Sadly, though, NSU’s timing was not ideal. Although the company produced some successful cars in the 1920s, the onset of The Great Depression forced NSU to sell the automotive side of its business to Fiat in 1932, and the start of WWII meant it had to focus exclusively on motorbike production in order to survive. By 1955, NSU had become the biggest motorcycle producer in the world.
But the magic of four wheels could not be resisted for long: in the mid-1950s NSU once again tried its hand at motor cars, introducing the NSU Prinz in 1957. While NSU had offered 4- and 6-cylinder cars back in the 1920s, the Prinz was a rear-engined mini car powered by an air-cooled, 2-cylinder engine. Although well made (if somewhat noisy), the Prinz did not even put a dent in the VW Beetle’s total market domination of the time.
Over the next few years, the post-war German economy continued to improve and buyers were gradually moving away from two wheels and mini cars to larger and more luxurious saloons. Although NSU introduced its first 4-cylinder post-war car, the Prinz 1000, at the 1964 Frankfurt auto show, NSU managing director Gerd Stieler von Heydekampf realised that with NSU’s market share being already only modest, it was time to evolve – or the future would be bleak.