This 1969 NSU TT Is A Hillclimbing Hot Rod
Photography by Rosario Liberti
NSU is a company that doesn’t ring as many bells as it once did, likely due to the fact that the name hasn’t been bolted to the back of anything in quite some time. After being acquired decades ago by the Volkswagen behemoth in 1969, the last cars to bear the badge were produced in 1977, and the name disappeared from the general automotive lexicon soon after the rotary-powered Ro 80 model ceased production in that year.
However, because VW utilized the manufacturer to first resurrect the Auto Union name—albeit in the tongue-numbing form of “Audi NSU Auto Union AG”—before its simplification led to the Audi brand we know today, it can be argued that the bloodline of NSU has not run dry. The story goes all the back to the 19th century, and it’s a tale fraught with achievement, disappointment, and an ever-present drive for innovation in the affordable compact car arena that characterized post-war European production cars. I won’t retread the timeline though, as you can read about the brand’s heritage and highlights in greater depth in our recent article on a fastidiously well-kept NSU Prinz 4 roaming around Hungary.
Today’s focus spins that globe slightly to land in Italy, where Enrico Zucchetti can be found ascending the country’s mountain roads and pastoral hillsides in his hot-rodded 1969 NSU TT.
The TT derivation of the NSU Prinz 4 sat just below the range-topping TTS model in the period, but this example now far surpasses its big brother thanks to Enrico’s enduring attraction to the brand, his mechanical aptitude, and of course, that familiar burning yearn for speed. In stock form, the TT would hit 60 from zero in over half a minute—that is to say, it was not quick. Of course, 65-75 horsepower (depending on choice of units) is not at all a dismal figure when it’s being churned by just 1177 naturally-aspirated ccs, either.
In fact, the cars were pretty popular in their day for combating the various Minis and Imps on short circuits and hillclimb sprints around Europe, and there was even a competition trim available for the TTS. Enrico’s car sits atop all of that though, as his TT’s received a steroidal injection of power and poise throughout. Bumping the rear-mounted four-cylinder’s output up over the 100 mark, the sub-1400-pound little rocket box can certainly scoot. Also fitted with a more track-dedicated suspension setup, wider wheels (I’m a sucker for mismatched fronts and rears if the styles blend as well as they do here), appropriate interior accoutrements (the twin-spoke suede Personal steering wheel is especially cool), and some nice soft sticky rubber on the short-wheelbase’s four corners, this car can be summed up as a thorough and capable build.
When so many “track cars” end up looking more like hacked cars, it’s refreshing to see something dedicated to motorsport looking this good. From the canted hatch for engine cooling, the external oil cooler, the R-compound treads, to the lustrous metallic paint and just the right amount of livery, this is a blend we can all get behind.
So how did this TT get so lucky? It goes back to when Enrico was just barely into his teens. At an impressionable 15 years of age, his father sent him off to learn the skills to become a competent mechanic. It turns out that his tutelage was taking place at NSU. I think you can follow the ramifications from here, and of course it didn’t hurt that Enrico’d learned how to drive in his father’s own NSU TTS around this time as well.
Jumping ahead more than 40 years later, he began competing in the Italian Hillclimb Championship and other events of that cloth at the age of 60. Weapon of choice? The nimble Prinz. Originally owned by a friend of his before it suffered an accident during the Lima-Abetone hillclimb which left its mechanicals in sound shape, but the body and chassis in dire need of some attention. Two years later, the car was back in action and boasting a fresh face along with its new upgrades, and ten years down the line there is still no relegation to the long-term garage, as Enrico competes with, maintains, and generally revels in his sprightly, souped-up NSU.
Describing what it’s like to drive, he notes that the car’s symmetrical stature (which earned it the Italian nickname “La Saponetta,” or in unsexy English, “bar of soap”) alludes to how easy it can be to get the front and back to switch places on the road when he’s really pushing its limits—the bunched dimensions make for a very agile handling temperament, but it also means grip can come and go as quickly as the TT changes its vector through the tighter esses. With further tweaks to bump and rebound ratios, spring weights, pre-load, camber, caster, toe, and all the other players in the suspension game, Enrico’s hit a sweet spot in his setup that maximizes mechanical grip. The proof is on the podium though, and his adjustments helped earn him and his TT a second place finish in the Italian Hillclimb Championship last year.
Here’s to you Enrico Zucchetti, for keeping both the NSU name alive and well, and for being a bonafide and lifelong car enthusiast of the finest cut.