made, which doesn’t sound too bad – except that the follow-up B1 chassis sold nearly three times that amount in about the same amount of time. Sufficed to say, these are rare cars to come across today, but a nice-looking ’72 – the last model year for the F103 – popped up in North Carolina. Let’s take a look:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1972 Audi 60 on eBay

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1968 NSU RO80

You’d be forgiven for looking at the stats of the mid-1960s designed NSU Ro80 and thinking it was a much newer car. At the very least, it seemed quite futuristic compared to what was coming not only out of Detroit, but out of the rest of the world at the time. Aerodynamics were key to its slippery shape, unlike the rest of the world that relied on “jet” styling accents and fins to look fast. A tall, airy greenhouse provided excellent visibility for its passengers and driver. Underneath, power steering, 4-wheel independent suspension, 4-wheel disc inboard brakes and a semi-automatic gearbox with vacuum assisted clutch were the highlights – items that in some cases wouldn’t be found on mainstream cars until very recently. Then there was the engine; at only 1 liter, it didn’t sound like much to write about – but it was a twin-rotor Wankel engine with over 100 horsepower. Indeed, the power output wasn’t much less than most inline-6s of the day with 2 1/2 times the displacement. Couple that into a reasonably lightweight sedan and the performance of the NSU was certainly above average.

Looking at the NSU today, it’s easy to see design elements that were incorporated into later designs, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s. NSU’s parent Audi developed the exterior design elements further a decade and a half later into the Audi 100, most notably. Squint, and you can see it. But when I look, I also see elements from BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Lancia, Fiat, and even Toyota, Mazda and Nissan – this was truly an influential design. For the most part, it was also a fringe automobile though, so not many people knew them or about the advanced platform that had been developed. They were also a bit too far ahead of the curve, suffering rotor-tip seal problems that wouldn’t really be solved for another decade by Mazda. On top of that, they were quite expensive at the time – meaning that for well-heeled buyers, the unreliability was even more unacceptable than normal. More recently in the past decade, the avant-garde Ro80 has finally been recognized by the world as a truly special page in history and a turning point in automotive design. That’s why it’s so special to see them pop up for sale, especially in America where they’ve always been rare:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1968 NSU RO80 on eBay

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Feature Listing: 1967 NSU TT

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. Named after the famous ‘Tourist Trophy’ races of the 1960s, a bigger motor with more power was met with larger wheels and tires and revised styling. Like the BMW 700, these NSU TTs and the subsequent TTS model formed the basis of their respective companies post-War racing efforts, and are still fan-favorites in vintage racing today. But in the U.S., though all NSU models are rare, the TT and TTS are especially so. That’s what makes it such a treat to see an example like this one for sale today:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1967 NSU TT on San Diego Craigslist

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Roll the Dice Again? 1965 NSU Sport Prinz

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.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1965 NSU Sport Prinz on eBay

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Roll the Dice? 1970 NSU 1200C

“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)
(more hesitant)
“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?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1970 NSU Prinz 1200C on eBay

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