From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro

An NSU with Royal aspirations, and its first and only station wagon that came as far as an audition with NSU management in Neckarsulm.

Image via Pinterest/ Vaderetro.com.ar

The Ramses brand, named after the ancient Egyptian dynasty of kings was founded in 1958 by the Egypt Light Transportation Manufacturing Company (ELTRAMCO), in collaboration with the Egyptian government, NSU and Carrozzeria Bertone. Later, Vignale would also do some work for the Egyptian firm. Because Egypt did not have any experience in building cars, the German firm’s role was to provide the technical and engineering assistance as well as parts and drivetrains. Naturally, Bertone would tend itself to the styling.

The Ramses factory was located near Cairo, within sight of the great pyramids. It had only a very rudimentary production line without any state of the art presses; the ones they did have could only handle uncomplicated shapes, much of the work being done by manual labour.

Image: Postwarclassic.com

Just before the end of the decade the first Ramses model, named Utilica, was introduced. A small and crude Jeep-like affair, it showed that even Bertone’s talents could not produce miracles when there was so little to work with. Ramses countered that the square looks offered more space for both passengers and luggage and that this was of more importance to prospective buyers than aerodynamics or beauty.

In any case, it was Egypt’s first indigenous car and thus cause for celebration, regardless of looks or engineering merit. The Prinz 30-based Utilica was available in three versions: a sedan, a pick-up and a cabriolet. In 1963 production was halted, with a total of 1130 Utilicas produced.

A rare and intriguing variant is the Ramses Gamila (the red car in the lead photograph), styled by Alfredo Vignale. At first sight it looks identical to the Bertone Cabriolet version but there are a few subtle differences. Very few were made.

Rameses II. Image: Focus.de

The Ramses II that followed had bodywork that was nearly identical to the German Prinz 4, apart from a different front end treatment. No information is available if these were CKD kits or if Ramses had by this time been provided with the necessary pressing equipment. Considering the low production figures, your author gravitates towards the former. Mechanically it was also identical to its NSU cousin, using the aircooled twin cylinder 600cc engine. Approximately 1700 Ramses II’s were produced during its three-year run.

Rameses III. Image: Schrauberforum.de

In the spring of 1966 the Ramses III was presented. Still based on the Prinz 4 it had its own in-house designed body, with only the greenhouse of the Prinz surviving. The crude result, looking somewhat like the contemporary Opel Kadett A or Vauxhall HA Viva, betrayed the inexperience of Ramses’s stylists and was not very well received by the public. As before, under the skin everything was as per its German NSU base. It proved to be a sales dud, was discontinued in 1969 and at least partly responsible for Ramses’ collapse.

Rameses IV. Image: Autopasion18.com

A Ramses IV prototype aiming for a more upmarket clientele broke cover in 1969; it was larger than the earlier models, appeared to be front-engined and had four doors. The styling seemed to be a mixture of the Opel Rekord A and B; very little is known about it, not even if it used any NSU mechanical elements.

Owing to the financial difficulties Ramses was confronted with, the Ramses IV was never developed further. Furthermore, from 1969 the Egyptian government’s state subsidies were no more, with Ramses proving no exception. It therefore proved unfeasible for Ramses to carry on, resulting in a takeover by the Nasr Automobile Manufacturing Company.

Image: Eltramco Ad

The Ramses facilities were assimilated by Nasr and are currently still active under the name Watania Automobile Manufacturing Company (WAMCO). Notwithstanding its association with Egypt’s famous dynasty of pharaohs, the name Ramses has thus far not been used again on any vehicle.

Image via pinterest

In may of 1969 two men, Jorge Soler and Nelson Guelfi, boarded a flight from Montevideo to Frankfurt. They were representatives of the Uruguayan company Quintanar, which imported NSU parts for South America and also produced NSU vehicles under license in collaboration with Nordex SA. The latter manufactured the NSU Prinz 4 (renamed P4 for Uruguay) as well as the Sportprinz coupé.

Some time before both men took off for Germany, a prototype of the car they were to present to NSU management was shipped to Germany in parts, to be reassembled at NSU. The vehicle in question was a two-door station wagon based on NSU mechanicals. The car would, if accepted for production, be NSU’s first station wagon.

