Started in 1873 as a knitting machine manufacturer, by the mid-1890's NSU had become a leading bicycle manufacturer. It soon moved into motorbike and cycle manufacturing, with automobile manufacture beginning about 1905. NSU refocused on motorcycles in the Thirties and in the early 50's was the highest volume manufacturer in the world. The Prinz and Sport Prinz automobiles debuted in the late 50's using air cooled opposed twin versions of its Max motorcycle engines. But behind the scenes NSU was about to make a daring, even revolutionary, step forward in automobile development with the first production rotary engine, the Wankel. Conceived in the Twenties by Fritz Wankel and quietly developed in NSU's Neckarsulm laboratory since then, the Wankel was a fox among the chickens of the world's automobile manufacturers. It was capable of producing substantially more power than the nominal dimensions of its chambers suggested, smooth and steady without the violence of reciprocating engines' pistons and rods, and light weight. Almost all the world's auto manufacturers, even Rolls-Royce, took out licenses to develop Wankel engines of their own. Potential applications ranged from aircraft to chain saws. The NSU Wankel Spider is the first production automobile to use a Wankel rotary engine. It was produced for only five years, 1964-68, and in remarkably small quantities of only about 5,000. The Wankel engine proved to be problematic not only in fuel consumption and exhaust emissions but also more basically in the durability of the rotor's tip seals, an issue eventually resolved with subsequently available materials and improved designs in today's Mazda RX8. NSU exhausted itself with the Wankel's development, production of the Wankel Spider and the later Ro 80 sedan. In 1979 it was merged into Auto Union and disappeared although the former NSU Neckarsulm factory is where Audi assembles its most prestigious and sophisticated models today. This 1966 NSU Wankel Spider is one of few surviving examples. It was cosmetically restored some years ago on a straight and solid car to very presentable, orderly and tidy standards and then preserved while also being used and enjoyed. Finished in red with red vinyl seats with black inserts and a black cloth top, the upholstery and chrome are good and the paint is sound although occasionally chipped and bumped. NSU Wankel Spiders are rarely seen and this one is perfect for an owner who appreciates its technical significance and wants to drive it to events and shows where it will be particularly appealing. It is an important technical milestone in the automobile's development and the history of daring innovations. It is much more significant than, for example, Preston Tucker's Model 48 sedan, and much more successful, too.
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