Pictured above; The NSU RO-80


The NSU Ro 80 was a technologically advanced large sedan-type automobile produced by the German firm of NSU from 1967 until 1977. largely unknown for building cars outside Europe, the Ro 80 was a unique car with a 115 bhp (86 kW), 995 cc twin-rotor Wankel engine driving the front wheels through a clutchless semi-automatic transmission. It was voted Car of the Year for 1968 by European motoring writers.

Unfortunately for NSU, the car developed an early reputation for unreliability it could never escape. The Wankel engine in particular suffered from heavy wear on the rotor tip seals, among many other problems, and some early cars required a completely rebuilt engine before 30,000 miles (50,000 km). Poor understanding of the Wankel engine by dealers and mechanics did not help this situation. By the 1970 model year, most of these problems were resolved, but the damages to the car's reputation and NSU's financial situation were irreparable. NSU even planned to develop a 3 rotor motor but this plan was scrapped largely due to lack of funds.

Other technological features of the Ro 80 aside from the powertrain were the four wheel disk brakes, still a rarity among cars of its class at the time. The front brakes were mounted inboard, reducing the unsprung weight. The suspension was independent on all four wheels, with MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arm suspension at the rear, both of which are space-saving designs commonly used today. Power assisted rack and pinion steering was used, again foreshadowing modern designs.

The styling, by Claude Luthe, was considered very modern at the time and still holds up well; the Ro 80 has been part of many gallery exhibits of modern industrial design. The large glass area foreshadowed 1970s designs such as CitroŽn's. The shape was also slippery, with a drag coefficient of 0.355 (practically unequalled for the era, although average for modern cars).

Series production started in October 1967: the last examples came off the production line in April 1977.

NSU were developing a smaller version of the RO-80, to be called the NSU K-70, planned to use a more conventional engine in a move to improve on the bad image they received with the RO-80s reliability. Unfortunately with dwindling funds NSU merged with the Volkswagen and Audi group in 1969. the K70 was released as a Volkswagen in 1971 and NSU continued on with only the RO80 until 1977 when NSU ceased to exist. Only 37,400 vehicles were produced during a ten year production run.

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Did You Know?

Rudolf Diesel invented the Diesel engine in 1892. Diesel demonstrated it at the 1900 World's Fair using peanut oil. Today environmentally friendly fuels made from vegetable oils are called bio-diesel.




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