Classic Cars

Pick of the Day: 1972 NSU Ro 80

Several days ago, we wrote about Jay Leno’s drive in an NSU Spider, the first production car to feature a Wankel rotary engine. However, NSU’s crowning achievement with the rotary was the 1968-77 Ro 80, so it’s fitting that this 1972 NSU is our Pick of the Day. It is listed for sale on by a dealership in Elyria, Ohio. (Click the link to view the listing)

When you look at the Ro 80, can you imagine it being a precursor to the Audi 5000 (known elsewhere as the 100 and 200) that was introduced for 1983? It would stand to reason because NSU was bought by Volkswagen in 1969 and merged with Auto Union to form Audi NSU Auto Union AG. That company produced the first Audi since World War II and would eventually compete toe-to-toe with Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Having garnered some experience engineering a Wankel with the Spider, NSU improved its rotary design by producing a 995cc twin-rotor version driving the front wheels through a semi-automatic transmission with a vacuum-operated clutch. In some respects, it was like Germany’s version of a Citroen DS, another car chock full of interesting technical specifications. Other techy features of the Ro 80 included four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering.

High fuel consumption had been an unfortunate Wankel hallmark, so the Ro 80 was not popular during the gas crisis after already enduring durability issues. Certainly, NSU’s service network had little experience with the Wankel, which did not help with its reputation. Ironically, the Audi 5000 and its variants were later built in the same assembly plant.

In total, 37,398 NSU Ro 80s were built over 10 model years, which isn’t many per year. This 1972 Ro 80 is a Euro-spec version (very, very few were sold in America) that shows 94,000 kilometers (about 59,000 miles). “The car sat many years undriven,” says the seller. “Very straight body, looks like the car still has original paint. A very solid undercarriage, some rust bottom of the front hood as you can see in the pictures.” The interior is said to be in original condition and showing its age (including cracked dashboard), but all there. “The rotary engine does not run due to sitting, but turns by hand. [It was] last registered in 1985,” so this is a project for someone with technical know-how and an appreciation for automotive history.

Luckily, this 1972 NSU Ro 80 comes with plenty of books and parts to help with the restoration. For $12,950, you will have a big project on your hands, but the automotive gods will be projecting goodwill upon your soul for the rest of your life.

To view this listing on, see Pick of the Day.

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