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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides nsus new way to wankel the spider from 1965 part ii

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]

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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.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).