Home » Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines A Rotary-Powered, Italian-Designed Sportscar That Never Was

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines A Rotary-Powered, Italian-Designed Sportscar That Never Was

Nsquspyder Top

Did you wake up a little cranky this morning? Did things not feel quite right? Are you just getting a little sick of all the bullshit? Do you suspect it’s because German carmaker NSU is gone, and has been gone since Volkswagen bought it in 1969, then merged it with Auto Union, only to rename “Audi Auto Union NSU” to simply ‘Audi AG” in 1977, putting the NSU name to rest forever? I bet that’s why. I can’t bring NSU back, not legally at least, but I can bring you the fever-dreams of our almost-a-car-designer, The Bishop, who has had a powerful, strange, and beautiful vision of an NSU rotary sports car could have been in 1976. If you’re feeling up to it, don’t have any heart conditions, and are not currently pregnant, then I invite you to experience this vision with me.

All of this really starts with a pretty remarkable car, the first car to be sold commercially with a Wankel rotary engine. That car was the NSU Spider, sporting a lovely Bertone-designed body and built from 1964 to 1967.

Og Wankel

The car was charming and innovative, and in the real world, represented the start of NSU’s decline before its ultimate demise. You see, costs from the development of the Wankel engine and significant costs related to warranty replacement of bad apex seals in the company’s second rotary-powered car, the lovely and iconic Ro-80, eventually did the company in financially.

But the whole point of the Bishop is to explore what could have happened, not what did. So, let’s say in this alternate world, the rotary engine isn’t the albatross around NSU’s neck that it was in reality, but instead a glorious eagle around the neck, or some other bird that implies lifting up instead of weighing down. A heron? I don’t know (What do I look like, an ornithologist? I wish I looked as good as an ornithologist).

Let’s also say that NSU continued with its association with Bertone to design cars: What might a 1970s Bertone-designed NSU Spider have been like?

Bertone was doing some interesting, very 1970s-wedge type designs in this era, like their show car, the Trapeze:


The Bishop is a bit underwhelmed by the Trapeze, though:

“I hate to say it, but I find it vaguely disappointing, particularly in light of the other shit Bertone was doing at the time.  I mean, it’s cool, but it just seems to lack that wow factor.  I also don’t see it as a production proposition since its four-wide trapezoid seating makes it a little too big for a little NSU, and the Stratos style roof is permanently fixed.  It’s certainly rather ‘normal’ looking and thus a bit underwhelming compared to concepts like the Rainbow or Navajo (shown below):”


The Bishop also thinks that there could have been a place for a new NSU rotary sports car, since there was a sort of hole in VW/Audi/Porsche’s lineup around 1975, especially for something with an open roof:

“Could there have been a place for a last gasp rotary powered open topped little sports car in the VW Group (NSU owners at that point)?  I think so.  If you look at 1975 the VW Group was discontinuing the 914 and had already killed the Karmann Ghia convertible to focus on closed-coupe front engine stuff like the Scirocco and 924, so a car to go head-to-head with an X1/9, Scorpion/Monte Carlo or help to further bury the dying British industry could have worked.”

Hence, we get the 1976 NSU Spyder Bertone:


Here’s what the Bishop tells us about this very ’70s little stallion:

“We’d obviously see an ultra-angular shape for one the world’s only (if not THE only) mid engine rotary powered production cars.  The design would flare out to be a wider width in rear, but there is a reason.  The shape allows for wider rear tires and engine air/cooling scoops, but the main purpose is to allow the car to have a unique targa roof that is hinged at the back…you just unhook it at the windscreen, pop off the targa bar top trim, and it folds around back onto the ‘flying buttress’ supports (so the extra width hides the sides of the folded roof- and the targa bar trim snaps back on):


It could be glass to allow you to even see out the back while driving with the roof on the buttresses. No lifting a big thing alone, no clearing room in the cargo area for the top (it would be manually operated, but it might want dampers on the pivot points so that it won’t crush fingers if released.”

