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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

In Part I of this four-part NSU Rare Rides series, we covered the beginning of the NSU brand and its initial product offerings — which included knitting machines. The company moved into bikes and motorcycles, as well as a three-wheeler considered a midpoint between motorcycle and car.

The engineers were certainly busy, but all was not well over at the bank.

By 1929, NSU’s creditors were not happy with the company’s failure to break into the mainstream automotive market, and encouraged the company to conclude its car manufacturing operations. NSU sold its brand new factory’s capacity to Fiat, which then produced NSU-Fiat models. Things were fine for a couple of decades, as Germans happily purchased NSU-Fiat 500s and the like. But NSU was not put off from its goal.

Though NSU was not actually producing any cars at the time, it was dabbling with the idea and commissioning new designs. The company hired an independent designer, Ferdinand Porsche, and asked him to create an aerodynamic family car which would be branded as an NSU. The 1934 Type 32 you see here was the result. NSU ended up passing on the design, thus altering the history of the automobile permanently.

A short while later the inspired shape of the Type 32 helped Mr. Porsche win a contract from one Adolf Hitler, to design his new Volkswagen.

Restarting its operations after the conclusion of World War II, 1946 saw NSU once again produce bikes of regular and motor variety. The company’s motorcycles were particularly successful, featuring innovative designs in both their engines and suspensions. They also broke numerous speed records, including the 200 mile per hour threshold at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956.

About a decade later, a legal battle was brewing at the NSU and Fiat offices. The company no longer wanted competitor Fiat cars wearing an NSU-Fiat badge, because across town different cars were being sold as NSU. Fiat still wanted to use the well-known manufacturer’s name on its cars for the German market, where the Fiat name was not as well known.

It didn’t seem the issue could be resolved amicably, so Fiat and NSU gathered their lawyers, and headed to court. In Part III, we’ll find out how it all came down to a piece of paper.

[Images: seller, Wikimedia Commons]

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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  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Jul 07, 2018

    Oh look...an actual car article...and 18 replies. There was a time when this comentariat was considered "the best and the brightest" with respect to cars. I am not even convinced that 3/4 of them actually like cars now. And what is with breaking this article up? Is Farago back with his strict word count? One can only dream I guess. Having said all that, NSU is a great story that I am glad is being told here. Again, I am greatly saddened that a Wankel story gets a whopping 18 responses. Car people my butt. If the headline said "mid sized truck" or Trump this would be at like 200 responses. Think about that.

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    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jul 08, 2018

      @Art Vandelay That's a managerial decision which is not within my purview ;).

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jul 07, 2018

    And your only comment is complaining about other commenters, the subject matter barely gets a mention. Its not like a lot of us have experience with NSUs, or even rotory engines at all. I enjoyed the article (and the series its a part of), but I have nothing to add since its not a subject I'm familiar with. I'm sure many others are similar. Since when is it a bad thing for "car guys" to comment on midsize trucks? So far as politics goes, yeah, lots of people have strong opinions that inevitably clash with others' strong opinions. Duh. There are some here who don't seem to like cars at all, I grant you that. One in particular has a screen name that rhymes with "SandRoyalty". And yes, an unrelated sex story is just what is needed to get the car conversation going. I'm sure Jack B. can conjure up something for you. *edit, damn, this site is buggy lately. I replied to Art Costanza and it ends up here. And I bet I've had to login 20 times in the past few days. Plus, the multiple posts of my comment above

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    • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jul 08, 2018

      @Art Vandelay I get that, and I feel the same way, man. But, a rare German car from post WWII isn't likely to spark hot debates that rage on and on (unless someone found a way to make it political, of course). I don't like all the politics, either. Like you, I come here for cars, not Trump vs the world 24/7. If I wanted to discuss that stuff (and believe me, I don't), there are plenty of sites that cater to it. I also get why the subject is brought up here, tariffs and such do affect the car world, so its unavoidable to some degree. I try to ignore the articles on the subject, because if I read some of the comments, I tend to respond and feed the trolls. And, that's exactly what leads to 200 comments on a "Trump sneezed in a Mercedes once, more tarrifs coming?" article.

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
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