It did not exactly look like a product of the Neckarsulm firm however, with its heavy-handed styling by Carlos Sotomayor with crude shapes and virtually exclusively straight lines and edges. Only the head and tail-lights pointed to its origin. As with the Volkswagen 1600 Variant, the engine was in the rear, but unfortunately the NSU unit was not a flat four, which limited the luggage capacity considerably.

Perhaps surprisingly the initial verdict of NSU management was not damning, but rather positive. NSU subsequently employed a team of external specialists for a more thorough second opinion however, and they did find plenty of things to worry about: unsatisfactory ride and NVH, lack of comfort by European standards and weak welds leading to unacceptable flexing and possible eventual structural failure.

Of course, most of these gremlins and design faults could have been ironed out before actual production but NSU politely declined, but they did grant permission to produce the car under their name at Nordex in Uruguay. Production duly commenced in P6 (2 cylinder) and later P10 (4 cylinder and longer wheelbase) variants but in 1971 NSU, having been taken over by Volkswagen two years earlier, retreated from the South American market altogether sounding the death knell for both models.

Image: Ripituc.blogspot.com

In all only about 400 P6’s and 100 P10’s were produced. Nordex SA is still active and produces Mahindra Pickups, Renault Trucks and a selection of Peugeot and Geely passenger cars. The sole prototype brought to Germany still exists and can be seen in the Audi Tradition Museum in Neckarsulm.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

8 thoughts on “From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro”

  1. According to the NSU Club’s website the Ramses’ bodywork was made in Egypt and NSU delivered just the drivetrains. Panels were formed by hand and hammer, painting was done by brush in the open.
    ELTRAMCO’s biggest problem seems to have been that the Socialist government under Gamal Abdel Nasser didn’t like that private initiative and threw a club between their legs every now and then by randomly blocking engine imports in Alexandria harbour or denying them the foreign currencies necessary to pay for NSU’s goods which sometimes held up production for several weeks.

  2. Another interesting, obscure and formerly unknown history, thank you Bruno. It is surprising that NSU allowed its marque name to be used on a car about which the company had such reservations. Perhaps Uruguay was considered to be so remote that any adverse reputational impact wouldn’t have a wider impact? I imagine NSU received payment for the use of their brand.

  3. “Limited the luggage capacity considerably” is putting it mildly in the case of the Nordex NSU P10:

    It might have made a reasonable paupers’ hearse, but it was a hopeless basis for an estate car.

    The engine, despite being slanted, doesn’t look as if it was ever intended for this type of adaptation.

    Even the Hillman Imp did better, despite the engine being longitudinal, and behind the rear axle line, rather than over it:

    1. Which is, I guess, why the engine cover was permanently propped slightly open:

      A simpler solution than putting a ‘power bulge’ in It!

    2. The partly opened bonnet was a (illegal) solution for the very high oil temperatures of the TT and TTS engines. The TTS didn’t have a standard oil cooler under the front bumper without reason. These engines ran up to 8,000 rpm without much trouble and 70 PS from just 1,000 ccm was a lot for the time.

  4. In the cause of fact-checking on that engine, I consulted Mick Walker’s NSU – The Complete Story. The RO80 is covered in 12 pages, the Münch Mammoth* gets 13, even though it was not an NSU product, and fewer than 500 were ever produced.

    Rather worse is the whitewashing of Felix Wankel’s activities from the 1920s until 1945.

    No mention at all of Ramses or Nordex. They both turned out to be dead ends, but mentioning them would have enriched the historical narrative and demonstrated NSU’s international reputation beyond being a successful producer of racing motorcycles.

    *the ‘Mammoth’ or ‘Mammut’ was never officially used.

    1. Severely off topic…
      The Münch bike was not allowed the name Mammut because that was somebody else’s registered trademark.
      Friedel Münch had a small foundry and made as many parts of the Münch inhouse from electron. Front brake, gearbox casing, swing arm, ‘propellor’ type rear wheel, headlight and seat-cum-rear-mudguard all were castings made by Münch. The bike weighed more than 300 kgs despite of all this light alloy parts. The picture above shows what a behemoth it was.

      Somebody I know had a Münch and used it as a daily driver in the Seventies, an experience not recommended to the faint hearted. Once under really hard braking the front wheel collapsed because the spokes ripped off the electron brake drum, a spare set of clutch discs was always carried because the dry clutch went up in smoke more thanonce form the torque of the engine. The bike was sold to a collector museum when an X-ray showed the rear wheel to havemore than 1,200 micro cracks…

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