Let me start with reciting the background story. The Wankel engine, which is sometimes called the rotary engine is something that’s often connected to Mazda, as the Japanese brand championed these engines for decades. Instead of conventional pistons, a Wankel engine utilizes triangular rotors and a very small displacement to burn a lot of fuel and cause some grief but in a very smooth fashion.
Mazda’s first Wankel engined car was the Cosmo coupe of 1967, but the first Wankel engined production car was the very pretty NSU Spider that had made it to the market a couple years earlier in 1964. The German NSU was the first company to start development with the engine type, having spent the 1950s trying to put it right and having formed a study contract with Mazda to further drive the progress.
While Mazda was able to keep on churning out Wankel-engined cars for the following decades and still wants to benefit from the engine type in range extender use, NSU’s Ro80 sedan, also produced from 1967, was the company’s swansong. The aerodynamic four-door was only built for ten years, during which time it gained a reputation for unreliability due to problems with apex seals. Some of the cars were later privately fitted with Mazda engines just to keep them on the road, and some owners fitted Ford V4 engines which were certainly a harsh replacement for the gently whooshing rotor motor.
Despite finally solving the engine issues for the final model years of the Ro80, NSU was not able to weather the storm on its own and became swallowed by Audi. The last NSU-designed car, the K70 (K for Kolben, or “pistons”) become rebadged as the first front-engined, water-cooled and front-wheel-drive Volkswagen. The designer of the Ro80, Claus Luthe, went on to BMW to shape some of its most iconic models, including the E30 3-series and E32 7-series.
All of that progress has led to a mustard colored 1972 Ro80 becoming stranded in Cleveland. You don’t see these sedans in the States that often, as they were never really imported new apart from a handful of cars that gained sealed-beam headlights to comply with legislation at the time.
This particular car, for sale at MB Vintage Cars, appears unrestored and mostly original. That is to say that it has a great deal of patina on its flanks and some of the panels have been repainted in a shade that’s slightly off. There’s a lot of photos on the eBay advert, from which we can see that the floor pans seem to be in order, but that there’s some rot under the front bumper.
And the other thing is that no, it doesn’t run, and it’s sat since 1985. It’s probably safe to say everything related to the mechanical state of this thing is a mystery, and it should be treated as such.
However, in the 35 years that the Ro80 has laid dormant, Wankel engine enthusiasts have kept a bunch of other Ro80s on the road and parts and know-how still exists for these cars. There are Ro80 hobbyists in the States, who have also privately imported some of them to drive around or display at shows. Perhaps this is what they are looking for, as it doesnt look unreasonably hard to get right if you have a known-good engine or a stash of parts for it and some time to sort out the cosmetics.
The Buy it Now price for the Ro80 stands at $9,950, but offers are also being taken. In Europe, running and nice-looking cars cost around 12-15 grand, but they are also easier to come by in their home region. If you’re from the Midwest and also a complete buffoon for anything obscure, maybe this is your ticket to glory.