Home » This Old NSU Prinz Owner’s Manual Is So Charming And Only Has One Racial Slur

This Old NSU Prinz Owner’s Manual Is So Charming And Only Has One Racial Slur

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Yesterday, for my morning Cold Start post, still America’s fifth-favorite early-morning minimally prepared automotive or land-weasel-based web content, I was talking about a midcentury NSU brochure that had so many of the clichés and features of that era of car brochure that I’m so fond of. In the comments, a reader named Chronometric told me about an NSU Prinz II owner’s manual that’s available online, I think from 1959. Our observant commenter noted how conversational the owner’s manual was, and they’re absolutely right — it’s informal yet informative, and the whole thing is really quite charming. So much so that you can almost forget the period-correct misogyny and the one racial slur!

I think most modern owner’s manuals make at least some sort of concerted effort to remain devoid of any sort of slur, which is part of what makes this so unusual. But, again, other than the slur – which I think was something not intended to really harm, just more of a thoughtless sort of product of the era (though that doesn’t mean it’s not shitty) – this is a good example of how an owner’s manual can be done well and without being a literary soporific.

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Let’s take a look at some of the good stuff, first:

Nsu 1

Right from the get-go the tone is fun, from the “Without tears” headline to the little dig about how infrequently these sorts of things get read. Also, it’s clearly from a different era, as the statement “everyone knows how a clutch works” is just thrown out there without comment or question.

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Ns 2

I appreciate the religious analogy here between a “certificate of baptism” and the “motor vehicle certificate.” While I can infer what a motor vehicle certificate likely is – something like a title, I assume – I’ve never encountered one. Come to think of it, I’ve never been baptized, either, since, as a Jew, that Holy Water burns! Oh it burns so badly!

Nsu 3

So this is a little detail, but something I really appreciate. When the. manual talks about how to open the hood, revealing the rear-engined Prinz’ trunk, it starts by saying “there is a wire inside the vehicle which starts at the front of the PRINZ and ends in a knob under the dashboard.” I like how this very succinctly and effortlessly conveys how the hood-opening mechanism works without getting too technical. I’ve never read anything quite like this in an other car owner’s manual.

Nsu 4

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I love dashboard diagrams, and this is no exception. This is another car from the era where carmakers, bafflingly, staunchly refused to label any control at all, for fear of – what, people having it too easy? Losing the thrill of guessing what identical, unlabeled knobs did? Who the hell knows. It’s also interesting to see the colors of the indicator lights, which had yet to settle into modern standards. High beams as blue were already established, and red as general warning (well, ignition here, not sure if that counts?) but green for oil didn’t stick around (though VW Beetles used that until 1969) and I think orange for the dash turn indicator lamp makes more sense than green.

The real gem here is how the horn – controlled by the right stalk – is explained, in terms of pressing the lever “up towards your throat.” How often does the throat even get mentioned in owner’s manuals at all?

Nsu 5

I also appreciate how the manual has a sidebar for technical information, if desired. In this particular part, it’s interesting to see how the Prinz uses a distributor-less system with dual coils, one per cylinder. Also, it seems that the Prinz uses a dynastart system, which I didn’t realize also replaced the flywheel in addition to the generator and starter.

Nsu 6

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I’m always a sucker for diagrams like these, cutaways, and I like when they show airflow, too – at the top, fresh air, bottom, heated air from the engine.

Nsu 7

The illustrations are clear and appealing, like this underside view, showing what can be adjusted or lubed. The corrugated and enclosed underside reminds me a bit of a Beetle as well. There’s also less technical illustrations that are charming as hell, like this one:

Nsu 8

This illustration follows a bunch of misogynistic copy that suggests that the owner should have their wife do all the cleaning, since – and let me be very clear I’m quoting directly here:

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“Any woman knows how to clean windows.”

Again, some likely long-dead NSU technical writer wrote that, not me.

