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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Part II of the NSU story gave some color to the company’s first bout of financial trouble, and how it passed on a Ferdinand Porsche design that would go on to become the Volkswagen Beetle a few years later.

As we left off last time, NSU and Fiat were locked in a longstanding disagreement about who could brand which cars in which way.

After their extended argument, lawyers on either side decided the only way to settle things was in a courtroom. NSU leaned on its history of automobile and motorcycle production, while Fiat’s piece of supporting evidence was an informal letter from 1929 between the two companies. The subject of the letter: a vague agreement to the NSU-Fiat branding. After both sides pitched their argument, the judge ruled that such an informal letter was not legally binding between two companies, and that NSU-Fiat branding could do damage to NSU were it to continue.

The German company had won the case, and Fiat was forced to rebrand. As of 1957 all NSU-Fiat cars were badged as Neckar (the plant was in Neckarsulm), a name which would last until 1971. At that time, Fiat ended its German production effort.

Shortly before winning their own name back, NSU returned to the passenger car market with the 1954 Prinz. Putting two motorcycle engines together, the compact’s two-cylinder, air-cooled engine produced 20 horsepower.

This brings us to our Rare Ride, the very Germanic-sounding Wankelspider, or Spider to Americans. The Spider was introduced at the Frankfort Motor Show in 1964, the same year it went into production. The body hid a Sport Prinz coupe from 1959, and the roadster’s design was penned by none other than Bertone.

Increasing focus on automobile offerings and Wankel engines meant a decline in NSU’s development of motorcycles. As new designs ceased to exist, NSU produced its last motorcycle in 1968 — a Quick 50. It’s just as well the company only had one product type to develop, as its troubles were about to come to a boil.

The next and final installment in our Rare Rides NSU series will review the Spider, and how it and its Prinz stablemates brought the company to its knees.

[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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  • La834 La834 on Jul 09, 2018

    AMC should be on that list too

  • Wheatridger Wheatridger on Jul 10, 2018

    The great, seldom-told tale of NSU is how well they drove and performed. Few os are left who've driven an NSU, even the fairly common 1000 TT sedan. Hundreds of those were sold here, maybe even three. What luck that I should own two, for a combined nine years. It wasn't because they were glamorous, luxurious or easy to repair. But it was just such a fine driver's car! On the highway, it was as stable as, say, an Audi 4000 Quattro, but with frisky agility whenever you hit the twisty bits. Every car since has been more powerful, heavier, quieter and safer, but I miss my little bathtub buzz-bomb like no other car.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.