Automotive History: NSU Prinz – The 4 Cylinder Models, Part 1: Grocery Getters with Pizzaz

NSU 1000. The “Prinz” was dropped from the name in 1967.

(first posted 2/20/2018)       In 1963 NSU introduced the NSU Prinz 1000 and entered direct competition with the VW 1200. I enjoyed a few short hitch-hiking trips in an NSU 1000, I drove one for a few meters in reverse and 1st only to move it out of the way, and I was a passenger in an NSU1200 when commuting to a summer job.

A French advertisement of the NSU Prinz 1000.

The Prinz 4 was the basis for the new, longer and more powerful Prinz 1000. The overall length grew by 353 mm to 3793 mm and the wheelbase grew from 2040 mm to 2250 mm. Beneficiaries were the luggage compartment up front and the cabin.

Comparing the Prinz 1000 and the Prinz 4 L.

However, the car looks more substantial than the modest dimensional gains would suggest. I credit the styling details for that. The blunt nose was characterized by big oval headlight lenses, a chromed strip and a slim chrome bumper. It gave the Prinz 1000 an instantly recognizable face. The chrome adorned wraparound shoulder line dominates from any angle and visually stretches the body longer and wider. The car’s stance gained from larger wheels and a more upright camber angle of the rear wheels. The greenhouse continued to use very thin pillars. The tapered C-pillar was now slightly more slanted than in the Prinz 4. The rear edge of the roof kept that slight overhang of the Corvair. The car’s flanks received grilles for the cooling air intake on the left and exhaust on the right. On either side, the grilles were underscored by fine creases that wrapped around the rear quarters and turned into brows above two triplets of tail light lenses.

The Chevrolet Corvair stood model for the NSU 1000 C.

These lenses were sometimes referred to as jelly jars owing to their shape and colors. The reversing light lenses were pointing straight down and bounced the light off the slim chrome bumper. The skirting below the bumper was sporting shallow flutes.  The roof may have looked a little bit too high, however it was significantly lower than that of its competitive target the VW Beetle. Taken together these subtle details distinguished the Prinz 1000 very clear from the Prinz 4 no matter from which angle it was viewed. Obviously, Claus Luthe took the Chevrolet Corvair to the laundry and returned with a squeaky clean but shrunk version of it.

A look at the interior of the NSU 1000 C.

A Sportprinz, a NSU 1000 and a Typ 77 in Jacques Tati’s movie “Trafic”. Tati preferred showing German cars with their faces rearranged.

The instrument panel carried a large round speedometer flanked by two small round dials. All the controls were close at hand. Foot space was still cramped by large intruding wheel wells. The steering column was standing rather upright therefore the wheel was reminiscent of a bus.

The core pieces of the front suspension and steering were carried over from the Prinz 4. The wider drums or the available front disk brakes and wider tires gave the Prinz 1000 a wider track. In the rear, the swing axles made place for semi trailing arms like those in the Porsche 911/912 or BMW Neue Klasse. However, the drive shafts connect to the hubs by way of rubber disks rather than constant velocity joints. Separate coil springs and dampers soak up the bumps in the road. A stabilizer bar keeps body roll in check. The weight distribution was almost even between front and rear. As a result, the Prinz 1000 and its stable mates earned fame and admiration for their handling prowess.

The NSU 4 cylinder drive train – a thing of beauty.

At the heart of the new car is a new transversely mounted engine with 4 cylinders that consist of two cast iron twin cylinder blocks based on those found in the Prinz 4 mounted to a new crank case and capped by a single aluminum head. This head carries a single cam that actuates 8 valves by way of rocker arms. Each rocker and valve is accessible through its own cover, a feature that makes this engine very pleasing to look at. In the Prinz 1000, a single carburetor feeds the combustion mixture through a manifold into the inlets at the front. The exhaust openings are pointing towards the back. In other words, it is a cross flow design.

A cutaway rendition of the NSU 4 cylinder drive train.