Speaking of washing the car, though, tell me that sponge doesn’t look exactly like a human brain:

Nsu 9

Brains aren’t really that great for washing cars, I’m told. They tend to leave streaks.

Nsu 10

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No owner’s manual is complete without a good engine diagram, and this one sure is good. You can really appreciate the Prinz engine’s lean design here. This thing made 30 horsepower! I’ve also never seen instructions for fuel filling in engine spec pages like these, but here it is.

Nsu 11

I really like these weight diagrams; I’ve never seen any of these where the individual weights of the passengers are called out!

Nsu 12

The light bulb-replacement section has some interesting terminology; I like the cute “winker” in reference to the turn indicator bulbs, but I’ve never heard a license plate light referred to as a “sign light” as it is here?

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Okay, now the bad part

Okay, I know, I know, you want to know what the slur is that I referenced in the headline. Fine. It’s in this section:

Nsu Slur

Did I pixellate it out? Yes, yes I did, because, well, I just don’t need to give that any more air. If you can’t figure it out or really, really need to know, you can look at the original link. Suffice it to say it’s a word that’s now considered offensive to Asian folks. I think it was just a poorly-chosen analogy there. It’s just kind of remarkable and sad to be reminded about how casually that sort of thing was thrown around back in the day.

Also, that isn’t “conditioned” air; it’s just fresh air or heat, so don’t get ahead of yourself, Prinz.

It’s weird to say this sentence, but thoughtless racial slur aside, this is a fascinating owner’s manual. Just too bad it had to be polluted with that.

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Theotherotter
Theotherotter
23 days ago

Bonus local content: the blulrred term is an old-school Chicago word (no longer used for obvious reasons, except for people like Ed Burke) for your inside guy who could make things happen for you.

Black Peter
Black Peter
23 days ago

I love this statement, (and this manual goes into way more detail than they do today, I mean this one covers timing, carb jets wow.:
With a car, lack of knowledge of some essential features not only detracts from the enjoyment of ownership, At best it’s expensive at worst it is positively dangerous.

Another note, this owner obviously struggled with adjusting the clutch (or possibly timing), based on the grease stains on those pages.

OptionXIII
OptionXIII
23 days ago

“Also, dude, (slur) is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.”

If you want another hint as to the word without digging through the manual.

AlterId
AlterId
23 days ago

So I think that Herr Jimmy guessed correctly here and that it, and the entire document, are the product of a technically correct but idiomatically tone-deaf (even for the time) translation. On first read I got the sense that there was a certain forced jolliness, kind of like the results of German research into a weapon that rivals The Funniest Joke in the World. That came across in the manual for the NSU Ro 80 (third down and labeled as a repair manual but isn’t; I’m sparing you the automatic download link), albeit in a more restrained fashion befitting the more expensive and Wankel-engined sedan (with similarly involved descriptions of the ventilation system and a claim that, since “AUDI NSU supplies the right kind of tools… [t]he work [of changing a tire] is easy, even for the soft hands of a lady.” It also comes across in what Google Lens text recognition and Google Translate could glean from the only interior image of a German-language NSU manual I could view for free as well. The Germans lost the site of what some historians now consider the initial training for Einsatz Reinhard in the Treaty of Versailles and probably still had enough expellees from areas east of the Oder-Neisse line and scattered ethnic German communities across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that there weren’t a large number of Turks in Neckarsulm, so most of them probably had little exposure to non-Europeans at the time.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with calling things out and a good deal wrong with failing to do so, and if the suspense getting there led to a bit of a letdown when the slur was revealed (and it did seem to take a while to get to the point made in the headline), maybe it says something about us readers. One thing I remember as an occasional visitor to the former site (I’ve always wondered what the source of the term “former lighting site” was whenever I’ve seen it) was a post Torch made about seeing reports of what initially appeared to be a white supremacist rally on an overpass in a nearby North Carolina town after the 2016 election and the exclusion he felt as a native-born Jewish North Carolinian. (Those may not have been election-emboldened Klansmen, but the march in Charlottesville was only ten months later, so the overall concern was justified even if the specifics weren’t what they seemed.) Given actions by both the hard right and the hard left over the past several years, including right now, it’s understandable that his sensitivity might be heightened, and in any event as a mensch he would naturally be bothered by it. as should we all be. Not everything here is or should be about the “fun stuff.”

