1972 NSU Prinz 4L – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

One of the joys of looking through the many, many cars for sale on Car & Classic is that we find some weird, some wonderful and some truly special machines. A case in point would be this week’s project of choice, which is a 1972 NSU Prinz. For those of you not familiar, NSU was a German brand that was bought by Volkswagen in 1969 before being merged with Auto Union – thus creating Audi. NSU, so named because of its home city, Neckarsulm (NSU being a common abbreviation). It was founded in 1873 and initially made bicycles and knitting machines – an age old combination. The company moved into internal combustion in 1901 care of its first motorcycle. Nearly twenty years later, it moved into the world of cars.

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The cars built by NSU were anything but conventional. Instead, they were often bold, brave designs that looked heavily to the future. NSU, for example, was the company that brought us the revolutionary, if ultimately flawed, rotary powered Ro80, which was a forebear to the Audi that would follow. And there was also a brace of small, air-cooled, often rear-engined cars such as the one we’ve found here, namely the NSU Prinz. A charming, cheeky little car, it’s one that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face when you take it out for a drive.

What is it?

When it broke cover at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show, the NSU Prinz 4L was something of a revelation. It was an incredibly well engineered car, it was spacious despite being small, and it was also rather easy on the eye, with some journalists describing it as being a baby Chevrolet Corvair. Powered by a two-cylinder 598cc petrol engine mounted in the rear, the Prinz was a fun, exciting car to drive. It had a four-speed all synchro manual transmission, which was something of a luxury at the time. The suspension was also clearly the subject of much engineering and perfecting, as the Prinz did and still does ride like a car much bigger.

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While hugely popular in Germany and other European countries, the Prinz struggled to gain traction in the UK due to being marginally more expensive than British alternatives that were, at the time, well protected by tariffs. As such, the little Prinz never saw its full potential in the UK. Instead, it existed as a slightly left field automotive curio. Because of that, the Prinz in any guise is a hard car to find on UK soil, let alone in this specification and condition. This is a car you need to pounce on.

Why is it a project? 

This is quite a nice little break from the norm in terms of it being a Project Profile car. As you can see, this little NSU Prinz presents exceptionally well, it’s in pretty good condition, good mechanical health and it may even pass another MOT without too much stress. However, it’s not perfect, so it still fits in the ‘project camp’. It’s got an MOT, which is great news, but the vendor has stated that the exhaust is making a bit of a noise and will need looking at (though they aid they will try and do this before the car sells). Other than that, there is very little to stop you from using the car as it is. It presents well, it seems to be pretty solid and everything seems to be present and correct. The ‘project’ bit is very much down to your tastes. The current vendor likes the car’s patina and wear. However, you may wish to treat the Prinz to some re-chroming and some new paint – we know we would, as these little cars shine like a diamond when they’re done up.

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Five things to look for?

1) Rust

The vendor has written a wonderfully detailed description, and because of that we’re confident that this car is pretty solid. However, it never hurts to check. The floors and the engine bar are prime rust hot-spots, so have a good look at them.

2) Trim

The vendor states that someone has fitted heavy rubber matting inside, and the carpets are long gone. So you may want to remedy that with some new carpet. But if that has been removed in the past, one has to wonder if anything else has been swapped or changed? What condition is everything in? It’s going to be tricky to replace anything that’s broken or missing.

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3) Engine

The two-cylinder air-cooled engine in the Prinz is a hardy little unit, and as the car is currently on the road, it should be in rude health. However, still check for any nasty knocks or rattles, look for any oil leaks and look for any excessive smoke on start up.

4) Body 

The photos show a car that looks to be exceptionally solid and free from damage. However, given the rarity of this little car, it would pay to have a good look for any hidden corrosion, poor past repairs or past accident damage. We’re sure it’s fine, but better to be safe than sorry.

5) Driveline

The beauty here is that this is a car with MOT and as such, unlike most other projects, you can road test it. Check the gearbox operates as it should, check the brakes, the ride, the steering. All the stuff you can’t normally check on a project car. Though be warned, in doing so, you will fall in love with this car.

What should you do with it?  

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While we love a bit of age and patina, it’s not really something that suits the NSU. If it were ours, we’d spend the time and money on getting the chrome polished and getting the body and interior looking mint. Carpets might have to be a custom job, but other parts could be acquired from Germany where there is still a strong following for this car. We’d then strip it down and get it in the paint booth. Given it’s roughly the size of a bar of soap, a full respray shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive, but it should still transform this car. Finally, we’d trace some hubcaps to complete the visuals.

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