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:
While it is a bit of an automotive orphan, the NSU Ro80 is perhaps one of the most significant vehicles of the last 50 years. This car blended aerodynamic styling with advanced technology to create a vehicle unlike anything the world had ever seen. Its twin rotor Wankel engine proved to be a headache for many owners, but the forward thinking design outweighed many of the negatives for would be buyers at the time. Today, these are relatively obscure cars in the US, but are steadily gaining recognition in Europe and beyond. With the twin-rotor Wankel’s thirst, these cars pushed the envelope at a time when the world was going through an energy crisis and consumers began to eschew comfort for economy. This Ro80 for sale in The Netherlands has had but one owner and is complete, right down to the dealer brochures.
Unique! This stunning LHD NSU Ro80 is coming from its original Swiss Owner (all taxes paid) with only 39,000 km’s from new. PERFECT ORIGINAL CONDITION! Full history, including all papers etc.
With the equivalent of 24,000 miles and priced just over $20,000, I’d say this is a very attractive alternative to your typical Mercedes or BMW from the period. The last Ro80 we featured was priced closer to $25,000, so I’d say this example is priced just about right. As time has passed, the Wankel engine has become less troublesome due to modern fixes that cure a lot of the teething issues the cars had from the start, such as apex seals.
Here is an example of the first vehicle in the world powered by the engine Mazda would later popularize, the Rotary Wankel engine. The name Wankel derives from its inventor, Felix Wankel, who was a German engineer. He created the first prototype of his revolutionary engine design in February 1957, and was first presented in running form in a converted NSU Prinz in 1960. The Spider would debut in 1964 and only 2,375 examples were built between 1964 and 1967. The original engine had around 50 horsepower, but it was a very free revving engine and made for a lively package in such a small car with light weight. NSU Motorenwerke AG was purchased by Volkswagen in 1969. They merged the company with Auto Union which later became Audi.
The seller includes a very comprehensive description. Here is an excerpt:
Excellent Condition!! This car has ALWAYS been stored indoors in a heated space and covered with double quilted car covers. The underside is very, very clean. The photos show a very small area of paint peeling above the rear left bumper and below the license plate. These are hardly noticeable. In the driver’s front under tray there is a hardly noticeable repair at the end of the spoiler.
Values can be tough to pin down on such a rare vehicle, but $19,000 seems reasonable for such a revolutionary and historically significant vehicle. Rest assured, you most likely will be the only one at your local car show with one of these. This example does have a few modifications, but these changes can be forgiven due to the scarcity of parts and efforts to make the vehicle more reliable than when it was first produced. This fantastic vehicle has been featured by Jay Leno in a short video on his website, Jay Leno’s Garage:
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