Jake Harsha
Jake Harsha
24 days ago

Not even a Baliff would deign to apply his Dipper Light when approaching Conflagration of Autocars!

George Millwood
George Millwood
24 days ago

I remember seeing these at the Sydney Motor Show in the late 50’s. I was so impressed by the quality of the vehicle it has stuck in my memory.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
25 days ago

Wouldn’t that be more of a mustache, not beard?
That certificate of baptism kind of rubbed the wrong way to tell the truth.

I thought you mentioned something about ethical culture a while back or was that someone else?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
25 days ago

Just a few thoughts
1. In today’s society you could avoid the slur and use a beard from a male with a man-bun.
2. As for tricky stalks in a car the Jensen Healey uses one stalk for left blinker, right blicker, high beam, low beam, and the horn. Imagine figuring that out without instructions.
3. Is the misogyny about window cleaning against women by saying are competent or men by alluding to them being incompetent?
4. Is this truly a prejudice or possibly a underling with a sense of humor seeing what they can sneak by the management? I worked in newspapers where the photographers constantly took pictures of the subject with inappropriate things in the background, dirty pictures, adult toys etc. It wasn’t until the 3rd time my buddies at the bar pointed it out I raised it with the rest of management. At another paper we ran the American flag blowing in the wrong direction, and at another newspaper at my first management meeting we had a new column statically writing under the influence which when presented to manteam said driving under the influence and the rest of the management of had seen it so often didn’t recognize error however my 1st time seeing it I did I mentioned it the boss tore into the marketing person who was then not a fan of me.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
25 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

> In today’s society you could avoid the slur and use a beard from a male with a man-bun.

Those are so 2015, man.

> Is the misogyny about window cleaning against women by saying are competent or men by alluding to them being incompetent?

1) it does not say “men can’t do this”
2) how did women acquire that skill? Either they’re born with it, and thus genetically better suited to cleaning tasks, or they acquired it by doing it more than man, and I’m pretty sure nobody chooses to clean windows more than other people just for fun.

> Is this truly a prejudice or possibly a underling with a sense of humor seeing what they can sneak by the management?

Why not both? If the latter, it’s a prejudiced underling. There are lots of non-crypto-racist ways to troll management they could have used.

All that being said, it is important to keep context in mind, and it is not inconceivable that the word was indeed acceptable to Chinese men. I wouldn’t actually be too surprised if that was the case, but you’d have to check, and the angry poster earlier who made this point cited sources. I’m not leaning one way or the other without checking, and I haven’t checked yet, but language and culture change, and it’s possible that term had different connotations then.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
25 days ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Dude if we ever meet up I’m buying you the drink of your choice. You get there are so many different paths from a different point. You get taking an angry issue without context is as wrong as a inappropriate post done Intentionally. My pet peeve is people being offended on the part of a different demographic with no concept of intent or actual belief.

John McMillin
John McMillin
25 days ago

I wish I still had the manual for my NSU TT. I wish I had the car, too! But some choice parts of the manual lodged in my long-term memory. The doors have a keeper spring “so not to give you a nasty biff in the back.” Keep your drinking water under the seats where it’s cooler, “as Xerxes did on journeys through the desert.” If you cut some wooden legs, you can use the spare tire as a picnic table. There were more of this sort of wordplay, which leads me to a probably unprovable hypothesis. The esteemed J.L.K. Setright wrote in this voice, full of unpredictable asides, and I once read that he moonlighted writing copy for automakers. So I presume that these NSU manuals are the uncredited work of L.J.K. himself! Prove me wrong.

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