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Motoring: NSU Ro80 - 1967

Though NSU motor vehicles were never sold in Australia, the marque which developed from it - Audi - is well known. The first cars marketed as Audis in Australia were developed from the NSU Ro80, and for that reason the NSU has been included here as part of Australia's motoring history.

Up until the 1960's, NSU was known primarily for its motorcycles, although it had produced economy cars before 1930. NSU began economy car production again in 1958 and these cars resembled a smaller version of the Chevy Corvair in both design and use of a rear mounted, air cooled engine. NSU hired Felix Wankel in 1951 with the purpose of further developing the rotary engine for its motorcycles. Continued rotary engine development led to production in 1964 of the world's first rotary powered car, the NSU Spider. The next car from NSU was the revolutionary rotary-engined RO80 luxury 4 door sedan that was launched at the 1967 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Hailed as a "tour de force" for its ultra aerodynamically efficent body design (which still looks current some 40 years later) and its incredibly smooth and silent rotary power, the NSU was destined for great success. So modern was the design that over the 10 year life of the car, the only visible changes were the addition in 1975 of wrap around taillight clusters and rubber faced bumper strips. However, the early cars were plagued with rapid wear of the rotor seals and engines had to be replaced often after just 20,000 miles.

The expensive engine warranty program crippled NSU and ultimately resulted in NSU being acquired in 1969 by the Audi division of VW. It paved the way for Audi's successful return into mainstream automobile manufacture. Production continued under VW auspices and by 1971, engine improvements extended engine life to 60-70,000 miles. However, the damage was done and Ro80 sales never recovered from the negative publicity directed at the earlier cars. Production ceased in 1977. There were 37,204 vehicles produced between 1967 and 1977.

The styling, by Claus Luthe who was head of design at NSU and later BMW, was considered very modern at the time; the Ro 80 has been part of many gallery exhibits of modern industrial design. The shape was slippery, with a drag coefficient of 0.355 (practically unequaled for the era, although average for modern cars). This allowed for a top speed of 112 mph (179.2 km/h). The large glass area foreshadowed 1970s designs such as Citroen's CX, G-M's Commodore and Audi's 100CD, which was based on the Ro80. Between 1977 and 1982, Audi engineers worked on a replacement for the Ro80 that would incorporate the advanced design and styling features of it, but with new mechancials developed jointly by Audi and Volkswagen.

The fruits of their labours were rewarded in 1983 when their new creation, the Audi 100CD, won Car of the Year in Europe. It boasted a five-cylinder engine in a body and interior not dissimilar to the Ro80 (it achieved a drag coefficient of 0.30). The same basic shape first seen in the Ro80 would be reintroduced again in a more compact package in 1987 in the form of the Audi 80, which in every way has the look of a scaled down version of the Ro80, with its deep windows, extended passenger area above the boot, thin C-pillar and short, stumpy boot. Below left: NSW Ro80. Below right: Audi 100CD

Model Type: 4 Door Sedan
Body Designer: NSU in house designers Ewald Praxl and Claus Luthe
Engine: 2 Rotor Wankel (1990cc) driving the front wheels
Horsepower: 128 bhp at 5500 rpm
Torque: 117 lb at 4500 rpm
Transmission: Fichtel and Sachs 3-Speed Semi-automatic with electro-pneumatic clutch actuation
Front- Lower wishbone, MacPherson strut, anti-roll bar
Rear- Independent, trailing arms, coil shock absorbers
Top Speed: 110 mph

NSW Ro80

Audi 80

NSW Ro80

Audi 80

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