NSU, we know that. It stands for the Neckarsulmer Strick machineUnionyes, the 'knitting machine union'. A striking number of car manufacturers were born 'in the textile industry'.
And yes, Fiat, who doesn't know that. One of the largest car companies in the world. Fiat also has a meaning: the Fabbrica Italiana Acars Torino.
Once upon a time there was a brand called NSU-Fiat. And the story of that brand is of Mice and Mussolini, of friendship and war, of love and hate. And it started with a forced marriage.
1921: The German Crisis
In 1918 NSU was a fifty years old, well-established manufacturer of bicycles, motorcycles and all kinds of industrial machinery and equipment in Neckarsulm. With peace descending on Europe and the world, the brothers who ran the family business decided to take the leap into making cars. Land was bought and a car factory was built, but the timing was unfortunate. Designing a new car is extremely expensive. Banking investments are needed, and although they succeeded, the economic situation in pre-war Germany since the early XNUMXs has been nothing short of catastrophic. The country was forced at Versailles to admit full guilt for the First World War and had to pay sky-high war indemnities. The country, already bankrupted by the war, was now completely collapsing. To raise money, the Weimar government ran the banknote printing presses at full speed. Hyperinflation was the result: who got his reward on Friday had to spend that same day, because on Saturday it was only worth half. It became so serious that people with suitcases of money went to buy a loaf of bread. Walls were hung with billion Reichsmark banknotes. There was massive unemployment. There was hunger.
In such a situation, developing a new car model is far too risky. NSU's banker, Dresdner Bank, decided to sell the new factory to a foreign automaker to help the company through the crisis with hard currency.
1929: New NSU-Fiat . brand name
The buyer who came forward was Fiat. In contrast to the Germans, the Italians had a growing economy (the fascists were in power and they quickly created a war industry) and they had a new model mini-car, the 500, which probably had a German buyer. for laundry.
And so NSU got to hard Italian Lire and Fiat to a new factory. The car, the Fiat 500 'Topolino' (mouse) was a marvel of technology. A small two-seater, although with a little imagination and complacency someone could still be squeezed into the back, extremely economical, cheap to buy, use and maintain, but still a full-fledged small car. Also in France, in 1934, production of this was started at the , founded by the Italian Enrice Pigozzi Sompany Iindustrial de Mecanique et de Cbodyshell Aautomobile, SIMCA.
The contract was crystal clear: Fiat acquired the ownership rights to NSU Heilbronn's machines and accessories and was allowed to take advantage of NSU's excellent reputation by including the name in the brand name and logo, NSU-Fiat. A proud brand! From the autumn of 1929 was the German NSU-Fiat 500A "Topolino" for sale by dealers.
On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland. As a result, France and England declared war on Germany. Immediately, all civilian production was discontinued and the entire industry switched to war production. Because the NSU factories in Neckarsulm and the NSU-Fiat factories in Heilbron were four kilometers apart, there was ample cooperation and joint production of weapons, motorcycles, car engines, generators and equipment. Mussolini's Italy was an ally of Hitler's Germany. And it is unfortunately a fact: for car manufacturers a war is good news, it means a full order book and butter to the fish.
1945: After the German capitulation, the factories were located in the American sector. NSU applied himself in the postwar years to the production of two-wheelers from mopeds to heavy motorcycles. It was such a success that they were for a while the largest engine manufacturer in the world. NSU-Fiat continued to develop the Topolino's after the war.
1957: the draft
In 1957, Fiat decided to produce their 1100 in Heilbronn, the NSU-Fiat Neckar. A small but practical four-door family car that was slightly more expensive in the German version, but also more luxurious and faster. No parts were purchased from NSU for this 1100, but everything came from Turin. That already soured the mood somewhat.
Also came in place of the old Topolino become a new Fiat 500 in Turin, the Fiat Nuova 500 or 500D Dante Giacosa. A genius thing with air-cooled two-cylinder in the back. And a German version was developed for the production in Heilbronn: the NSU-Fiat 500.
And that is exactly what NSU wanted to use to conquer the mini-car market. The NSU Prinz was developed in Neckarsulm, an equally genius thing as the Fiat 500 with just such a two-cylinder and a direct competitor in the same target group and price range.
And that's where it went wrong. Suddenly there were two small cars on the market with both NSU in the name, which were unrelated, even sharp competitors. It was done with good cooperation, joint card evenings and exchange of components, machines and people. The manufacturers stood against each other like ruffs and went to court with expensive lawyers.
NSU argued that they had registered their name in 1871 and thus had the oldest rights.
Fiat argued that they had honestly bought the factory by name in 1929 and had no intention of reversing that investment, especially now that new models had been launched. And yes, after thirty years NSU-Fiat could also call itself an established order. Should have complained sooner! Now it was too late!
Ultimately, the judge put the interests of the consumer first: the car buyer would benefit from clarity with brand names. And just like previous lawsuits over in East Germany produced by BMW and DKW gold here the principle of the oldest trademarks. And the oldest brand was NSU (1871), not Fiat (1899).
Fiat licked the wounds, but not for long. The NSU-Fiat 1100 was renamed Neckar 1100. It didn't matter for sales, this excellent and affordable car climbed to a production of 25.000 units per year.
Jagst, Weinsberg and Adriatic
In the sixties, in addition to the 1100, other modified Fiats were produced. There was the German version of the Fiat 600, the Jagst 770. Faster and more luxurious than the original, just like the Austrian Steyr-Fiat 600D.
The Jagst Rivièra was a beautiful sports coupé based on the Jagst 770 and the Neckar Adria, a luxury version of the Fiat 850. Autobianchi had meanwhile become part of Fiat and the Germans took the Bianchina Giardinera version into production under the name Panorama. The Weinsberg 500 was the German variant of the Fiat 500D.
Pull out the plug
At the end of the sixties, Fiat became reluctant with the production in Heilbronn. Due to the EEC, import duties were no longer so high and German wages had risen sharply in the meantime. The production was, in short, no longer profitable and the Germans did not have permission to build the new Fiat 124. Grumbling and complaining everywhere, because the Spanish SEAT, Turkish Tofas and Russian AutoVAZ received that do right. But yes, that also had to do with Spanish, Turkish and Russian need for hard currency. In the end it is always money that determines the course of things.
In short: in 1971 the curtain fell for Neckar, previously NSU-Fiat
By this time, NSU itself had been dying for years from the invasion of beautiful and fast Japanese motorcycles and from the costly development (and the many exchange engines) of their new Ro80. The ancient brand was taken over by Volkswagen. They sold the last NSU development, the K70, under the VW label and the brand name became Audi-NSU, until it also died a quiet death in 1985.