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Classic Velocity Blog

First Wankel

Classic Velocity

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In 1963 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, NSU introduced the world's first production car with a Wankel engine. The Wankel Spider was designed by Bertone, but up front it had a passing resemblance to the Pinninfarina-designed Alfa Giulietta Spider. The car was basically an NSU Sport Prinz Coupe with the roof cut off, and a rotary engine mounted over the rear axle. This allowed for two trunks while maintaining the sporty shape and appearance, but the front trunk was small in order to make room for the radiator and gas tank. The rear sheet metal was modified from the coupe to allow for storage of the folding top, and the rear engine compartment. The two-seater interior was elegantly trimmed in two color leather. 

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The 500cc engine made just under 50hp, which was adequate at the time, given the 1500lb weight, but the high revving engine sounded like nothing else on the road. It was good for a top speed of 98mph. However, the materials used in building these first generation engines caused more rapid wear than anticipated, and problems began to surface once the cars were in the field. Engine rebuilds were common at 30,000 miles, although it took a while for most cars to get there. Handling, however, was superior. according to Autocar at the time, "The Spider is really most enjoyable on minor roads with lots of twists and turns, where its exceptional stability and cornering powers, together with the quick reactions of its rack-and-pinion steering, allow very fast averages to be maintained."

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Only 2375 were built, and only a paltry 215 made it to the US. Ironically, one of those 215 became the first Wankel race car, competing in SCCA H Modified. It is believed that the relatively high price, and low production numbers were evidence that NSU introduced the car more as a test bed for the rotary engine. An improved version was introduced in the NSU R080 sedan in 1968 (see NSU R080). 

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