NSU Ro80 – 1967

Having pioneered use of the revolutionary Wankel rotary engine in the Wankelspider roadster, NSU hoped to make a killing by producing a passenger car that would take full advantage of this exclusive engine. The result was the Ro80.

It was a beautifully designed four-door saloon with an aerodynamic body, advanced engineering, superb performance and excellent handling. As well as that super-smooth engine, the Ro80 featured front-wheel drive, independent suspension all round, power steering and disc brakes, making it a really advanced vehicle.

Sounds too good to be true? Sadly, it was. NSU did not have the resources to undertake a thorough test progamme on the new, twin-chamber rotary engine developed from the single-chamber version in the Wankel Spider. This proved to be a terminal weakness, though the patient would linger on for a decade.

It was quickly apparent that engine components were not up to the stresses placed upon them. Some rotaries even imploded, but mostly they just started losing power. Amongst other faults, chamber walls could distort and rotor tips wore rapidly, causing oil leaks. A service would sometimes correct the problem, but engines often needed a rebuild or even replacement after two or three years. Added to that was the fact that Ro80s were heavy on fuel and dealers found difficulty understanding the new technology. It all added up to a ruinous reputation.

NSU tried valiantly to save the Ro80 (and the company) by instituting a generous warranty programme, and actually sorted most of the engine problems by 1970. But the damage was done. NSU was acquired by Volkswagen and merged with Audi. The Ro80 was allowed to fade away, with production ending in 1977 after some 37,000 had been made. But some are still going strong, offering a unique driving experience.




1967 (until 1977)


995 cc Double-rotor Wankel


Top speed of 112 mph (180 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 14.2 secs


The aerodynamic Ro80 (designed in the mid-1960s) was indeed ahead of its time – as anyone who compares it with the 1983 Audi 100 will confirm. The two cars have a virtually identical body shape.


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