Car of the Week: NSU Ro 80

Let’s try a little game. Go ahead and tell me when our Car of the Week, the NSU Ro 80, was built. No cheating. Mid-80’s? Early 90’s?

Nope, you’re in fact quite wrong. The NSU Ro 80 was introduced in 1967, and may very well hold the title of the most revolutionary car of its time, starting of course with a design that holds incredibly well even to this day.

The aerodynamics are just the beginning however. It also had a rotary engine, with the same basic design to the ones propelling Mazda sports cars for many years now. The engine produced 115 hp, all sent to the front wheels, and was good for 111 mph. The gearbox was also an exceptional piece, a 3-speed semiautomatic, with an electric switch at the top of the gear lever operating the clutch through vacuums beating Saab’s “Sensonic” by some 20-odd years. It also had novelty features like disc brakes.

It would’ve been a brilliant piece of engineering if it weren’t for one little problem: reliability. Early models would need most of their parts replaced after just 30,000 miles and the engine seals would start to disintegrate after about 15,000 miles. Couple that to poor gas mileage, usually under 20 mpg, and the fact that there was almost no one qualified to work on the engine. This made it a no-go between customers. By the early 70’s, most of the problems were fixed, but the damage was already done. And by 1977, when the last Ro 80 was sold, NSU disappeared and was bought by Audi.

37,204 Ro 80’s were produced during its 10 year run, and there’s no word as to how many are still around today. It’s sad that such a technological achievement was trumped by the lack of resources and specialized mechanics. At least it has another opportunity to shine as our Car of the Week.

Image Credits (From top to bottom)

Image 1: Wikimedia Commons

Image 2: Wikimedia Commons

Image 3: GS 1311 / CC BY-NC 2.0

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