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Microcar Gem: 1959 NSU Prinz

Sometimes a car is so unusual that even the owner isn’t sure what it is. That seems to be the case with this 1959 series 1 NSU Prinz here on eBay, with an asking price of $13,500. This tiny rascal is located in Farmingdale, New York. The advertisement title lists it as a 1959 Audi 80. The Audi 80 was a large ‘executive car’ produced much later. But the conflation with Audi is reasonable: in the late 1960s, Volkswagen bought NSU, merged it with Auto Union, resurrected the Audi brand name, and called the resulting jumble Audi Auto Union NSU AG. Got it?

NSU was founded in the late 1880s as a knitting machine maker, then switched to bicycles, and then, as many bike makers do, to motorcycles. In the 1950s it was actually the largest motorcycle producer in the world. In 1957 it introduced the Prinz, which isn’t that far from either a sewing machine or a motorcycle. Nestled in the rear is a 583 cc inline two-cylinder, air-cooled, transversely mounted engine. The early four-speed transmission was a crash box; later cars received an all-synchro transmission. The combination was good for 26 bhp. The company sold this car by reminding patrons, “Drive a Prince, and You’re a King!” But you’re going to be a king slowly, as 0 to 60 was a stately 50 seconds or so and top speed was quoted at a terrifying 62 mph (the car only weighs about 1000 lbs). Gas mileage was great, but the engine was incredibly noisy. The seller assures us that this car runs great, and the stated mileage is 25,000.

The car is a four-seat saloon-style body, though three adults are probably enough. The interior is dirty but mostly intact. Rear interior panels appear to be missing. Note the elegant bucket seats. The seller indicates that the brakes have been rebuilt and the car has no rust, though the axle seals leak.

The dash is clean and the steering wheel seems free of cracks – a minor miracle. This car probably came with rubber mats on the floor. The NSU is part of the ‘microcar’ contingent, whose fans organize their own shows and rallies. Some brave souls even go vintage racing, going neck and neck with the likes of Berkeleys and Bugeyes. The NSU Prinz can claim a real celebrity owner, too: John Glenn, U.S. astronaut, eschewed the Corvette that his peers were all but given by GM because it used too much gas. Instead, he commuted in an NSU Prinz, but not too happily, apparently. What about this gem, would it make you happy?

Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    “Driving in my car, smoking my cigar, only time I’m happy’s when I play my guitar”,,,I won’t go into why that song had that title, you know, gas prices have gotten to the point, some say “tipping point”, meaning we simply can’t afford it, people naturally look for more economical cars and will change our lives dramatically, you’ll see. Remember the last time gas went so high? Well, unless you’re over 60, maybe not. Europeans have paid this amount for decades and knew, getting there should be as economical as possible. Well, that’s all well and good for back alleys, but we, as Americans, have interstates and cover long distances, a car like this will never work. We cherish our driving to ever stoop this low, and drive 2 cylinder vehicles like this. That and who you share the roads with this, might be a bit intimidating. The good news is, with fuel prices, these diesel duallys will gradually disappear, but until everybody drives cars like this, no thanks.
    Oh, just one more thing( Columbo), I haven’t gotten a chance to welcome Michelle aboard. It’s refreshing to get a womans perspective here, ( I think “Michelle” is a gal, sorry, never know these days), and well overdue. :)

    Like 4
    • Howard A Member

      Oh, also, as far as a title on Ebay, sometimes, they don’t have a classification for all makes, NSU is a bit obscure, and “Audi” may have been the closest thing.

      Like 2
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks for the note of welcome!

      Like 8
  2. RayT Member

    I rode in one of these once, in the mid-1960s. About all I remember can be summed up quickly: small, slow, noisy. Mostly noisy. Don’t remember seeing another until years later, when I came across a couple in Germany.

    The later Sport Prinz was better. Had that neat little Italian (Allemano?) body, and ended up being the first NSU car to get the company’s rotary engine. Got to drive one of those, too. It was faster and much quieter!

    The only technical detail I can remember about the Prinz is that it had a “dynastart,” a combination direct-drive starter/generator. That was strange: turn the ignition key and the engine was almost instantly running, with no noise from the starter motor.

    Like 2
    • Solosolo Solosolo Member

      Was this car the same as the Messerschmitt where if you turned the key clockwise to start the engine there were 4 forward gears and if you turned the key anti clockwise you had 4 reverse gears? Just wondering as the Messer also had a Dynastart. Welcome aboard Michelle, looking forward to more of your write-ups. Ken Tilly UK.

      • VTDan

        Nope. That trick (starting the engine in reverse direction) only works with two stroke. The Prinz is a four stroke.

  3. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Fantastic write-up, Michelle – very well done! And as Howard says, welcome!

    Like 4
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks! Really appreciate all the welcoming words.

      Like 3
  4. Emel

    Someone with one of those ridiculous ‘tiny homes’ should buy this ‘tiny tim’ car.

    Like 2
  5. nlpnt

    I’m left to wonder if John Glenn’s car looked like this one or was a second-series Prinz with mini-Corvair styling and a great deal more refinement than the original effort?
    https://live.staticflickr.com/2901/14017543013_d88b35a89e_b.jpg

    This was NSU’s second crack at carmaking, they had sold their first car factory in Heilbronn (not far from the mothership in Neckarsulm) to Fiat 25 years before, and those cars were branded NSU-Fiat until the Prinz at which point they were rebranded Neckar (after the river that flows through both towns, and previously the model name for the German-assembled Fiat 1100, which became Neckar Europa).

    Like 1
    • Pietro

      Not only Fiat 1100 were assembled in this factory but many other models such as Topolino, Balilla, 500 (Neckar Weinsberg), 600 (Neckar Jagst), 1300/1500 (Neckar 1500 TS), 850 (Neckar Adria). In total 370.000 cars have been built up to 1973 when Fiat ceased the venture. Anyway Fiat main office in Germany kept on being settled in Heilbronn until 2007.

      Like 1
  6. ACB

    As the Ro80 and K70 illustrated, NSU was a company with talented engineers and designers. Had they never got mixed up with Felix Wankel and his engine, NSU might today be as well-regarded as BMW.

    https://nihilistnotes.blogspot.com/search?q=Wankel

    Like 1
  7. Derek

    New Big Prinz…ah…

  8. Big C

    It’s interesting that Europe went with tiny, noisy, underpowered micro cars, instead of electric vehicles, when gas got expensive, or actually, their economies faltered.

  9. Fahrvergnugen Fahrvergnugen Member

    This car is too small to have fit all four rings of the Audi logo, and with only half an engine would have been an Audi 40…

    Like 1
  10. Will Irby

    I guess I’ll go ahead and be the first one to say it–just needs a Hayabusa swap.

    Like 2
    • RayT Member

      Gee, I was thinking a period Plymouth slant-6 would be just the thing.

      Who wouldn’t want a Prinz-Valiant?????

      Like 7
      • Will Irby

        That tiny rear engine compartment is nowhere near big enough for a slanty. However, I think an LS with a transaxle could work if the rear seat area is combined with the existing engine compartment. Now we’re talkin’!

    • Solosolo Solosolo Member

      Too late Will. A friend of mine in South Africa had an NSU Prinz that he fitted a Suzuki 1000cc motorcycle engine to. Chain drive to a fixed back axle in order to get two wheel drive. It didn’t like sharp corners of course, but in a straight line nothing could beat it over the 1/4 mile, even the Fake Snake Cobra’s.

      Like 1
      • Will Irby

        I would love to see a video of that “NSUzuki”!

      • Solosolo Solosolo Member

        @Will Irby. That was a long, long time ago and at a later date he fitted a Wankel engine to it and used it as his daily driver, but I don’t know what differential he used. I think he was also the guy that brought stainless steel exhaust systems to S Africa as well. One brilliant spanner man. I will ask him if he still has the NSU or pics and if so I will post.

        Like 1
      • Solosolo Solosolo Member

        @Will Irby. Herewith the only pic I can find of the Suzuki engined NSU Prinz.

        Like 2
      • Will Irby

        @Solosolo Now that looks like fun!

  11. Brad Chipman

    I saw one in Germany in the early ’70’s. It had a 2 stroke motor and was pretty peppy. They smoked like typical 2 stroke.

    • Gerard Frederick

      Sorry, no NSU, safe their motor scooter, ever had a 2-stroke engine.; The one you saw probably had had a transplant. The Prinz engine originally was 2 NSU Super Max engines joint at the hip. The Super Max motorcycle was the design which got Honda going, with the Honda Dream. It was a revolutionary design and possibly the most advanced one in the motorcycle world in those days. Apropos the Sport Prinz, I think the body design was by Bertone of Italy and as pretty as they come. NSU had had decades of working relationship with Fiat. The later model Prinze´s were very popular in Italian club racing circles, the TT1000 being the most popular. Indeed, had it not been for the ill fated Wankel engined NSU RO 80, history might have had a different ending. As it is, it has not been very kind to a compoany as innovative and important as NSU had been.

      Like 2
      • Martin Horrocks

        Correct, Sort Prinz was by Bertone, drawn by Scaglione just like Alfa 33 Stradale. And NSU had the license to distribute FIAT cars in Grrmany from early 1930s to mid 50s, badges as NSU/FIAT. When they wanted to build their own car brand, the FIAT element became a separate business, Neckar.

  12. Howie

    When i was very young my dad had one of these, a lite green one, he loved it, and this one has Sold.

    Like 2
    • Howie

      I just sent the Ebay link to my sister, she said she remembers going to downtown Los Angeles to pick it up, with tax it was $900.

      Like 1
  13. David Laker Member

    WHATTA DAY! An NSU, although mine was a Sport Prinz. Isettas, (2), and a Volvo P-1800. plus a dozen or so Chevy pickups. The one that got away though was the ’64 SS convertible.

    Why did those small, rear engined euros always have electrical problems?

    Among this group, I had a small, (of course) either Italian or possibly French bug whose primary claim to fame was that it was GALVANIZED. Any ideas what it was? Thanks

  14. Martin Horrocks

    Correct, Sport Prinz was by Bertone, drawn by Scaglione just like Alfa 33 Stradale. And NSU had the license to distribute FIAT cars in Grrmany from early 1930s to mid 50s, badges as NSU/FIAT. When they wanted to build their own car brand, the FIAT element became a separate business, Neckar.

  15. Howie

    I just clicked on sellers other items, over 8,300 came up, mostly parts.

    Like 1
  16. Jon P Leary

    Freddie Mercury in a Freddie Prinz….

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