Gandini Tribute: 1973 NSU Trapeze

On March 13th, one of the most influential automotive designers of all time passed away at the age of 85 in Rivoli, Turin. To say Marcello Gandini was a visionary would be a true understatement. Serving as chief designer at Stile Bertone in the 1960s and 1970s, Gandini brought about iconic automobiles that revolutionized the industry, including the Lamborghini Miura, Lancia Stratos, Maserati Khamsin and Lamborghini Countach. Perhaps even more interesting are obscure automobiles that are lesser known, cars like 1973 NSU Trapeze and its mid-mounted Wankel Rotary engine.

In the late 1960s, Audi and the entire Auto Union portfolio had just recently been sold off by Mercedes-Benz. The company landed in the hands of Volkswagen, and by the 1970s Wolfsburg was hard at work integrating the business into their own product offerings, which car brand would survive and what models would be sold under which moniker. The most successful Italian design houses were vying for their business, with Bertone having successfully sold a small car design that would launch as the Audi 50 and Volkswagen Polo.

Bertone Design Studie NSU Trapeze 1973

For 1973, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign firm would pair with Karmann to produce the Audi Asso di Picche concept while Bertone went a different route. The Wankel Rotary tech sold over at NSU on the Ro80 had been an intriguing new technology, but by the early 1970s it was lagging. If the NSU brand was to be saved, it would need an injection of interest in the form of a halo car. Bertone aimed to build just such a car with the Trapeze.

Bertone Design Studie NSU Trapeze 1973

The idea of going mid-engine was captivating. The performance advantages of a mid-engine were obvious enough, but Marcello Gandini who typically had reservations over a mid-engine layout saw promise in the compact packaging of the Wankel rotary in that a 2+2 offering could still be attainable. He did so, quite uniquely, by placing the two rear engines outboard of the two front seats for a staggered seating configuration. The final product turned out to be shorter than a Lamborghini Urraco and yet allow for seating for four full-sized adults.

Bertone Design Studie NSU Trapeze 1973

The look itself harked one of Gandini’s most popular designs, the Lancia Stratos. Like the Startos, the Trapeze had a large wraparound windshield almost inspired by the visor of a racing helmet. It also had functional flourishes like a blue bumper that wrapped around the entire car.

While the NSU Trapeze was well received at the 1973 Paris Motor Show where it debuted, it wasn’t enough to save the NSU brand. NSU was eventually retired.

For more information on this story, also check out the Car Design Archives post HERE.

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