Rare Rides: NSU's New Way to Wankel - the Spider From 1965 (Part I)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Back in the 1960s, a little German car company decided to spend a lot of money to create a new-to-them type of engine. The car company in question was NSU, and the engine that cost them so much money was a Wankel.

In a first-ever for the Rare Rides series, this will be a four-part entry. Come along as we explore the NSU brand and the Spider; a tiny roadster which ended up almost entirely responsible for the demise of its parent company.

We’ve skirted around the NSU brand previously, when Rare Rides featured a DKW 3=6 of interesting origins. You can read those history lessons here and here. The DKW articles did not mention NSU directly, as the brand was a later addition to the Auto Union group. While DKW purchased the majority of Audi in 1928, merging DKW, Horch, Audi, and Wanderer to form Auto Union in 1932, NSU would remain an independent entity up through 1969. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we first need to talk about knitting.

NSU originated in 1873 as a manufacturer of knitting machines. The company was quite good at making the machines, apparently, growing rapidly after relocating from its initial factory in 1880. Not content with machines for knitting, the company expanded its scope into bicycle manufacturing.

The production of bicycles proved more lucrative and interesting than the knitting machine business, and by 1892 the company only produced two-wheeled transportation devices. A rebranding happened around this time, as “Werkstätte zur Herstellung von Strickmaschinen” didn’t fit well on the frame of a bicycle. The company decided NSU was more suitable, but still was not content with its product offering.

Expanding offerings into bicycles with engines, the company produced its first motorcycle in 1901. In 1905, NSU followed this effort with the first NSU automobiles. The initial automobile offering was the three-wheeled Sulmobil, designed by NSU and powered by a one-cylinder engine making 3.5 horsepower. Also on offer were two license-produced vehicles called the NSU-Pipe 34 and 50, designated by their respective metric horsepower measurements. These vehicles had much larger four-cylinder engines. However, NSU had no part in their design.

The aforementioned Sulmobile with its three-wheel setup was a sort of halfway point between motorcycle and car. Expensive for the time, the NSUs were also compromised. Maximum passenger and cargo load for the Sulmobile was between 330 and 440 pounds. But NSU was happy it had a “car” on the road, and was pushing forward with development and technology.

But development and technology didn’t ensure the company was actually making any money. Stay tuned for Part II, when NSU gets into some hot water.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 19 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 05, 2018

    Pieces Of $#!+

  • Eliyahu Eliyahu on Jul 06, 2018

    A friend of a friend had this Spider in the Midwest in the late 1960s. She was a young college instructor. She offered a ride to me and we drove it from the Midwest to the east coast. A ride was a ride, but it seemed pretty small to me. The car used a lot of oil, which she carried with the car. I recall stopping for gas somewhere along the way, and filling up for about $3.00. The car needed a quart of oil, and I remember the filling station owner complaining about hauling away the empty can when we didn't buy the oil from him!

  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).