By now, we all know the Wankel engine as the funky, extremely thirsty engine that Mazda stubbornly insisted in putting into many of its sports cars, including the famous RX-7, but there was a time before Mazda. The Wankel engine was invented and designed by Felix Wankel, a superlatively talented German engineer; it promised to reduce the loss of energy inherent to four-cycle internal combustion engines while delivering higher revolutions and more power. NSU, which at the time was more of a motorcycle manufacturer, wanted something new for its new car division, and the Wankel engine was it. The 1964 NSU Wankel Spider was a sexy little convertible built specifically as a test bed for the Wankel engine.
Considering that it was a single-rotor engine with only a 498 cc displacement, the Wankel engine in the NSU Wankel Spider was surprisingly powerful, allowing for a top speed of 92 miles per hour, and a 0-60 acceleration of 16.5 seconds. Of course, displacement in a Wankel rotary engine and a conventional engine are not the same thing, but still.
The NSU Wankel Spider was produced until 1966. Over that span of time, about 2,400 of the little cars were made, which paved the way for the introduction of the NSU Ro80 in 1967. Sadly, there was not anywhere near enough testing done, and the technical problems that plagued the Spider’s successor nailed the lid in NSU’s coffin.