Oh dear, what a Wankel
It’s been quite a time since I bought anything resembling a classic car. I know that seems odd given my chosen profession, but there you go… Maybe the financial trauma of getting the SD1 back into fine fettle (and it’s not completed yet) has had an off-putting affect on my enthusiasm, or perhaps it’s because I’ve been lucky enough to drive some of the world’s finest cars while doing the whole Octane thing but, whatever the reason, the last time I bought a pukka classic car (as opposed to an old knacker) was when I stumped up £200 for the Polski-Rover – and that was five years ago!
Anyway, what happened at work recently really did leave me baffled and I’m still trying to understand it. Editor David Lillywhite bought a Citroen SM from guru Andrew Brodie, after it became clear I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to buy it myself – and that left me jealous. That’s mainly because the SM is probably my favourite car ever and it had been bought at a temptingly reasonable price.
There was nothing to do but to turn this ugly emotion into something positive and accept colleague Glen Waddington’s offer of his NSU Ro80. Granted it’s no SM, I hear you say, but the Ro80 is one of those glorious cars that – in my world – comes a close second. It was conceived in an era of hope and optimism and created by engineers who didn’t fall back on orthodoxy – in fact, they shunned it, and actively chose the path of innovation.
The Ro80 appeared on the market in 1967 and it’s no secret that it bankrupted the company – the car’s one of the automotive world’s fattest, biggest white elephants, but that doesn’t stop me loving it. For one, its stylist, Claus Luthe penned a design that’s little short of stunning for its day – a cab-forward wedge, with a glassy six-light body, and a drag co-efficient of 0.355.
It boasted all-round independent suspension, ZF rack-and-pinion power steering, front wheel drive, clutchless semi-automatic transmission – oh, and that twin-rotor Wankel engine. Maybe, just maybe, had NSU left out that final item and used a conventional V6 instead, we might be be talking about NSU TTs instead of Audi TTs, but that’s a different story.
One thing’s for sure, the Ro80’s a design that still looked modern well into the 1980s – it’s a forward-thinking, engineer’s flight of passion. That’s why it fits right in with my favoured cars of choice.
This one ain’t perfect and needs some jobs doing. I don’t have the wonderful Rimmer Bros-like safety net that my Polski-Rover enjoys, but I guess that’s part of the challenge. I’ll let you know how it goes – but, if you run into me, and I look like a gibbering wreck, you’ll know it’s because things aren’t going well. However, if I’m smiling, then you’ll know it’s because I’m enjoying the Ro80’s cerebral delights…
What a contrast it’ll make to the SD1.