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German Design History
 A series of articles by Ron Ihrig

In 2005, Michelin Challenge Design is again offering a global platform for students and designers to share their visions of design for automotive industries in the 21st Century. This year's Michelin Challenge Design builds on three previous competitions, where participants have explored Italian, French and Chinese automotive design. In this series of six articles, we open doors to different aspects of the birth and evolution of German cars and their design.

Michelin Challenge Design


1912 Opel 13/30 hp which was build for Max Lochner. This four cylinder sedan reached a maximum speed of 95 km/h (59 mph). Probably influenced by prototypes of Ernst Neumann-Neander from 1910.

August Horch, founder of the brands Horch and Audi

Supercharged Mercedes 15/70/100, with the 24/100/140 and Type K (630), the first Mercedes production cars with compressor. Richard Tauber, the famous tenor of the 20s and 30s, liked to be photographed with his 15/70/100

1921 Rumpler in modern wind tunnel test

Part 2: Cars - The Growing Industry

Around 1910, early automobiles were no longer experimental vehicles, and in America, cars were standardized products. Henry Ford's Model T was priced at $850 in 1913. Through his production process, the price was reduced to $440 by 1915. In Germany, however, cars were seen as a luxury for the noble and the newly rich.

The first passenger cars were designed with closed compartments. The body construction was generally a wooden frame with wood or flat sheet metal applied over the frame.

Prototypes of Ernst Neumann-Neander from around 1910 showed a rational product interpretation resulting from the designer's influence. One example was the Opel 13/30, a large closed limousine/sedan designed in 1912. This was an early attempt to design a streamlined car and eventually became famous as the 'Opel-Egg'.

In 1913, Otto Kuhler, a German freelance designer was awarded first prize at the Concours d'Elegance of Baden-Baden for his design of a closed car on a Mercedes chassis. He moved to the United States in 1923 and became famous as a designer of streamlined trains in the '30s.

Until 1919 about 90% of all cars were open-tourers. Beginning around 1920, a shift to closed, all-weather designs took place. This focus on closed coaches eliminated design influences taken from coach building for horse carriages. Cars were on the way to find their very own identity in modern society, no longer an upcoming replacement product for horses.

Significant developments were also taking place in established companies. In 1909, August Horch started a new company introducing the Latin translation of his family name Horch as the brand name Audi. In four years he established a reputation for very reliable cars. The beginning of World War I interrupted the rise of this remarkable brand.

Trucks were produced to bring soldiers and material to the front lines. Automotive companies developed tanks, some of them produced engines for airplanes. After the war, German companies were not allowed to produce tactical weapons. As horribly as the war was, the experience brought another push of innovation to all industries in Germany.

Paul Daimler, Gottlieb Daimler's son, started with experiments to use the company's knowledge of compressors for airplanes for better performance in cars. In 1921, the first Daimler luxury cars with compressor motors were exhibited at the Berlin motor show. In 1922, Paul Daimler left the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft DMG and was replaced by Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche continued the evolution of the great Mercedes compressor cars leading to the Type 630, and later to the famous 500, 540, and 770 series.

Eduard Rumpler was a pioneer of German aviation. As a result of his automotive experience prior to the war, he tried to convince the automotive world of the advantages of aerodynamics for the automobile. A top view of his first production car from 1921 showed the shape of a falling water drop with an astonishing drag coefficient of only 0.27 (the average value of 1984 production cars was still 0.40!). Unfortunately he insisted in development of an own star-cylindered flat motor, which made first production cars not really reliable.

In 1921, Karl Maybach presented the first completely built Maybach car by the former motor supplier at the Berlin motor show.

A forgotten brand from Germany was Szawe with bodies designed by Ernst Neumann-Neander. They were made according to special requests and included advanced technologies. Neumann-Neander adapted his German style to the bodies, which were crowned by radiator shells made of argentan (German silver) or hammered copper. One can be seen at the Teknisk Museum in Denmark. His motorcycle production was later taken over by Opel.

In 1918/19 Stuttgart and Mannheim were home bases in the south for DMG Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. Opel in Ruesselsheim was close to Frankfurt. The majority of brands were based in Saxony. The companies of Horch, Wanderer, Audi and the later East German brand Wartburg made the region famous for automotive production.

Theories for arts of the 19th century had divided fine arts as higher arts from applied arts, known as lower arts. In 1919 a new school was founded in Weimar to educate young people for new challenges in architecture and the arts. Buildings of the future were to combine the arts. Architect Walter Gropius, was the first director of the Bauhaus. It brought science, aesthetics, and the skills for realization together in one place creating a new direction, which influenced the direction for modern living. Avantgarde had a new symbol for its expression. Film director like Fritz Lang was clearly inspired and supported this new style. The influence on automotive design was still to be seen. The process to establish design studios that integrated design with model making as art without the traditional border lines was clearly inspired by the revolutionary ideals of Bauhaus.

The Great Depression of 1929 left only the strongest companies in business. With the decay of faith after the collapse of the overheated economy, another influence started to throw shadows over Germany.

Related stories:
German Design History: Part 1
Ronald Ihrig leads MCD jury in selection of designs
Michelin Challenge Design jury convenes


© 2004 Car Design News Ltd
Last updated: Mon, Oct 25, 2004