Personally, I love the idea of a flip-over roof, and I can’t believe I’ve never seen it on a production car, at least none I can think of. You’d need a bunch of rubber stops on there to prevent glass-to-glass bouncing contact, but that’s very do-able. This feels like an easier solution than having to stow roof panels or T-tops.


No overhang in the back…low taillights (likely parts bin items under bespoke grilles) and rotary-shaped exhaust tips.  You’d never get 5MPH bumpers on this or get it to pass emissions so forget the US market…which is just as well.

I am sort of disappointed that even in this no-limits fantasy, The Bishop can’t bring himself to imagine how this could meet US bumper or emissions standards. What the hell, Bishop? Imagine harder! Imagine President Billy Carter eliminating all standards, for everything! Come on!


“As a Bertone car, you simply HAVE to do SOMETHING stupid to the headlights.  In this case, at the front you would see just a small squinty-eyed sliver of the lamps to simulate the exposed lights on the original Spider (the grilles on the ‘bumper’ echo the earlier car as well) and to allow for flash-to-pass functionality.  Here, lower ‘eyelids’ drop to expose the entire light for night driving.  Sort of a reverse of a Z31 300ZX headlamp, or opposite Alfa Montreal/Lamborghini Jarama.”

I think of this design fantasy, I’m most excited by what The Bishop dreamed up for the interior, though. I love a strong motherflapping theme design.


“Inside, you just KNOW it’s gonna be fucked up.  A normal design house would not try to overaccentuate the Vicks Cough Drop engine rotor shape, but Bertone would exploit the fuck out of it.

The asymmetric seats face a dashboard with a big rotary shape dead center for all gauges and another rotary shape for the tach above the rotary wheel.  A multi-angled center console for a variety of controls, including the standard VW Hostess Cupcake rear defogger switch and Sapphire XVII radio that doesn’t go off with the ignition switch that the kid would instantly recognize as being right out of the dash of their tourist-delivery US spec Type 4…I have no illusions of having to use parts bin items on the NSU.

I think it also needs an 8 Track player mounted backwards in the console to play Kraftwerk and Maha Vishnu Orchestra.


In back, the rotary engine is so small that you have space behind the seats; I have even put little sideways facing King Cab jump seats on the side panels (really only one semi-grown person sideways would likely come close to fitting).  Don’t worry…if that person or people back there need to smoke (it’s the 70s..they will) that rotary logo will rotate around to reveal an ashtray.”

I have to say, I think that asymmetric seat design is one of my all-time favorite fictional car seats, and I’m including the seats in the 1966 DAF 44 Dutch Masters Edition, the only car ever to feature a cigar-box themed interior design, a fictional car I just made up right now. So you know I’m serious.

So, what do all of you think, sexy readers? Would this sporty little angular runabout have been what NSU needed to keep going? Would you have been able to sit on those rear jump seats? Would you have loved that Wankel rotary-triangle theme?




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37 Responses

  1. I like it. There were two NSU’s in my grandfather’s collection. One with a soft top, one with a hard top. Pretty cars that never ran reliably. I have many memories of my grandfather always keeping a can of starter fluid in the “trunk space” above the engine.

  2. “You’d never get 5MPH bumpers on this or get it to pass emissions so forget the US market…”

    That would make the whole project a nonstarter. The US was THE biggest market for the 914, X1/9 and just about every other mass-produced dedicated sports car. By the time it reached production it’d be based on the Golf powertrain (so, piston-engined) with 5 mph bumpers designed in.

    What a great concept, though!

    1. I did a version with the 5MPH ram bars and just couldn’t go through with it…and also something terrible with the taillights like was done on those US spec Maserati Meraks.

      1. That was the Khamsin and that had to be the absolute worst implementation of impact bumpers. I don’t even want to know if there’s a worse one.

