You’d struggle to get an odder car than the NSU Ro80. Built on the capitalist side of the Berlin Wall from the 1967 to 1977, the small German saloon was nothing short of revolutionary for the time and came with a raft of technologies never seen before in a car of its class, most famously its Wankel rotary engine. There was more; the NSU sported an innovative vacuum operated clutch, had disc brakes all round and a bodyshell with a then astounding drag co-efficient of 0.355. It must’ve seemed utterly space age when viewed from the passenger seat of your mum’s Austin Maxi, Ford Escort or Renault 9!
This same commitment to forward thinking technology served to make NSU Ro80 ownership something of a risky business at the time, and the car’s mechanical complexity also means that restoring one isn’t a task for the fainthearted – ourselves very much included. Still, there’s nothing quite like an automotive challenge, and the complete, ground up restoration of an early ‘70s NSU is certainly that.
The car, or rather the bare shell of the car, was dropped off at Retropower some months ago. We agreed to take the project on when the owner made contact, his car having spent an extended period of time is a dormant state tucked behind a diesel specialist in London.
The good news was that the shell had already been stripped and acid dipped. The bad news was that said stripping process had been less than orderly, the majority of the NSU’s components having been placed within a single, capacious cardboard box sans labels. The fact that most parts were unsorted in one container ensured that an already tricky automotive jigsaw puzzle was leant an added layer of complexity, which in turn convinced the owner to help us out by purchasing another Ro80 which we could use as a reference point. It has since come in very handy in the hunt for spare parts, specifically the kind of interior and exterior trims which are all but impossible to trace individually nowadays.
The NSU’s exterior also presented us with a bit of an uphill struggle, with pretty much every single panel requiring some kind of fabrication task of some kind, all of which meant that it took many months of work before we were finally able to repaint the Ro80 in its original colour, the imaginatively titled ‘Light Metallic Turquoise.’ As to the NSU’s signature Wankel, that’s a rebuild we’ve left that to a rotary specialist.
Now in the assembly room and in the process of being, well, reassembled, the NSU will soon be back on the roads and looking as clean as when it first rolled off the line. Well, as soon as we can work out where all the trims go that is…