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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The Prinz and the Astronaut

In American mythology, every NASA astronaut drove a Corvette. The heroes of the space race, lionized by the press, were seen as courageous and fearless under pressure, Alan Shepard deadpanning "Let's light this candle" while waiting to launch. The Corvette fit the fighter-jock image, a group of former test pilots racing each other to the [...]
https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/the-prinz-and-the-astronaut/
39 REPLIES 39
Nick_D
Intermediate Driver

Great piece!
RallyeRalph
Detailer

Always wanted to get one of these, drop a Plymouth engine in the back, and make a Prinz Valiant.
BrendanMc
Intermediate Driver

Oh very good.
JEL395
Intermediate Driver

Didn't see that one coming, albeit love the humor RR
corv3tte
Intermediate Driver

I actually signed in to reply to you only....MOST EXCELLENT my friend....I LIKE it !!!!







hyperv6
Racer

John was a little different in a number of ways good and bad. He was my senator   Though never voted for him, meet him a couple times, he was a nice guy but he was different. 

Chromer88
New Driver

Early in his career, John Glenn, appreciating quality engineering and value, drove a 1949 Buick!
phog
Pit Crew

"For here, am I sitting in a tin can...."
David Bowie, Space Oddity

NOW we know what he meant!
Fatcat321
Intermediate Driver

My auto shop teacher in high school drove a Prinz for giggles. He got it for free from a PTA parent. I played football for the school, and for a joke a bunch of us players pushed the car out to the center of the field during halftime. The teacher was high in the stands and couldn't get down to move the car before the second half started, so we just played around it. We were building dune buggies in the shop at the time, and we helped him put a souped-up VW 1600 and trans in the car. It looked silly with the bigger rear tires sticking out from the fenders, but it went like a fart in a windstorm.
AG1962
Instructor

Great story! There were a few more Prinz models not mentioned here, including the gorgeous fastback Sport version, and even a convertible Sport with a Wankel rotary engine, as in the Ro80. There are still a few Prinzes in western Canada and BC, where rust is less of a problem than in the centre and east of the continent, and two-lane highways the norm. A nicely restored Sport model was recently for sale near Kamloops, but I waited too long. I nearly bought a Sport and a regular Prinz, on two separate occasions, in Alberta, but both needed a bit too much recommissioning for my skills. The Prinz was also built under licence, in smaller numbers, in Yugoslavia, Argentina, and Egypt. Its successor at Audi was the only slightly larger FWD Audi 50, which was the basis of the VW Polo (smaller sibling of the Golf, never sold in North America). I did own an Audi 50 in Germany for a year. It was marginally better in all regards than the Prinz, but not nearly as dashing as the Sport fastback…

2OldVolvos
Pit Crew

One of my high school teachers had the sport fastback with that Wankel engine. He was over six foot tall and watching him enter and exit this car was a lot of fun.
Great looking car and it had a very unique sounding engine!

ppointer
Detailer

My wife and I stumbled across a public-road hill climb event in Cortona, Italy, around 2017, and there were at least of dozen of these entered in the race. To me they looked like an 3/4 scale 1963 Corvair. Through my broken Italian and their limited English, I learned about the "NSU" that had somehow morphed in to Audi. Every one of these little racers were in pristine condition, and these guys threw caution to the wind to run flat out from the valley floor to Cortona. What a great memory!
Islander
Detailer

First thing that came to mind reading the article, 'Looks like an unrefined,1st gen Corvair
drhino
Technician

You two beat me to it. I’ve often wondered if the Chevy guys poached this design for the Corvair. The similarities in look and layout are hard to ignore.
drhino
Technician

Wonder what Nader thought of the Prinz?
Smitty
New Driver

It's backwards. The Corvair (introduced in 1959) influenced a ton of cars and basically changed how cars look. Curbside Classic did an article about it. I'll try to post it, but if it doesn't work look up "Curbside Classic Corvair influence". I've got four NSUs. They're wonderful cars.

https://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-how-the-1960-corvair-started...
AG1962
Instructor

The Prinz came out in 1957, two years before the Corvair, which was essentially an American take on the rear-engined, air-cooled architecture of the Tatra, VW, Porsche, and Prinz, a format that dates back to the 1930s. At most, one could argue that the later Type 4 Prinz looked a bit more like a Corvair than its predecessors had.

