NSU Car RO 80 - Along with the Citroen DS, the NSU Ro80 was 10 years ahead of itself. Beneath that striking, wind-evading shape was an audacious twin-rotary engine, front-wheel drive, disc brakes, and a semi-automatic clutchless gearbox. In 1967, the Ro80 won the acclaimed 'Car of the Year' award and went on to be hailed by many as 'Car of the Decade.'
Technical preeminence aside, it also handled like a kart'the Ro80's stability, roadholding, ride, steering, and dynamic balance were exceptional, and far superior to most sports and GT cars. But NSU's brave new Wankel power unit was flawed and, due to acute rotor tip wear, would expire after only 15'20,000 miles (24'32,000 km). NSU honored their warranty claims until they bled white and eventually Audi/VW took over, axing the Ro80 in 1977.
Having pioneered use of the revolutionary Wankel rotary engine in the Wankelspider roadster, NSU hoped to make a killing by producing a passenger car that would take full advantage of this exclusive engine. The result was the Ro80.
It was a beautifully designed four-door saloon with an aerodynamic body, advanced engineering, superb performance and excellent handling. As well as that super-smooth engine, the Ro80 featured front-wheel drive, independent suspension all round, power steering and disc brakes, making it a really advanced vehicle.
Sounds too good to be true? Sadly, it was. NSU did not have the resources to undertake a thorough test progamme on the new, twin-chamber rotary engine developed from the single-chamber version in the Wankel Spider. This proved to be a terminal weakness, though the patient would linger on for a decade.
It was quickly apparent that engine components were not up to the stresses placed upon them. Some rotaries even imploded, but mostly they just started losing power. Amongst other faults, chamber walls could distort and rotor tips wore rapidly, causing oil leaks. A service would sometimes correct the problem, but engines often needed a rebuild or even replacement after two or three years. Added to that was the fact that Ro80s were heavy on fuel and dealers found difficulty understanding the new technology. It all added up to a ruinous reputation.
NSU tried valiantly to save the Ro80 (and the company) by instituting a generous warranty programme, and actually sorted most of the engine problems by 1970. But the damage was done. NSU was acquired by Volkswagen and merged with Audi. The Ro80 was allowed to fade away, with production ending in 1977 after some 37,000 had been made. But some are still going strong, offering a unique driving experience.
In 1967, the Ro80 looked like a vision of the future with its low center of gravity, huge glass area, and sleek aerodynamics. The high rear end, widely imitated a decade later, held a huge, deep trunk.
With no transmission tunnel or propshaft, plenty of headroom, and a long wheelbase, rear passengers found the Ro80 thoroughly accommodating.
Power steering was by ZF, and the dashboard was a paragon of hassle-free Teutonic efficiency.
The engine was set on four progressive-acting mounts with telescopic shock absorbers on each side of the gearbox casing.
Stylish five-spoke alloys were optional equipment.
UNDER THE HOOD
Designed by Felix Wankel, the brilliant twin-rotary engine was equivalent to a two-liter reciprocating piston unit. Drive was through a torque converter with a Fichel & Sachs electro-pneumatic servo to a three-speed NSU gearbox.
Modern technology has made the troublesome Wankel engine reliable now, and prices of Ro80s have been creeping gently upward.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1967 (until 1977)
995 cc Double-rotor Wankel
Top speed of 112 mph (180 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 14.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The aerodynamic Ro80 (designed in the mid-1960s) was indeed ahead of its time ' as anyone who compares it with the 1983 Audi 100 will confirm. The two cars have a virtually identical body shape.
MODEL NSU Ro80 (1967'77)
BODY STYLE Front-engine five-seater sedan.
CONSTRUCTION Integral chassis with pressed steel monocoque body.
ENGINE Two-rotor Wankel, 1990cc.
POWER OUTPUT 113.5 bhp at 5500 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed semiautomatic.
SUSPENSION Independent all around.
BRAKES Four-wheel discs.
MAXIMUM SPEED 112 mph (180 km/h)
0'60 MPH (0'96 KM/H) 11.9 sec
0'100 MPH (0'161 KM/H) 25 sec
A.F.C. 20 mpg (7 km/l)