Wankel-Powered: 1965 NSU Spider

The NSU Spider, produced in Germany from 1964-1967, owns the distinction of being the first production car powered by the famous Wankel rotary engine.  With only 2,375 cars produced and, according to AutoWeek.com, just 215 actually sold in the U.S.A. it’s fair to assume there are very few of these Spiders still around.  The seller of this NSU, available here on Craigslist in Easton, Connecticut claims he has “two very complete cars,” although only one is featured in the photos provided in the ad.  The asking price is $20,000 for both.  Thanks to Barnfinds reader, Roger, for the find!

My only encounter with a Wankel engine was back in high school when a friend of mine bought an early 1970’s Arctic Cat Panther.  He was pretty confident he had something special in that sled.  We marveled at the strange whirring sound of the rotary motor but, like most snowmobiles of the day, he spent more time tinkering with it than riding.  My buddy ditched the Wankel Cat after one winter, trading it for a snazzier looking Boa-Ski.  As for the NSU Spider, the sporty two-seater was powered by a rear-mounted 498 cc Wankel that produced 50 hp.  The car featured here is an ongoing project and, although photos in the ad don’t show it, the seller claims he’s reassembled all of the chrome bumpers and trim.  The seller reports the body is “flawless” and its condition “show quality.”  He also mentions the car wears its original red color but fails to clarify if it’s been repainted.

If there was a repaint it didn’t include the interior of the tub as the floors seem to be in original condition.  The photo above shows the interior prior to the seller having reinstalled the seats.  I actually prefer the aged look of the interior as compared to the glossy (newly painted?) exterior.  The seller mentions the other Spider he is selling comes in “original white paint” but it’s confusing as to why there are no photos.  Since Spiders came in only two colors (red and white), this looks to be a unique opportunity for someone to complete their NSU Spider collection in one fell swoop!

Not currently in the car, the above photo shows the Wankel engine that goes with the red Spider.  The seller claims the white Spider’s engine is in that car and although both engines are complete and will turn over, he’s “not gotten either to run.”  That might be discouraging to some potential buyers but to the gearhead looking for a unique challenge, it could be enticing.  Primarily due to quality issues, the NSU-Wankel combination was ultimately unsuccessful and the company’s struggles perpetuated the sentiment among the car buying public that rotary engines weren’t dependable.   Mazda is the only car company to consistently use rotary engines, having featured them in a few of its models and sports cars since the ’60s.  Mazda recently announced a rotary engine will be added to a hybrid model that will be produced in 2020.

If you can find one, the price of a nicely preserved or restored Spider is commonly north of $15,000.  With that in mind, this $20,000 twofer deal might be the perfect opportunity for someone to own a pair of rare cars that made a unique contribution to automotive history.

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  1. Walter

    Gotta say, I am drawn to the unique nature of the cars,especially one in each color offered. While it may be an ambitious project to get them both on the road,they are worthy of the attention they need. Hope they find a good home and receive the restoration needed.

  2. Walter Joy

    My cousin own’s the one his father in law had own. Only one I’ve ever seen. His sister in law got the Ro80 Sedan. I’m 6 foot and the car comes barely chest height to me

  3. Wayne

    This is the first time that I have even seen a picture of one. I like it a lot!

  4. Philip B

    The exterior has been obviously repainted…that’s why all the trim is off. Wonder if a VW engine/transaxle could be installed?

    • Urquiola

      Why do you want installing a VW engine, Air-Cooled, flat-4, I suppose, in this magnificent car? Any advantage?
      I guess a Reed-Valve close to port opening would improve low load, low rpm performance of Peripheral-Ported Wankel RCEs, as in SAE paper 790435, T Kohno et al, from Toyota. In this regime, leaks is the main source of losses and emissions, also, mix can flow back to intake ducts, this not happening at full throttle, high rpm.
      In rare occasions a common car engine will deliver over 20% of its maximum power, running on a flat road, less than 60 mph
      The attached chart about part load performance of a Wankel and a reciprocating engine is from a booklet on NSU Spider Wankel by M P Hayes and D P Bottrill, Mira Alvis ltd, and the web

  5. Stu

    There’s an ongoing series of articles on an NSU in Auto Restorer magazine right now. I think it’s a Prince—maybe the hardtop version of this?

    • Craig M Bryda Member

      Prinz, NSU Prinz as explained to me by two Czech brothers who worked at a VW dealer with me many years ago.

    • On and On Member

      There were no hardtop versions. The coupe was a Prinz with a 2 cylinder 600cc engine. My father bought a new one in 1967.

  6. Healeymonster

    My uncle sold these in San Francisco on Van Ness at his dealership in the 60s. He also sold NSU Prinz Scooters. The blue ones were 150cc and a red version with 175cc 2stroke engines with electric start. Very modern looking.
    Perhaps a Mazda motor would be a good swap on these older buggers.

  7. Urquiola
  8. Sunshine

    Where’s the white one? It is part of the deal, described, but no photos to show condition.

  9. Kenny

    Kennedy Engineered Products in California makes an adapter to mate a Mazda Rotary to a VW Transaxle… might be a sensible way to repower this spiffy roadster!

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