Carshow Capsule: 1964 Neckar Weinsberg – A DeLuxe Fiat 500 For Germany

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Here’s one that I had to reminded about when I saw it earlier this year – a Neckar Weinsberg Coupe.

The Neckar Weinsberg 500 was based on the 1955 Fiat Nuova 500 – the car that put many Italian families on the road for the first time – built by Fiat in Heilbronn, Germany.  NSU was initially a motorcycle company that had ambitions to break in the car market and therefore built an additional factory at Heilbronn The venture into cars failed in 1929 (the late 1920s were very tough economically in Germany) and therefore NSU sold the plant to Fiat, along with some informally granted rights to the NSU name.

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Fiat built cars there under the NSU-Fiat brand until 1957, when the brand name was changed to Neckar, after the river at Heilbronn. The brand name was changed after legal pressure from NSU, which wanted to use it for cars again, starting with the NSU Prinz.

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Fiat built a range of cars at Heilbronn; from the 1950s onwards, most Fiats were produced there in one form or another, from derivatives of the pre-war 500 Topolino to the Fiat 128. By then, the cars were simply Fiats, without any Neckar branding or variations.

The Weinsburg, named after the town of Weinsburg, near Neckar’s base in Heilbronn, was adapted from the basic Fiat 500 by new body work, to create a more formal saloon (known as the Limousette) and this Coupe. Both cars were nominally four seaters, but in practice 2+2 at best.

Neckar-NSU brochure

The initial version was launched in 1959, the same year as the BMC Mini, which was same length as the Neckar but more spacious internally. Bodies were assembled in Germany, using partly complete shells and pressings from Italy and locally pressed Neckar-only parts. Note the suicide doors, replaced on the Fiat 500 in 1965.

The engine was a 479cc, twin cylinder, air cooled Fiat engine, direct from the Fiat 500, with 17 bhp. The car would reach 50 mph in 37 seconds and eventually get to 60 mph. Later versions had 499cc and the capability to reach 63mph. A full length sunroof was standard and white wall tyres optional.

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Fiat had a large network of associate companies in the 1950s and 1960s around Europe, including Steyr-Puch in Austria, Simca in France (as seen on CC recently), Seat in Spain and Polski-Fiat in Poland, many of whom produced versions of the 500. These were all created for access to various local markets, often to mitigate import tariffs and to meet local market regulations on origin of content. Some of these became full manufacturers, such as Simca, some were ultimately absorbed by larger companies, such as Seat in to VW and Polski-Fiat into Daewoo, now GM. Steyr-Puch, now part of the Magna Steyr Group that so nearly purchased GM Europe in 2009, has a great history that needs the full CC Automotive History treatment, one day.

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Neckar produced over 6000 of these cars from 1959 to 1963; by Fiat 500 volumes this was pretty small and with the growth of NSU’s own rear engine car, the Prinz range, and the increased affluence of the German market and the rise of the German Mark against the Lira meant that manufacturing in Germany was an unnecessary and expensive complication for Fiat, and the plant was closed in 1973.

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