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NSU R080

NSU R080 Published: 19th Dec 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

NSU R080
NSU R080
NSU R080
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NSU’s radical 60’s saloon is sure to become a cult classic in years to come. So why not buy one now?

I SAW A NSU SALOON AT AN AUCTION AND NOW WANT ONE

You’re talking about the brilliant but sadly fiawed R080, one of the most advanced cars ever to be made almost 50 years ago.

IT LOOKED MORE LIKE A MODERN AUDI

Yes that’s right, the car was so far ahead of its time, when launched back in 1967, that it took others decades to catch up. The other reason it looks like an Audi is because NSU was bought by VW, who also owns Audi!

BECAUSE THE CAR WAS SO GOOD?

Er, more like because the car was so unreliable that warranty claims bankrupted the Neckarsulm Stricken Union company by the late 1960s!

NOT A GOOD CAR THEN?

It was really the new-fangled rotary ‘Wankel’ engine that was the root cause of the problems – a bit like our Triumph Stag. It was under developed and as a result unreliable yet Mazda perserved with the Wankel concept (and even won Le Mans in 1991) and used it up until quite recently in its RX sports cars.

SO I CAN FIT A MEZDA ENGINE?

Yes and it’s been done many times although, like Stags, the emphasis is now back on originality although given the advantages and added performance of the Mazda unit – plus the fact they look similar – we’d stick with the Jap engine if a car was so fitted. We doubt whether any of the earlier conversions featuring a Ford Transit V4 engine remain – we’d convert one of these as it turned one of the smoothest saloons around to one of the roughest!

One engine and transmmssion that can be fitted, if you can find one that is, is a conventional petrol unit from an old 1970’s Audi 100 as it is the right size and profile due to both vehicles being front-wheel drive and having a similar inboard front disc brake set up.

CAN I STILL OBTAIN AN NSU ENGINE?

Amazingly yes as they are fairly plentiful given that just 33,000 cars were made. That said, most cars had two or three engines replaced under warranty so perhaps that’s the reason for their obtainability! Apparently, owners used to greet each other by holding fingers up – no not for that reason but to indicate how many engines their cars have had!

You can buy new units in Germany for around £5000 or have your existing one overhauled for £3500 from a specialist using the latest, improved rotor seals – which were the cause of the problems in the first place. The club says that an original NSU engine, if correctly cared for, can achieve very good mileages if modern oils are used and better understanding by mechanics; a club member got 140,000 out of his!

FAST OR FURIOUS?

Not really. When new 0-60 was around 12-14 seconds and there’s not a lot of low-speed torque either, but they cruise like an XJ6. All came with a clever semi-automatic transmission which was like the Porsche Sportomatic, although sans a clutch pedal. It’s quirky and takes getting used to, but actually okay once you’ve got the knack. Economy was never great with any engine fitted and you’ll do well to break 20mpg although as compensation, the vast majority of Ro80s are now tax-free.

WHAT’S THE REST OF THE CAR LIKE?

It’s not unlike a 1990’s Audi A6 saloon, both in style and character which shows you how far ahead of the game NSU was. The ride and comfort levels are in the Jaguar league and it’s an extremely roomy saloon with a commodious boot. Ro80 expert Phil Blake regularly uses his one abroad with no worries. The handling is generally good and grippy if a bit roll prone these days but you have to remember just how advanced this front-wheel drive car was some 50 years ago. The aerodynamic shape looks good, turns heads and makes for quiet cruising while the slim body pillars afford excellent visibility.

WHO CAN LOOK AFTER ONE?

The Wankel engine has been around long enough for a healthy number of normal garages to service and maintain them although the special spark plugs are very scarce indeed; so much so that some cars have had the heads machined to accept plugs fitted to later Mazda RX sports cars. There’s a smattering of Volkswagen components used, the rear brake calipers are the same as Beetle fronts, for example, while the suspension was used on the K70 saloon.

Obtaining mechanical spares doesn’t appear to be a massive problem thanks to strong club support in the UK, Germany and Holland while we have rotary engine specialist – Rotechniks (01189 888555). There’s no engine oil to change as it drinks the stuff by design – even the latest Mazda RX-8 does! It’s said that the expensive Mobil 1 synthetic is best to use but very expensive. Some owners advocate a drop of scooter oil in the fuel as you would a two-stroke to preserve the life of the rotor tips.

When buying a car, make a careful note of how easily it starts both hot and cold as it is a sure indicator of the wear state of the vital rotor tips, and watch for a 007-like smokescreen too.

HOW MUCH IS IT TO BUY ONE?

It’s a mix of good and bad news. The former is that, given the car’s classic credentials, the car is remarkable value. The bad news is the cost of restoring one. According to howmanyleft.co.uk there are about 66 Ro80’s counting both taxed and sorned vehicles, and there are a few more than that unaccounted for, our guess would be around 100 remaining in the UK. Even the very best doesn’t break the ten grand barrier and half this buys a respectable one worth keeping. You can go as low as £2000 but these will be a real challenge, especially if body rot is bad. Buy the best Ro80 you can from the outset is our advice.

WHAT GOES WRONG?

Rust is the major concern, not least because many of the chassis parts aren’t available anymore and so will have to be made up such as the front chassis rails. Sills are a critical area too (usually worse on cars with a sunroof thanks to drainage woes) as are the front valance, rear boot area and around the windscreens.

Mechanically, apart from the engine, the biggest e|penditure will be a gearbox overhaul when needed; it costs some £500 for bearings alone. The biggest hassle is interior trim which is pretty scarce and not long lasting (look for shabby cloth seats) although items like wheels (Porsche ones also fit) and light clusters are fairly plentiful from the owners’ club.

BEST MODELS?

As NSU was busy sorting out warranties, changes to the car – which it has to be said was so right from the start – were few during its ten year production run. The engines were changed from the original four-plug fiyers to twins in late 1969 along with a change of headlight style, a new grille for 1970 and a bit of a facelift five years later.

OH YES, THE VITAL OWNERS’ CLUBS

These are a godsend for the Ro80. Check out the official club (nsuoc. co.uk), Ro80 Club International (ro80club.org) and a pair of overseas ones in Germany (ro80club.de) and in the Netherlands (nsu.nl). There’s also an annual get together and European sparesfest – the clubs have all the details. Phil Blake is the UK glub’s technical bod and what he doesn’t know about the car msn’t worth knowing. Go to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

FINAL THOUGHTS?

The Ro80 is probably the most revolutionary car ever made (even more so than Citroën’s DS) and we can’t think of another that was designed with an absolutely clean sheet of paper. The press raved about it back in 1967 and predicted that we’d all be driving something similar by 1980. It didn’t work out that way but with an R080 you are still driving a car of the future.



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