History of the NSU Ro80

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If you are currently collecting or looking for rare cars with interesting features, then you might be interested in the NSU Ro80, an executive sedan that was made by German automobile manufacturer NSU from 1967 to 1977. Despite looking relatively simple, the NSU Ro80 is actually packed with impressive features, like a 995 cc twin-rotor Wankel engine, a semi-automatic transmission, and a vacuum-operated clutch system, which is quite rare during that time. In addition to its features, there are also other reasons why the Ro80 is quite popular from the late 1960s until today. To know more about these reasons, let us take a look at the brief history of the NSU Ro80.

Development and Styling of the NSU Ro80

The development for the NSU Ro80 in 1966, with renowned German car design Claus Luthe being assigned to design or style the new model for NSU. It is also important to note that Luthe was also the head of design for NSU during that time, but he would eventually work for BMW, where he would design iconic vehicles like the E21 3 Series and the E23 7 Series. After the prototype was completed, it was showcased in various galleries, exhibitions, and motor shows throughout Germany, where it received massive praise for its simplistic yet innovative design.

Besides the great design by Luthe, the Ro80 is also particularly known for its parts, such as the four-wheel ATE Dunlop disc brakes and McPherson struts at the front wheels. These parts that were mentioned are commonly found in luxury sports cards and not sedans back then. In addition, the Ro80 also has a semi-trailing arm suspension in its rear and a power-assisted ZF rack and pinion steering. These parts would eventually become the standard for sedans made by luxury brands like Audi. Because of its excellent and innovative features, the NSU Ro80 is considered one of the greatest cars ever made by automobile enthusiasts and critics.

NSU Ro80’s Production

NSU Ro80 in gray

The production for the NSU Ro80 began in October 1967 and ended after a rather controversial 10-year manufacturing period in April 1977. In the first full year of the NSU model’s production in 1968, it was reported that 5986 units of the Ro80 were made. In 1969, due to the increasing demands for the model, which was primarily caused by the Ro80 being voted as the “Car of the Year” or COTY, NSU decided to produce 7,811 units. However, in 1970, they only produced 7,200 as the demand is slightly getting lower. From 1971 to 1973, there are not a lot of people that are looking to buy Ro80 units, so NSU decreased the production numbers to 3000 to 4000 per year during that period.

Between 1974 and 1976, the total units produced per year were heavily reduced to only 2000 per year. The decline of the NSU Ro80 in terms of demand was most likely caused by the increasing popularity of Audi’s 100 series, which looks similar to the Ro80 but is marketed better. In addition, the acquisition of NSU by Volkswagen in 1969 may have also contributed to the unfortunate circumstance, as the parent company Volkswagen wanted to make Audi the primary luxury-performance brand in the 1970s as opposed to NSU. Following the discontinuation of the Ro80 in 1977, Volkswagen decided to close down the NSU brand.

Problems with the Ro80

Another reason why the Ro80 quickly lost its popularity in the early 1970s was because of the numerous complaints that buyers had when it came to the vehicle’s engine. One particular problem that drivers experience in the Ro80’s engine is its poor construction, as the materials and parts surrounding would often wear quickly, thus leading to the fast breakage of the engine. 

NSU tried to remedy the problem by fixing the engine in later units that were produced in 1970, but the damage was already done, as people quickly lost interest in the model since they are already afraid of its unreliability and they have already found a good alternative in the form of the Audi 100 series. The complaints and the vehicle’s tarnished reputation would soon lead to NSU being acquired by Volkswagen. But under an agreement with Volkswagen, the Ro80 continued its production period until April 1977. The Ro80 would be the last vehicle that NSU produced before the brand’s disappearance in 1978.

Even though it had a rocky production and reputation in the 1970s, the NSU Ro80 is still regarded by many car historians and collectors as an important vehicle in the history of automobiles, as the model brought several great features that would soon be common in many sedans throughout the years. Despite being defunct for more than 40 years, the NSU brand is still being remembered for pushing the boundaries of what sedans are capable of doing on the road.

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