Elsewhere in this issue you can read all about how the NSU Ro80 wasn't the fragile horror that it's often made out to be, but here's where the Wankel rotary engine started; with the NSU Spider, which was the first production car to feature such motive power. Launched in 1964, the Spider was a two-seater convertible with a rear-mounted engine. That engine was a single-rotor unit that put out 50bhp, and the more you revved it the smoother it became. Red-lined at 6000rpm, it was possible to spin it all the way to 8000rpm, and presumably self-destruction soon after.
Autocar ran a Spider on a long-term test from the end of 1965 until the start of 1967. In that time the car covered 11,200 miles – at which point the engine had to be replaced. However, it wasn't failed rotor tip seals that led to the powerplant's demise, it was a cracked casing (block). Despite this hiccup (the replacement engine cost NSU £550 under warranty; the car's list price was £1391), the Autocar team loved the NSU. It was deafening at anything over 60mph, and it struggled to achieve more than 26mpg, but the Spider's handling was superb and it was technically fascinating. Perhaps most importantly, those who drove the NSU didn't have to pay for any of the running costs, which was arguably the most appealing thing of all for them. It's reckoned that just 20 or so Spiders were brought into the UK (all left-hand drive) and incredibly just one was sold into private hands. Autocar tracked down that owner and sure enough he had no end of starting and running problems with his NSU, throughout his ownership. No wonder these cars are now all but extinct.