The trapeze shape, where at least one pair of sides are parallel, gave name to Bertone’s vision of how the future GT would look. Surprisingly though, this had nothing to do with the shape of the car, but rather with how the seats were placed within the cabin.
Bertone introduced the NSU Trapeze prototype at the Paris Motor Show in October 1973. This bold new GT was equipped with a mid-mounted Wankel engine from the NSU RO80. Both the choice of engine and its position in the chassis was decided upon quite early on in the development process, and Bertone was then left with the challenge of making it compatible with both design and not least driving characteristics and comfort. The engine was installed longitudinally in order to optimise weight distribution. Because of this, the engine protruded into the cockpit area, and to overcome this issue, the seats were placed in a trapeze formation. There were in fact several advantages to this layout. The rear seats being offset from the front seats resulted in better outward visibility from the driver’s seat. Furthermore, as the two front seats were positioned very close to each other, the rear seat passengers had amble legroom as they could stretch legs out in the space left between the front seats and the doors.
The work involved with achieving a comfortable interior, later evolved into a project revolving around passive passenger safety. The unusually wide space left between the front seats and the doors where viewed to represent an element of safety in the case of a side collision. This was Bertone’s contribution to the period’s safety debate, where manufacturers restricted by the stringent American DOT-regulations, often chose to sacrifice flexibility and aesthetic qualities in order to achieve the necessary safety requirements. This was not the case for the Trapeze with its striking design which in many ways resembles the iconic Lancia Stratos – which was of course equally designed by Bertone and launched two years earlier – with compact wedge proportions and the enormous wrap-around windscreen leading into the small and relatively narrow side windows with a distinct upward kink towards the rear.
However, like so many other brilliant prototypes, the NSU Trapeze never made it into production. Such a shame too, as both design and basic concept certainly had its virtues. Luckily, we can still experience trapeze and perfect weight-distribution in other ways…