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.
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
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)