Nostalgia. NSU Prinz 4: the small economical car that competed with the Beetle


Prinz’s 598cc aluminum twin-cylinder engine. Installed in a transverse position, it was replaced in 1963 by a 996 cc 4-cylinder. Photo by Artcurial

Who remembers NSU? His latest work, which led to his downfall, is called Ro 80: Ro for rotary. The NSU was actually the first car brand to include a rotary piston engine, the same one found right under the hood of the twin-rotor GS.

NSU was the first world leader in the production of motorcycles in the 1950s after abandoning the production of automobiles in 1929. In the 1950s, the motorcycle market was running out of steam and the automotive industry seemed to have a bright future.

In 1957, NSU revived its automobile industry with a small two-door car: the Prinz.

Humble beginnings

The first Prinz was a small four-seater saloon that borrowed its motorization from motorcycle technology: an air-cooled 600 cc twin-cylinder engine producing 20 hp coupled to a non-synchronized four-speed gearbox.

Light (510 kg), it is efficient enough to reach 100 lm/h. It shows quality, reliability and economy. For the price of a microcar (BMW Isetta, Messerchmitt Kr 200, etc.), the customer is offered a real car.

Marking a successful conversion, NSU sold 95,000 vehicles between 1957 and 1962.

The dashboard of a 1000 L Italian version.  Our transalpine neighbors have become loyal customers of the Neckarsulm brand.  Photo by Artcurial

The dashboard of a 1000 L Italian version. Our transalpine neighbors have become loyal customers of the Neckarsulm brand. Photo by Artcurial

Aging

NSU is already thinking about the future. In 1961, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Prinz 4e of the name is displayed. It’s obviously bigger to accommodate its passengers and its bodywork designed by Claus Luthe makes it a miniature Chevrolet Corvair. It is 3.40 m long, still has two doors, but its line is attractive and places it as one of the most beautiful models of the period.

For mechanics, the Prinz 4 always relies on a twin-cylinder of 600 cm³ and 30 hp. Suspensions are independent and disc brakes are available as an option on the front axle. With its top speed of 116 km/h, it competes directly with the Beetle 1200!

A wide range

From 1963, NSU developed the larger and more welcoming 1000. The 1000 switched to a 996 cc 4-cylinder aluminum engine developing 43 hp. True to its strategy, NSU maintains air cooling. The engine is in a transverse position, unlike the Renault 8 and 10 where the engine is in a longitudinal position.

The 1000 is assisted by a more luxurious version, the 1000 L, very well equipped for its time: separately adjustable front seats with three-position backrest adjustment, fresh air supply independent of heating, windscreen washer, electric watch and an additional Prinzair air suspension at the rear.

The Prinz 1000 and its oval headlights in a bucolic setting in the Swabian region.  Performances seem mediocre but fairly consistent with the competition of the time.  Photo by NSU

The Prinz 1000 and its oval headlights in a bucolic setting in the Swabian region. Performances seem mediocre but fairly consistent with the competition of the time. Photo by NSU

A Prinz for sport

In 1965, the Neckarsulm brand presented a sporty variant of the 1000, the 1000 TT. The TT is a tribute to the Tourist Trophy, a British motorcycle event run on the Isle of Man where NSU monopolizes victories.

The TT is distinguished by its double round headlights instead of oval headlights. The engine rises to 1,085 cm³ and the power to 55 hp, which, due to the featherweight of the Prinz, makes it possible to reach 150 km/h. Reliable and light, its rear-most engine makes it particularly easy to use with a light front axle that makes it comparable to the R8.

But NSU doesn’t want to stop there and is preparing a rally bomb: the TTS.

Recognition through competition

In 1967, the TT increased to 1,200 cm³ and 65 hp: the TTS was created for motor racing. To race in the 1000 cc class, the TTS was equipped with a small 1000 engine.

The specific camshaft, increased compression, an oil cooler and two double-barrel Solex carburetors boost power to 70 hp and top speed reaches 160 km/h. Competition preparation makes it possible to reach 80 hp and 180 km/h with, as a result, many class victories at international events.

Note that this year 1967 saw the disappearance of the Prinz: the cars are now called NSU TT and TTS.

1969, the decline

In 1969, NSU – on the verge of collapse after the failure of the Ro 80 and the K70 studies – was bought by Audi, which took over the studies in progress to be shared with Volkswagen.

The TT and TTS continued their career until production ceased in July 1972: almost 50,000 TTs were sold with the 1.2 l engine and 14,292 were sold with the small 1,000 cc. Between 1968 and 1970, 70% of production was exported to Italy, a country that loves these very reliable small cars.

In total, in 12 years of production, 625,000 NSU Prinz have been registered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *