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Revolutionary Rotary: 1966 NSU Spider

The NSU Wankel Spider was a micro-sized sportscar, and fewer than 2,400 were built between 1964 and 1967, but it had one major claim to fame: it used the first production rotary engine. Find this low-mileage, unrestored example complete with factory hardtop, tools, and books here on eBay in Saarland, Germany at a starting bid of $29,900.

With a wheelbase under 80 inches and height under 50 inches, these were tiny cars. They were based on the NSU Sport Prinz model, but had upgraded suspension for improved handling. The opening bid price seems high, but there cannot be many low mileage, unrestored Spiders left, and recent sales of non-original Spiders have approached the $20K mark. These facts plus the current hot microcar market might justify bidding on this Spider, especially if you are attracted to unusual vehicles that established industry firsts.

The interior appears to be original in most respects, although the pattern of the seat upholstery differs from that shown in the illustration below, which is from the NSU Wankel Spider brochure. This could mean that the seats have been reupholstered, or that the design changed between the time the brochure illustration was printed and when the cars were actually produced.

The 1-rotor engine displaced 497 cc and produced about 54 HP at 6,000 RPM, for over 100 HP per liter. Like all rotary engines this one could easily rev higher, but a 6,000 RPM limit was used in the interest of engine longevity. With an expected life of only about 15,000 miles for the engine apex seals, the buyer will want to confirm that this one is healthy.

This cutaway above shows the 1-rotor design of the Spider’s engine. If you believed the car magazines of the day, the Wankel engine was going to revolutionize the automobile, providing lots of smooth power with few moving parts. Ultimately, only NSU and Mazda ever produced cars in any significant number that used the Wankel rotary, but the rotary engine continues to have success in the Mazda RX8 both on the road and track.


  1. Pete

    Actually the seat color combo looks very likely original. The car in the brochure is black, so the seats are black with red inserts and piping, just the opposite of the red car, which also has the accent color piping. However, the pleats are in different directions.

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  2. J. Pickett

    Rotary’s were simple and powerful for their size, Mazda finally beat the tip seal wear, but nobody could make them economical enough. So few moving parts, so light. GM designed the a whole series of compact performance cars for them and AMC intended to put them in the Pacer. Which would have made it much lighter.

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  3. Dan

    You could be the proud owner of the smallest car in the world that gets 10 mpg!

    Like 0

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