NSU Autonova Fam

When I wrote about the Autonova GT back in July, I used this quote by its designer, the talented Italian Pio Manzù:

We’re at a crossroads. Either we go on with largely stylistic studies and so slide into pure fashion (in which the Americans are far ahead of us), or else we take a new path, as suggested by traffic conditions and needs in Europe.
— Pio Manzù

After designing the Fiat 127, in 1969 he was, sadly, killed in a car crash, and wouldn't see the 127 enter production—or his Nostradamus-worthy statement come true. When you think about it, that's exactly what happened in Europe: carmakers focused on smaller, more efficient vehicles instead of chasing the American automakers down the rabbit hole of excess. (Well, for the most part.)

The Autonova cars were intended to show the way forward. Manzù wanted to show the world that practicality and ease of use were far more important attributes than brand or styling to the average driver. The GT, shown in 1964, was a small, usable sports car designed to be as at-home in cities as on a winding country road.

For the Fam, shown a year later in 1965, the team was much more ambitious. NSU, Glas, Recaro, VDO, and Boge helped create one of the very first MPV concepts; a car-based tall wagon that would later take Europe by storm. They offer many of the advantages of a car: efficiency, ease of use, and maneuverability, with few of the drawbacks associated with a larger "family" vehicle. Let's not forget that at the time a conventional sedan like the Chevrolet Impala, for instance, was more than 5.3 meters (17 ft.) long. In comparison, the Fam had just about the same interior space but was only 3.5 meters (11.4 ft. long). For those of you up on your vehicle lengths, that's shorter than an original Volkswagen Beetle.

With a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder engine and 60 horsepower, it was capable of a top speed in excess of 140 km/h (87 mph). Not bad.

Besides setting the template that all MPVs would follow, Manzù wanted to showcase a truly thoughtful design by incorporating several features that have since become commonplace:

  • Split-folding seats
  • Raised seats for better visibility
  • Tall cabin to accomodate large cargo
  • Variable-ratio steering to satisfy the demands of both city and country driving
  • Automated manual transmission
  • Height-adjustable suspension
  • Split-folding rear tailgate

Even though the team didn't intend for the Fam to be an attractive vehicle, its simple lines and clearly 1960s construction make me wish that MPVs had been popularized sooner—I'd love to use a vintage Fam as a commuter car.

Sadly, even though public reaction was overwhelmingly positive for both Autonova concepts, NSU's financial difficulties ensured that both the GT and Fam would remain prototypes.