    1. As God is my witness, I thought that Ferrari was some kind of sliding system…and I thought turkeys could fly. I like how the Ferrari, unlike mine, sits flat on the engine cover and doesn’t need to be an all glass panel to be able to see through.

  3. *cracks knuckles* Alrighty, let me get my notes out here…

    Oh, and if it’s going to be a proper 70’s design, it needs at least 6 more ashtrays.

    1. Totally agree. Not so much about the ash trays, but overall I love this design. Insert the “Shut Up and Take My Money” gif here.

      Also, what’s up with the shifter? I see the pattern for the stick, but is that a push-button thing or what?

      1. I have the shifter coming out of the floor/console at a rather strange angle forward, sort of like a backwards layout of an old Alfa Spyder. The Gumby shape of the shifter is just weird for the sake of being weird.

    2. I appreciate the compliments, and hope Jason is listening about the compensation….getting paid in Dunkin gift cards is getting old

  4. I think you could work 5 mph bumpers in a shock absorber package but might hurt the looks. For the roof I’d use a slide back hidden under a set of louvers. The back seats in these are mostly for cheaper insurance so as long as it classified 4 seater I am fine with it. I do like the design. I wonder if there is room for 2 peoples feet in that triangle cockpit?

  5. I think you could work 5 mph bumpers in a shock absorber package but might hurt the looks. For the roof I’d use a slide back hidden under a set of louvers. The back seats in these are mostly for cheaper insurance so as long as it classified 4 seater I am fine with it. I do like the design

  6. This is a really good one. I can completely see this coming out of ‘70’s Bertone. Shame we went from such wild, inspired ideas that celebrated a joy of living to creatively bankrupt, stagnant CUVs
    ”Just make the face angrier and add bigger wheels!”
    [15 minutes later]
    “Whoa, too far, now it looks constipated. Eh, good enough. We’ll fix it on the facelift, people will buy it, anyway.”

  7. I’ve been watching “For All Mankind” and keep thinking they could plug some cool fictional cars like this into their alternate reality. Instead, there was a scene in front of a pristine brown Chevy Citation, because even in a reality in which we push space tech harder and faster still has that car for some reason.

  8. Bishop – I like the stying but I am a bit disappointed that you didn’t take advantage of my (now long expired) patent which permitted rotary engines to be popped in and out as self-contained units, almost exactly like changing an 8-track tape. Those pesky rotor seals in used engine cassettes could be rebuilt at leisure, and so it wasn’t much more bother than replacing an alternator, requiring only a core charge and an hour of labor in which to unhook the electrical connectors and hoses.

  9. I was always a fan of the X1/9, so yes, I love this. Though I think that a Rainbow-style flipper roof, stored parallel to the rear window, would be easier to get right, since only one side would need to look right side up, and the side that forms the interior when closed would stay cleaner. And I do wonder about rearward visibility when looking through two sheets of glass with one being steeply raked. Not sure which way the flipper hardware would be simpler.

  10. Interesting. Looks like the runty love-child of a Z31 300 ZX & an original Fiero. Only far less reliable (but probably less prone to self-immolation than an Iron-Puke powered Fiero).

    1. Yes! I was going for that runty-sort of proportion like on the Alfa SZ, even if that’s a Zagato design…kinda of chopped and compact.

  11. Oh, I really like this one. It’s very over the top in that 70’s Italian designed concept car way, yet it still seems like something that could have certainly reached production. Shame it’ll have to only exist in our dreams.

  12. I, for one, would very much enjoy seeing one of these on Bring A Trailer for $18,500 with 3 days left, and once again regret not buying the yellow one I saw for $900 at Bob’s Auto Ranch back in 1998.

    1. Mark- I was saying how I hoped to see one sitting on flat tires in the basement of the Lane Museum, either nonfunctional or where someone had dropped a 13B Mazda motor in it (and hopefully not a V4 like was often done after Ro80s had gone through two or three rotary motor failures).

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