One might expect that the cam would be driven by NSU’s own Ultramax drive eccenters and connecting rods. But instead, NSU engineer Helmut Ebert figured out that a duplex chain will do this task at a lower expense. In a comment to an article in Auto, Motor und Sport – Klassik he explains how this solution came about and provides a glimpse of the inner workings at NSU:

“I am now a Canadian citizen and I enjoy every article and video that is dedicated to the NSU 4 cylinder engine. I found my first job as junior engineer in the NSU engine development department. I received very good training as I was tasked to evaluate the merit of suggested changes to the engine. At the beginning I did not like that at all – I was an engineer not a technical draftsman. Then I quickly realized that this way I was learning what had to be considered in order to avoid technical problems in new construction (tolerance calculations), to reduce cost, to improve quality, etc.

A colleague was allowed under Albert Roder to create the design of a 4 cylinder engine of 800 cc displacement. It was based on a concept similar to that of Porsche. The work on it was suddenly aborted when management placed all hopes on the rotary engine. There was a certain competition between the two development projects, the rotary guys called our 2-cylinder engine a parallel shaker which irked my highest boss Albert Roder a lot. To calm him down I suggested he tell them to first make their three-edge-scraper as reliable as our engine. After that I got a raise.

The colleague who created the design of the 4-cylinder engine and who was a big motorsports enthusiast meanwhile left the company. He went to the motor press. I was tasked to pick up the project and had no problems to receive the go-ahead for major changes. My goal was to reduce the development risk as much as possible and to use existing production tooling as much as possible. Of course I had to provide for the patented and very reliable Ultramax drive for the cam shaft. Then Albert Roder exited due to age and Ewald Praxl became his successor. He came over to me and said that management accepted my design and that I suppose to match the values of the cylinder spacing with those of the 2 cylinder engine and that the engine should now have 1000 cc. I clamped up a new sheet of drafting paper and began with the revision.

Doing that I saw further opportunities for unification and cost reduction in replacing the Ultramax drive with a duplex chain. After demonstrating this I was allowed to do it within only a few days. The manufacturer Glas used a toothed belt for this but I did not want to suggest that and copy it because a broken belt would cause an engine failure. Nonetheless I had to make the designs for it and the engine ran with it too. Luckily this variation was not pursued any further. Because of familiar reasons I found my next job at BMW.” (translated by Wolfgang)

The engine kept the clutch and blower unit at the left end of the crankshaft. The power is then sent by a pair of helical gears into the fully synchronized 4 speed transmission that also houses the differential. This arrangement allows for the replacement of the clutch without removing either the transmission or the engine in about 35 minutes. The Dynastart made way to separate starter and generator.

The Prinz 1000 engine actually displaced 996 cc and was rated at 43 hp (DIN) at 5500 rpm. It provided 7.3 kgm (52.8 lb ft) of torque at 2000 rpm. Later power output was reduced to 40 hp (DIN) in order to slot the car into a less expensive insurance bracket. The drop in horsepower did not affect the top speed of 135 km/h and the 0 to 100 km/h time of 18.4 seconds.

The cutaway drawing shows the efficient space utilization of the Prinz 1000.

While I could not find a direct comparison test it looks like the Prinz 1000 beat the VW 1200 in all aspects that matter: more luggage space, more interior space, more power and better fuel consumption. But it lost out on the size of the dealer net.

NSU 1000 in “Citta Violenta” 1970. Presumably the Beetles belong to Germans vacationing in Italy.

To better compete with the VW 1500 (Type 3) NSU released the Typ 77 which named NSU 110, NSU 1200, NSU 1200 C and 1200 Automatic. These had larger engines, first 1085 cc then 1177 cc making 53, 55, and in SC trim even 60 hp (DIN).  The engines were praised for their tractability, being able to dawdle along at 2000 rpm for leisurely rides yet able to run for hours on end under full load.

The enlarged engines were then put in the NSU 1000 bodies which transformed them into veritable sport sedans called NSU 1000 TT, NSU TT and NSU TTS. These models – and the havoc they created – will be subject of Part 2 of this CC.

