NSU Ro 80. Controversial, died too early, endlessly beautiful

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Futuristic, ultramodern lines, unconventional technology and status symbol of the future. Coupled with a manufacturer-appointed technical lead, the NSU Ro 80 made its (or is her) debut in 1967. The public learned – after the Citroën DS of 1955 – again knowing a non-conformist promise for the future, which would also revolutionize its class mechanically. So no. The most beautiful car from the sixties was soon against appearances.

The debut of the NSU Ro 80 was promising. The result, which ultimately originated from the 1961 idea to provide a luxury and sporty touring car with a Wankel engine, made all other newcomers and a large part of the existing cars pale in 1967. The application of a two-disc rotary engine was a novelty in the automotive industry. Furthermore, the stunning lines were ultra-modern by sixties standards. And the Cw value of 0,35 betrayed a lot about the aerodynamic design. Nevertheless, the NSU - in the pursuit of being in the Shaky segment to build the first luxury car – subjected to a development period too short.

Glorious perspective soon becomes blurred

In 1967, the Ro 80 had a prestigious future. It was named Car of the Year. But the relatively short development time soon clouded the perspective. The Wankel engine in the NSU Ro 80 soon turned out to be synonymous with disaster and high garage bills. As a result of the insufficient hardness of the rotor seals, loss of compression soon occurred, because the tips of the rotors were subject to heavy wear. In addition, the construction of two spark plugs per chamber was unfortunate. This caused irregularities in the ignition, which could also lead to engine damage. Also the torque converter of the halfaautomatic three-speed gearbox caused misfortune and eventual engine damage. NSU was confronted with the necessary warranty claims, in which mainly the engines had been replaced.


As early as 1970, an improved material for sealing the rotary discs was used. Furthermore, the number of spark plugs per chamber halved. The NSU Ro 80 therefore gained in reliability from the beginning of the 80s. Also in other areas – such as the use of a rev limiter and the installation of an improved oil dosing pump – they contributed to operational reliability. In addition, the beautiful sporty sedan was updated on details. Both optically and technically. Under the skin, especially the application of an improved ignition was the carrier of the improved reliability. The Ro XNUMX was technically ready for a bright future.

Return sales after technical improvements

However, sales declined just after the technical improvements. Optical adjustments, based on things like larger taillights, bumpers on the bumpers and a modified grille, did not turn the tide. The development and warranty costs (the warranty period for the engines was five years) were no longer recovered. In fact, NSU found itself in financial difficulties. After the departure of the smaller air-cooled NSU models, it was also over in 1977 for the NSU Ro 80, which was built 37.395 times. The end of the Ro 80 also meant that the NSU brand name was no longer associated with the production of new cars from 1977.

Why not a conventional engine in the NSU Ro 80?

The question why the NSU Ro 80 was never fitted with a piston engine is justified. Not long after the launch of the Ro 80, Auto-Union introduced the Audi 100. Ingolstadt also had successes with the F103. The revenue model within Auto Union NSU GmbH, founded in 1969, was called Audi. while NSU reaped the precious and sour fruits of the too short development time of the Ro 80. The VW merging subsidiary did not want to bet on two premium horses avant la lettre. It ensured that the well-run Audi had no internal competition from NSU. It was symbolized by the lack of new NSU little ones, the lack of a Ro 80 variant with a normal engine and a step-by-step austerity of the equipment of the top model NSU Ro 80.

Still modern looking

The early end of the Ro 80 gives the NSU something magical. To this day, the design of the NSU Ro 80 remains modern. That is a special achievement, which would have acquired much more cachet if the engineers and the NSU management had taken the time to allow the design to mature technically. Or if the decision was made to also place a petrol engine (for example from Audi, possibly in a modified form) in the low front of the Ro 80. In fact, there would have been a good chance that NSU would still have existed as an independent brand name today. Even the name Auto Union NSU Gmbh no longer exists.


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  1. And what about the Volkswagen K70? As far as I know this was the conventional successor to the Ro80, but came too late for NSU and was then introduced as Volkswagen after the takeover.

    • K70 was, to my knowledge, always below ro 80, to close the gap between this and the 1200. Came on the market in 1971, so too young to see as a successor to the ro 80

  2. I don't think any conventional engine would fit in the engine compartment. But they did convert them with a Ford V4 engine, which was compact enough. But not at the Audi / NSU dealer of course

  3. 'Most beautiful car from the 60s' ???

    I say one thing: Jaguar E-type 1961.

    The RO80 remains a beautiful and interesting car. It is a pity that Audi never continued with this and that after this NSU their slogan 'Vorsprung durch Technik' turns out to be completely hot air.

  4. Worked 1967 at the Dresdner Bank Frankfurt/Main headquarters, as a driver of the Supervisory Board with approx. 100.000 km per year, as the house bank of NSU we received the first three RO80 from the factory to test and report our findings, for which I with a technical background was given the responsibility. Beautiful cars, which Mercedes and BMW dwarfed by the assessment of the Directors and other drivers in terms of handling, road holding, sound and miraculously also reliability! Yes, how could that be, in the Mercedes they got “seasick” in the back because of the pendulum axle construction with many emergency stops at high speed, the BMWs not full throttle and boiled after about 230 km!
    The RO80 was not aware of that, the difference at the bank was the regularly large distances through Germany from branch to branch of major cities, which resolved without any problems.
    Conclusion, the RO80 (Wankelmotor) was not yet suitable for shopping trips!
    Have gone through all the pros and cons technically with experts from the factory that gave me va. 1973 was able to convert my experiences at Van Veen Import Amsterdam with the OCR 1000 project.
    With this

  5. I had the pleasure of conducting a comparison test between a DS and the Ro80. We originally had a DS and for the club magazine 'la Bombe' we occasionally paid attention to comparable contemporaries. I didn't write out about that fantastic Ro80. What a nice car.
    Cees Berkvens

  6. Driving a Ro 6 since 80 years, car is very comfortable and has great road holding in both dry and wet weather. And without any problems!

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