NSU Autonova GT

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On the internet, no type of car is as revered as an Enthusiastmobile. An Enthusiastmobile must be affordable, quick, durable, fun to drive, available with a perky engine that drives the rear wheels.

Thing is, Enthusiastmobiles are few and far between. They're sadly more often teased than produced…which brings us nicely to the NSU Autonova GT.

Anyone with an ounce of gasoline in their blood will have dreamed up a way to take inexpensive compact car mechanicals and create their very own Ultimate Driving Machine. 

For German journalist Fritz B. Busch, these thoughts led him to partner with designers Pio Manzù and Michael Conrad.

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Of the two, we know more about Manzù; an Italian who, after designing today's car, the Autonova GT, went on to complete the Autonova Fam, a very early MPV, then the successful Fiat 127 compact car. 

He would be killed in a car crash in 1969 and not see his 127 enter production, but there's no denying his talent and awareness of the auto industry would have served him well.

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, 1964
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The Autonova GT, shown just a year later after Manzù's quote, is clearly a sports car for Europe. Built around both the mechanicals and platform of the NSU Prinz 1000 TT, it featured a rear-mounted 1085cc 4-cylinder engine with an impressive 55 horsepower.

Keep in mind, the whole car weighed just a bit more than the then- small car to beat, the Mini Cooper S. With rear-wheel-drive and a curb weight of just 735 kg (1,620 lbs.), the car would have been quick enough for its target market of young car enthusiasts.

Top speed? An impressive 170 km/h (105 mph); on par with most Porsche 356 versions. Did I mention the four speed manual? How's that for performance?

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Estimated to cost twice that of a period Volkswagen Beetle, the Autonova GT received enough positive feedback to force NSU to give the project a serious look. Problem? NSU was virtually broke; their model offerings consisted of the Wankel Spider and the (in development) ro80 Wankel-powered sedan.

Volkswagen took over NSU by 1970, consolidating its engineers with teams from other absorbed companies that would eventually become Audi.

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If you want to see it in person, it's been kept for a number of years by Audi and now resides in the company's museum. 

The following year, the trio would present the next Autonova, the Fam—an ahead-of-its-time mini-MPV that was conceived a decade too soon. As for the Autonova GT, what do you reckon? Fifty years too soon?

Sources / Recommended reading