Pbgray
Pit Crew

Needless to say, "God speed John Glenn" wouldn't necessarily apply to the NSU Prinz! Great story!
Not applicable

John Glenn also owned a 1964 Corvair Monza Convertible, 110-PG with factory A/C.
http://corvaircenter.com/phorum/read.php?1,950576,950576#msg-950576. Who needs a Corvette.
Javman
Intermediate Driver

Back in the very early 1970's a friend of mine had a first generation Prinz that his dad bought for him to " play " with. Neither of us had any experience with working on cars but when we were able to get it started we would immediately jump in and go for a ride. The little turd was funny to look at, back and front were almost the same and felt like a sardine can. The little 2 cylinder could barely get up to traffic speeds and going uphill I almost had to jump out and push. Lol. We did have a lot of fun with this little guy and I wish I had one now.
KPgarage
Pit Crew

I live and grew up in the Orlando area near the space coast. Needless to say the fame and lore of the Rathmann Corvettes and the astronauts is great, even for a Ford guy like me. The astronauts were and still are our heroes. Only one other astronaut that I know of did NOT drive a plastic corvette from Rathmann, and that would be Mike Collins, Command Module driver on Apollo 11. He drove..................drum roll, a Vee Dub beetle.
Bertone780
Detailer

My first means of mechanical transportation back in the late 1960's was an NSU Prima scooter. It served me well for a couple of years before graduating to 4 wheels.
Clark
Pit Crew

NSU built a version named a "Sport Prinz". What was exceptional about it was that it used desmodromic valving, which used cams (on the camshaft) to both open and close the valves, without using springs. When one drove by you, which didn't happen more than twice, or so, it sounded like a sewing machine was under the rear lid. They use similar structure to operate sewing machines so I guess that's why they sound alike.
Rob_M
Pit Crew

NSUs never had desmodromic valves. It had conventional coil valve springs, but the use of eccentric rods (dubbed "Ultramax" by NSU) to drive the single overhead camshaft was unique in the post-WWII era.
Aviator86H
New Driver

I had to laugh when I saw the NSU Prinz article. In the early 1970’s when stationed in Germany with the Army, my wife and I bought a Prinz to drive in the winter after shipping our new VW Super Beatle home. We considered it an enclosed motorcycle; it served the purpose but compared to even a VW it barely had enough power to pull itself along! The transmission was so sloppy that my wife couldn’t get into the right gear to save her life! It wasn’t her favorite auto to say the least. I had almost forgotten about our NSU Prinz experience until now. Thanks for the memories, I guess!
JEL395
Intermediate Driver

nicely done, where else would I learn about such a unique esoteric vehicle than Hagerty. Thank you Brendan. Never stop driving.
Rob_M
Pit Crew

Nice story except John Glenn had an earlier model Prinz 30, not the Prinz 4L pictured here. Glenn's explanation for buying the NSU in lieu of the more common choice of astronauts, the Chevy Corvette, is that he still needed to save for his kid's college education. (A Prinz 30 is smaller and more rounded than the Prinz 4, but uses the same drivetrain.)
plp0079
Pit Crew

Senator Glenn certainly had a type. After he got rid of the Prinz, he got a '64 Corvair. BTW, let's clear this up right now, NSU and about 90% of European manufacturers copied the Corvair's sheet metal, not the other way around.
chapron67
Pit Crew

It's a humongous Peel with too many wheels! Great article and photos!
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I bet 140hp in that tiny thing would have been fun. Either way as it is it looks like a fun and practical car for the time.
deb10918
Pit Crew

