Neckarsulm/Ingolstadt, April 3, 2023 – The traditional NSU brand, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2023, represents transformation. This is best exemplified in the 1950s by the compact NSU Prinz. In 1955, NSU was the largest employer in the Neckarsulm region and the industry leader as the world’s largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles. But demand for motorcycles was in decline: As prosperity grew, so did people’s desire for a “roof over their heads” – they wanted to drive cars. So NSU reinvented itself, launching a successful comeback as a car manufacturer with the NSU Prinz in 1958. In this first episode of the history of NSU, Audi Tradition presents “the Prince”.
It is the time of the Miracle on the Rhine: After the devastation of World War II, the 1950s see Germany’s economy pick up again. Incomes are rising, and more and more people can afford a car. At NSU, however, the transition from two to four wheels was not immediate; initially, the development division experimented with a three-wheeler called the Max Kabine. The name was derived from an NSU motorcycle, the NSU Max. But the Max Kabine prototype’s performance in test drives was not promising and so, at the end of 1955, NSU management instead gave the green light for the compact car project.
Expanding a two-wheeler factory into an automobile plant is quite a feat – in organizational as well as financial terms. But thanks to a bank loan of around 30 million marks at the time, and a guarantee, granted by the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, NSU was able to complete the plant as planned. All the while, a development team was working on the new car project. As early as mid-1956, the first three prototypes of the new NSU car took to the road for testing and were ready for series production just one year later. In the summer of 1957, the Neckarsulm-based company unveiled the NSU Prinz, initially called the NSU Lido, in pre-series production.
The NSU Prinz was a modern two-door sedan with a self-supporting all-steel body. The car’s brochure states: “The Prinz offers everything that is expected of a car in its class today: pleasing proportions, enough space for four adults, excellent engine power, top driving characteristics, and good driving comfort.” NSU opted for a rear-engine design with a 20 hp two-cylinder motor and offered two models. The Prinz I was a trimmed-down basic version, which only came in light green, while the Prinz II, was the so-called export version, with chrome stabilizer bars front and rear, Prinz lettering on the side, a dashboard instrument cluster, and wind-down windows. The Prinz II was available in a wide range of colors: Calla white, indigo blue, cedar green, lava gray, and Sahara beige, to name a few. At launch, the basic NSU Prinz cost 3,645 marks, while the Prinz II was available ex works for 3,985 marks.