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Rotary Powered Sedan: 1969 NSU Ro 80


Some of you expect to only see rusty old heaps on this site, but every once in a while we like to feature something a little more usable right out of the box. The possibility of getting a bargain on a project car is tempting, but it sure is a heck of a lot easier to buy something that has already been sorted. Take this 1969 NSU Ro 80 that Barn Finds reader Wiley R. found here on eBay for example. It is being offered by a dealer so you’re not going to get it cheap, but I can guarantee that it will be a better experience than trying to restore a worn out example of one of these cars. Well, that is if you can even find one to begin with. Thanks for the tip Wiley!


The seller does not mention if this car has been restored or not, so you would want to ask about that before bidding. Restored cars are nice, but if this is original, it would really be a great find! The mileage is listed at at 35k miles so either this is a low mileage survivor or it is a restored 135k mile car. I haven’t found any reason in the photos though to think that is has been restored. A respray can make any car look good, but the interior and engine bay look so good on this one that it makes me wonder if it really could be original. That would definitely affect the amount I would be willing to bid.


Either way, this is one cool sedan! It may look awkward on the outside, but there was lots of cutting edge technology underneath. Mazda may be know for the Wankel rotary engine today, but NSU was actually the first to stick one in a car. Power from the 995cc 2-rotor engine ran to the front wheels through a semi-automatic transmission. Braking was provided by four-wheel disc brakes and  all four corners were independently suspended.


The rotary engine and exterior styling may not be for everyone, but if you appreciate unique engineering than I can’t think of many other sedans that would make a better prize. Unfortunately, you may have missed your chance to nab this one at a good price. It looks like the car was part of the John Scotti Collection and that it sold for $24,200 back in May. It has been on the market since, but has not found a buyer who is willing to pay more. Looks like someone was speculating here and that they may have overestimated the current market for what is likely the best NSU Ro 80 out there. But, perhaps this is just a buy and hold strategy?


  1. Ken Nelson

    Jesse, how can you say this gorgeous aerodynamic shape is “awkward” ???? Anywhere in the world this design will look modern and a helluva lot cleaner than all the really awkward so-called “modern” designs out on the road where everyone is trying and failing badly to come up with something appealing. The Ro has to be one of the cleanest, best looking machine designs of all time in my opinion. It’s as clean as a raindrop, even if its teardrop plan view is a reverse of of the actual natural item. Not only that, but the ergonomics of the interior are superb and comparable to a Citroen DS – seat heights are about the same – wonderfully high, supportive structure, perfect placement and room interior put a modern car to shame, along with wonderful visibility. And having had an NSU 1200 semiautobox sedan for awhile, it was great fun working the floor shift “autostick” & not having to use a clutch pedal. The microswitch-controlled vacuum-actuated mechanical clutch worked very smoothly, due to the included torque converter. Both the 1200 with its 4 cyl air-cooled OHC engine and the Ro used the autostick. And when you look at all the accessories under the hood, it’s a marvel of accessibility compared to most other cars of the period and later. I severely regret having to sell my ’68 Ro Eurospec dealer’s car back to its prev. owner, as I never had time to go thru the engine and restore it. But I don’t regret buying it – just having the pleasure of familiarizing myself with its overall design, high quality build and aluminum & stainless trim was worth it. Seems the lack of a rev limiter was a factor in the early demise of the Wankel engines, due to its seemingly limitless revving capability, and owners tending to use it to the max. Then again, it took Mazda yrs to come up with durable materials, good trochoid design and seal materials, which just weren’t available at the time, sad to say. I still have an adapter plate made to mate a Mazda rotary to the Ro, which is what I wished I had done at the time. Would still love to own one of these……

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  2. Horse Radish

    I saw this three weeks ago on offer @ E-bay AND sold to the highest bidder in the $8k range, NO RESERVE auction.
    So obviously this seller does not play by E-bay rules, so why bother bidding,
    He’ll do a deal under the table like they ALL do…….

    As for the car it is undoubtedly the cleanest original Ro80 I have ever seen.
    You cannot duplicate that restoring it.

    If I was into Wankel motors and/or mediocre German cars (sorry, NSU, just wasn’t that good, about par with Audi in the 60/70ies, which was awful and rust prone/ unreliable), then this would be on the top of my list.

    It would be awesome to own, just for the novelty/odd ball character that it is.
    99% of people wouldn’t know what it is !
    I love anything unusual !!

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  3. Dave Wright

    I like the design well enough, I was living in Germany when they were new. The joke in the gasthouse was that when RO80 drivers met on the road, they would signal the other driver with fingers that told how many engines they had replaced in there cars. The sealing technology used to assemble the engines had not caught up to the engine technology. Many would fail with very few miles. I don’t know if they ever solved the problem, particularly with NSU being folded into the German Auto Confederation to produce Audi.

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  4. Ken Nelson

    I’ve also got a ’65 NSU Spider, single rotor Wankel that still needs restoring. Other owners have told me that the singles can get to be very hard to start due to ignition problems like plug fouling due to the very small diesel-like pre-ignition chamber between the plug and the inside of the trochoid combustion chamber, so the two rotor Ro80 improved that a bit with the extra chamber, and then twin plug trochoids made starting somewhat better, but nothing they could do then improved the reliability of the engine – until Mazda bit the bullet and really got to the root cause problems and fixed them, which makes it really tempting to stick a late Mazda engine in the Ro and really see what it can do. One Ro owner I met said the car just flew when new, and 110-120 was a snap – until the engine wore out. Seems GM made the right decision when they bailed from using the Wankel license they’d paid $60 million for, and stuck conventional engines in the Vega and other cars they had scheduled to use it, even if it did muck up the engine compartments of those cram jobs.

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  5. MikeH

    Awkward Styling?? I’ve always thought this was one the most beautiful sedans built in the 60s. I was living in Europe when they came out and I distinctly remember them. Too bad the mechanics didn’t measure up to the styling. NSU put all their marbles in this car and it busted them. Interesting the speedometer is in mph. I didn’t think they were ever imported into North America.

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  6. jim s

    this car has been on ebay for a some time. all not just some of the motors in these have very short lifespands. to drive this car longterm it would need a swap to a piston or a mazda rotary. so at what cost/price point does it mank any sense to buy/own this. if it were going to be for display only maybe! still a great find

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  7. svodon

    I had one of these as my first car back in 86, the engine had been replaced by a Ford 2.0 V4 which was quite a common thing to do, there was also a Ford V6 conversion available. A car very ahead of its time, its just a shame it didnt live up to its promise.

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