When I was in Jr. High School, my Mom had an NSU Sport Prinz that she used to go back & forth to work and to do all the errands that mothers did back then. I was in the car when some impatient idiot in a Suburban backed up out of the line to let kids off at the school and crushed the front end of her first Sport Prinz (the red one) She got another Sport Prinz, this one was Baby Blue and she drove it for many years. The guys at the gas station used to laugh when she came in once a month and told them to "freshen the tank". She rarely got more than 3 gallons of gas at a time. Later when my twin brothers were in High School she used to take them and their friends, another set of twins to school with their band instruments! It was hilarious to see this tiny little car pull up in front of the school and and watch 4 six-foot-tall blonde guys unfold themselves out of the car and then retrieve a french horn, trombone and 2 trumpets and all their school books.
My father raced the first Sport Prinz at Marlboro a few times, then got an NSW Wankel Convertible which he named Bullwankel and raced it a few times. Then he built a BMW based modified that he raced for a couple years. This story brought back a lot of memories for me. If I could figure out how, I'd post a photo of Bullwankel.
DSVest
New Driver

Raced a TTS in C Sedan at Waterford Hills in the late 70's, early 80's. There were 3 of us. Fun car, dual 40 DCOEs on a 1 liter engine. It just became too hard to get parts for.
LamboEd
Detailer

Goodness gracious that is an AWFUL car! No wonder you never see them at Mecum or Barret-Jackson! That makes a Pacer look like a Rolls-Royce. But, to each their own!
BTW, can't wait to see what the Waynes World Pacer is going to go for at Barret Jackson!.
alow
Pit Crew

Growing up in Israel in the 60's, NSU Printz was a popular model, blending easily with the Beetles and Mini Minors.
Although my late father went for a lovely 1962 Mini, some family friends had a Printz.
I still remember the sewing machine sounding engine, doing it tiniest best in climbing mount Carmel in Haifa.
I have just found out one for sale here, if any one is tempted (don't...).
https://www.yad2.co.il/s/c/mwsjbt5v
2OldVolvos
Pit Crew

Yes I saw a lot of old NSU's of all types in Israel in the early 80's. They must have been cheap to run. They sounded like motorcycles, because most of them had the 2 cylinder engines.
2OldVolvos
Pit Crew

My University roomate had NSU 1200 TT. It was a very good car. It was fast and comfortable. Build quality was excellent. It was a lot better by miles than a VW Beetle. It actually had an excellent heater and defroster that worked extremely well in cold New England winters.

The NSU dealer lent him an Ro 80 while his car was in for some service work. That was one hell of an amazing car!
Zephyr
Instructor

My recollection is that the model that was introduced in the early 70's (possibly the Wankel engine model?) had a disturbing habit of catching fire.
Engineerbruce68
Intermediate Driver

This article, car-wise, is about the two-cylinder. It does mention the rotary which turned out to be more infamous than famous to NSU. But the real story is the four-cylinder TTS. My brother and I raced in C Sedan at Riverside Raceway with a 1000cc air-cooled NSU Printz. The engine was in the rear, transverse mounted with fins on the flywheel cooling the engine. We put two 40 DOCE Webbers for our fuel induction. My brother had Jahns Pistons make some custom domed pistons for our 1200 engine. It blew up twice, the second time after the dome to cylinder head clearance was increased.
On the way to Holtville Raceway in San Diego County, the car was destroyed in freeway accident.
We sold the motor to some wanna bees in Seattle. The engine sat for over thirty years. Bill Allen, who won the D Sedan SCCA Championship in a NSU 1000TTS, bought the engine. He, too, tried to make the 1200 go, but it blew up. Finally, he converted it back to a 1000cc, put it in a NSU Printz and raced it successfully in Vintage. The story ended, as of the moment, when after he sold the car to another wanna bee, he rolled it at Laguna Seca.
MJTVT
Pit Crew

Took a ride in a TTS while hitchhiking in Germany in the '60s. A fiendishly fast driver who relied on his wife to tell him what was behind, and came roaring onto autobahns and into the fast lane without looking. On a secondary road, there was some confusion, and we were hit between headlight and front wheel, luckily not hard enough to cause much damage, and we continued unabated. Later I owned a K70 (Volkswagen, but nee NSU) in Belgium, but that was rather undistinguished ...