The NSU RO80. In essence a German Saloon car, albeit a very pretty one. At first glance it is hard to fathom the reason why a Saab enthusiast such as myself is at all interested in a sober suited German saloon.
Well, it is that word; “enthusiast”, this implies that I have a keen eye for either oddball cars, is interested in the depth of engineering within a car, or it is a polite way of saying that I like cars too much and should get a life.
The NSU RO80 does well to penetrate an interest to me, which ever definition you go by.
I have only recently heard about the RO80, I saw a picture of said car in Autocar. Immediately I was obliged by the enthusiast within to learn more about it. I did and was highly impressed.
To me, the RO80 is an engineering marvel, almost on par with Concorde. Why? Well, it was the second production car to be installed with a Wankel Rotary engine. Despite its 996cc size it manages an output of 112bhp. That’s -if you round up- 112bhp per litre.
That power was transferred by a three speed hydraulically powered semi automatic transmission with manual override.
The technological advances do not stop there either. To house the transmission, chassis and that Rotary engine, you need a body, and the RO80’s bodywork was marvelous. It was designed by German designer Claus Luthe. The car’s front is chisel sharp with its big headlamps flowing effortlessly into a elaborate chrome bumper. Retreating backwards from the front, the RO80’s body shell starts to adopt a more minimalist approach. Its big glass area flanked by stripes of chrome and curves and creases on the lower half of the body shell. The cars rear is again very minimalist. Just some taillights to flank off the creases. This flowing design is both very beautiful and functional. The RO80 delivers a drag coefficient of just 0.355.
These engineering advances however turned out to be a negative aspect for both the RO80 and NSU itself. The RO80 was plagued by the small issue of the engine eating itself. The Rotary blades would rub abrasively against other engine components and render the engine needing a complete rebuild after just 15,000 miles for some cars. As a result NSU were forced to extend the warranty available on the RO80. Thus making NSU financially unstable and forcing the company into Audi’s hands. These hands which seemed unsympathetic towards its new brand because the plug was pulled on NSU altogether shortly afterwards.
A sad end it seems to a brand willing to produce a car so radical that it still after 40 odd years, its ideas are still being used.
NSU RO80’s are relatively cheap to purchase these days, but the problem is finding one. I know I tried.
Still, I shall continue on my quest to find one, and maybe one day I will own one. Regardless of its reliably issues, because after all if it breaks down I could just sit back and admire its shape and looks.