Like Pinocchio Typ 77 grew a nose and lied about something. Total length was 4000 mm, on a wheelbase of 2440 mm. The shiny piece upfront was not a grille and and rightfully ridiculed right away. To some it was a baking sheet to others it was a heat shield, inspired by the era of space exploration. The headlights were unified with the turn signals inside one bezel. The bigger nose also negatively affected the proportions of the car and the erstwhile famous handling suffered some. There was now room for 490 L of luggage up front and an additional 60 L behind the rear seat. NSU pointed out that a case of beer will fit in the front compartment. To appreciate the importance of this achievement you need to know what a German case of beer looks like:

These cases are 40 cm x 30 cm and 30 cm high (15.75″ x  12″ x 12″). They contain 20 bottles of 0.5 L barley juice. Try putting that into the front of a VW Beetle!

NSU 1200 C in “Derrick”,  a German TV series.

The taillight jelly jars were replaced with oblong combination units. The Typ 77 was bigger alright, but certainly not prettier.

Fresh air supply is active when the engine runs.

However, the stretch provided more legroom up front. The pedals were now hanging rather than standing. Creature comforts were enhanced by an innovative idea: the new body was equipped with a forced air venting system by tapping into the engine cooling duct and thus continuously extracting air from the cabin through a grid in the package tray. Fresh air entered through inlets above the headlights and ducts to the cabin or by the heating system.

The interior made a decidedly less sporty impression with a then fashionable band speedometer and walnut trim. This car was also available with a semi-automatic transmission.

In a TV spot at the Frankfurt Auto Show the NSU spokesman was tossed a few softball questions, one regarding safety. In a well-rehearsed piece of gum flapping he pointed to the car’s excellent vision, suspension and brakes and how these features help to avoid accidents and finished with: “Safety begins at the drawing board”. He made no mention of crash worthiness whatsoever. His evasiveness may have had a reason.

A NSU 1200 body under scrutiny.

Crash worthiness was certainly a weakness of these NSU models. This is not to say NSU’s body engineers were lacking in skills. In fact the soon to be released Ro 80 was famous for its safety both the active and the passive kind.

Total production of the NSU Prinz 1000, NSU 1000 and NSU 1000 C came to roughly 196.000 units.

From 1965 to 1967 about 74000 units of NSU Typ 110, Typ 110 S and Typ 110 SC rolled off the assembly line.

Between 1967 and 1973 about 256.000 units of the NSU 1200 and 1200 C were made.

NSU’s work on the Ro 80 and Ka 70 were evidence that the air cooled rear engine models were living on borrowed time. In 1969 NSU, DKW and Audi were lumped together as Auto Union and swallowed whole by the Volkswagen AG. The production tooling for the NSU 1000 and 1200 were sold and moved to PRETIS in Sarajevo.

NSU has the distinction of helping Uruguay launching its auto industry in 1963 by supplying assembly kits of the Prinz 4 and the Sportprinz. They soon developed their own 3 door wagon, the P6, and produced about 400 of them with the 2 cylinder engine.

Nordex NSU P 10, said to be Serial Nr. 001 in original factory primer. It used the headlights of the NSU TT.

Nordex NSU P 10 instrument panel and interior.

They followed that up with the P 10 using the 4 cylinder engine of the Prinz 1000 and produced about 100 of these. A prototype was sent to Neckarsulm for evaluation. Supposedly the driving experience was quite positive but there were plenty quality issues such as faulty welds and solder points, lacking comfort and noise insulation. When VW AG left Nordex in limbo they switched to French manufacturers, and in 1983 to the Chevrolet Chevette. At one time or another they produced anything from Mahindra pickups to Peugeot sedans, Renault trucks and Geely hatchbacks.

For lack of good footage of the 1000 and Typ 77 on the web I leave you with a teaser for part 2. A ride in the NSU TT. Listen to them giggle.