NSU enjoys good licensing business: the Wankel engine is exported worldwide
In September 1963, just before the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, everything at the Neckarsulm plant stood still for an hour. Dr. Gerd Stieler von Heydekampf, then Chairman of the Board of Management at NSU, unveiled the “NSU Spider”, the car’s official name at the time, to employees. The applause was great, as were the expectations. The new sports car was a real eye-catcher: The monocoque body was based on a design by Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone. At the IAA, the car was received with enthusiasm, especially because of its revolutionary engine. With the transmission, the alternator, and the starter, the engine weighed just 125 kilograms. It took up so little space that it could be installed under the floor in the rear. The design meant that the sporty Spider had both a front and a rear trunk. Finally, the new engine was extremely low-vibration, and NSU advertised that it ran as quietly as a six-cylinder. To many, the new engine would become commonly known as the Wankel engine. Word of its advantages spread quickly, and soon well-known car and engine manufacturers were turning to Neckarsulm for licenses for the new rotary engine technology – including General Motors, Daimler-Benz, Porsche, Nissan, Toyota, and Toyo Kogyo – today known as Mazda.
The licensing business was profitable for NSU, but sales of the NSU/Wankel Spider were sluggish. From the fall of 1964, the snazzy sports car came in the colors Alfa Red or Lily White and cost around 8,500 German Marks. By July 1967, exactly 2,375 units of the first Wankel car had been built. With a reworked engine based on the Wankel principle, the twin-rotor Wankel engine in the NSU Ro 80, NSU made another attempt to establish this engine technology in 1967 – but again without the hoped-for market success. Today, however, NSU cars with Wankel engines are cherished classics, not least because of their rarity. And they still tell the story of the innovative spirit of the traditional NSU brand. This legacy of innovation, research and development, and technical progress is also reflected in the ongoing special exhibition “Innovation. Wagemut. Transformation. 150 Jahre NSU” (in English: “Innovation. Audacity. Transformation. 150 Years of NSU”) at the Audi Forum Neckarsulm and the German Bicycle and NSU Museum in Neckarsulm; the exhibition will be open to the public until May 5, 2024.
Each month until December, Audi Tradition presents a different NSU model, including classics on both two and four wheels, prototypes, and one-of-a-kind models. If you want to delve deeper into the complex product history of the historic NSU brand, we recommend the Audi Tradition Edition book “NSU-Automobile. Typen – Technik – Modelle”, written by Klaus Arth and published by Delius Klasing Verlag.