By on July 9, 2018

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]

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8 Comments on “Rare Rides: NSU’s New Way to Wankel – the Spider from 1965 (Part III)...”

  • avatar

    Corey, where did you find all this info on the history of NSU? It’s interesting stuff.

  • avatar

    The Wankel is a perfect example to offer for anyone certain the future of cars is electric. NSU, GM, Citroen, Mazda, Mercedes, Suzuki and who knows how many other vehicle makers in the 1960s and early 70s thought the Rotary was the future power plant for cars and motorcycles. As with electrics today, all the car magazines of that time had features almost every month about some great new Wankel that was about to be introduced, and early production models were typically praised for their smoothness and power. But then problems emerged with seals and early engine destruction, and high fuel consumption and emissions, and everyone but Mazda dropped it like a hot potato – and Rotary emphasis nearly bankrupted Mazda and did unpleasant things to NSU as I expect we will find out in part 4. Will history repeat itself with electrics – Tesla is starting to look like NSU/Mazda, and recent reports suggest electrics are dirtier than conventional gasoline cars unless the electricity that charges their batteries is from very clean sources, and we still don’t know about the costs and environmental impact of electric grid infrastructure and battery manufacturing/recycling that will need to be hugely scaled up to accommodate huge fleets of EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      While the EV questions you mention will be endlessly debated, the bottom line for people is this: When the seals in a rotary fail, it’s my problem, but the ‘pollution’ from an EV is somebody else’s problem.

      So I don’t think the comparison stands up.

    • 0 avatar
      Neil Hall

      I agree with SCE’s reasoning why the comparison with electric doesn’t stand up, but there is another reason – political pressure.
      In Europe and China (and possibly elsewhere) there is huge political pressure to move away from fossil fuels, not only for transportation but also for electricity generation.
      This pressure never existed for the rotary engine, nor for the two-strokes that were going to take over as the engine of choice if you read the motoring or engineering press about 30 years ago.
      This political pressure means that the IC engine will be taxed out of favour, and the electricity needed for EVs will be sustainable.

  • avatar

    AMC should be on that list too

  • avatar

    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.

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