NSU Scooters – the Lambretta evolution

Advert from 1956

Back in 1951, NSU of Germany signed a deal with Innocenti of Italy to build Lambretta scooters at their factory in Neckarsulm under licence. The deal was to last for five years, but it seems that the Germans weren’t happy simply producing someone else’s product and instead preferred to develop their own.
But first, a common misconception is that NSU manufactured the Lambretta LD in Germany. They didn’t. It was the 125cc LC they were licenced to produce, and it didn’t take long for them to improve upon the Innocenti original, both with adornments, then later with upgrades such as 12v electrics and engine performance.

1956 advert for the NSU Prima D.
1956 advert for the NSU Prima D.

Another misconception is that NSU produced a range of scooters named the Lambretta Prima. They didn’t do that either. After the licence expired, NSU decided to go it alone with their improved scooters and launched the first of their Prima range, which of course was heavily inspired by the Lambrettas they’d been building until recently. What they thought a Lambretta should be.

primausa primacut

While the styling remained similar at first glance, NSU began to make many improvements to the scooter regarding both chassis and engine. The first Prima D of 1956 was probably a stop-gap between the former Lambretta and their new forthcoming range. It featured a 6.2hp 150cc engine, electric starter, panel embellishers and pressed steel forks.


The Prima Five Star, or V, arrived in 1957 and, while obviously derived from the Lambretta, was a new scooter. Underneath the restyled body was a new 175cc engine, still a single cylinder but now it was horizontal and transverse to the frame with the flywheel on the front. It also featured a 4-speed gearbox, 3.50×10″ wheels, boasted 9.5hp, 12v electrics and the engine was suspended in the frame with a shock absorber mounted at the rear – like the Lambretta TV Series 1 would be when launched later in 1957.

The new NSU engine.
The new NSU engine.

Other Prima models followed, the III, K, and KL,  aimed at a more budget market with a slightly less powerful 146cc engine, kickstart (K) and fewer cosmetic embellishments.

By the late 1950s the NSU range of two-wheelers included scooters, mopeds and motorcycles but as the 1960s dawned the company made a decision to cease scooter production. They’d recently re-entered the car market, and soon both motorcycle and moped production came to a halt too. Then, in 1969, NSU were taken over by Volkswagen who merged them with Auto Union, creating Audi NSU Auto Union.
The NSU name disappeared from motor vehicles in 1977 and now the factory in Neckarsulm manufactured Audi cars.
There is however a museum in Neckarsulm, which we visited while at Euro Lambretta 2007.  The event organisers took the ride out to the Deutsches Zweirad- und NSU-Museum, which houses many of NSU’s products and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

The NSU range advertised in 1960.
The NSU range advertised in 1960.


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