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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


BMW dealership in Berlin, 1929

Production of BMW 3/15 PS in Berlin Johannistal, 1929

BMW 328 MM roadster, Mille Miglia winning BMW 328 Touring Coupeight, BMW 328 'Kamm' Coupe (Rennlimousine)

Horch 853 Sport-Cabriolet (1935-40) at a highway gas station end of the 30s in Germany. Fuel for these cars was a Benzine-Benzol mix.

Opel 4/12 HP Convertible, 1924-1926. With this car Opel introduced assembly line production in Germany 1924

Opel Olympia Cabriolet 1.3 Liter, 1935-1937

Opel Olympia Cabriolet 1.3 Liter, 1935-1937.
The first chassisless car is introduced by Opel in 1935

Mercedes-Benz Type 500 K and 540 K as Convertible A, 1934-35

Mercedes 540K Special Roadster, 1937. Additional fuel tanks mounted on the running boards for long distance travel.

Mercedes-Benz Typ 500 K 'Autobahn-Kurier', 1934

Manfred von Brauchitsch with unpainted Mercedes W25 at 1934 International Eifel Race. The start of the famed 'Silver Arrows'.

Manfred von Brauchitsch with special-bodied Mercedes W25 Stromlinie 'Avus' 1937 at north curve of Avus race track in Berlin.

Part 3: Production, Physics, Politics - Only the Strong Survive

Black Friday on Wall Street on October 25, 1929, marked a change in Europe. In 1926 Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft DMG and Benz & Cie merged. 1928 saw BMW acquire FFE - Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach with Austin Seven licensed Dixi production and became a car manufacturer. General Motors bought Adam Opel AG in 1929, the biggest manufacturer in Germany. Ford set up a new production plant in Cologne. Only the strong survived. From over 100 car manufacturers in 1922, 16 remained in 1933.

Design, in most cases, was a task of coachbuilders or was executed by engineers. Design departments had not yet been established. Johannes Beeskow started a brilliant career in 1928 with Neuss, finally ending it in 1976 with Karmann.

Horch made its first body design contracts in 1928 with Prof. O.W. Herrmann Hadank and Prof. Boehm. The Horch design team was established in 1928 with Walter Haecker, Albert Locke and Hermann Ahrens and modeler Otto Wolff. Later Günther Mickwausch worked on many Horch models, including the two advanced streamlined Horch 930S cars from 1939, using Jaray patents. Until 1938, Horch reached a market share of 54.8 percent in the luxury segment over 4 Liters.

The Maybach 12 Cylinder model was launched in 1929 driven by the motor from the Graf Zeppelin airship which made a remarkable journey around the globe. In 1930 the car was renamed the Maybach DS 7 Zeppelin. In 1935, Maybach displayed a streamline SW 35 bodied by Spohn at the Berlin motor show.

In 1926 Budd opened a plant with Berlin engineering company Arthur Mueller in the former halls of the Rumpler's factory Berlin-Johannisthal next to Chrysler's German assembly plant. Ambi-Budd delivered the pressed sheet metal for complete bodies to nearly all major manufacturers in Germany. In 1929 BMW started production of the BMW 3/15hp DA2, assembled in a rented Ambi-Budd hall.

Opel had started assembly line production in Germany in 1924 with model 4/12 hp. The car was a copy of the 1922 Citroen 5CV Type C 'Trefle' and became the first economic car for the German middle classes priced at 4,000.- Reichsmark. Due to the only available green color it became famous as the 'Tree-Frog'. The 1935 model Opel Olympia introduced the first chassis-less, full steel-bodied car in mass production.

In 1928 DKW took over at Audi. Audi's development department engineered the DKW F1 (Front 1). With over 100,000 cars produced within four years, it became the first series production car with front wheel drive. The roadster version was available for only 1,750 Reichsmark, Germany's first mass produced economy car. Also, Stoewer released their front wheel drive model 'V5' in 1931. (Citroen launched the Traction Avant in 1934).

Walter Gropius had left Bauhaus after nine years in 1928 to concentrate on architectural projects. He also designed cars for the Frankfurt based Adler-Werke. The 1931 Adler 'Standard 8' and 'Standard 6' were presented in Paris 1930. His cars show clear vertical and horizontally oriented architectural lines, framing pure, plain surfaces without decoration. The cars were bodied at Neuss in Berlin.

Also, two designs for a smaller 'Favorit' were executed and produced by coach builder Karmann, one with independent suspension. Adler's front wheel-driven Adler Trumpf models with 1.5-liter motor became a bestseller and the 1-liter Trumpf Junior sold over 100,000 units. In 1935 Adler realized several streamline cars, like the Adler Diplomat Autobahn Coupe, presented for inauguration of the Frankfurt-Darmstadt highway. At Le Mans the streamlined 1.7-liter Adler Trumpf Rennsport Coupes with only 55hp won the 2-liter category in 1937 due to their great engineering and aerodynamic efficiencies.

Bodies were executed in cooperation with Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, the outstanding aerodynamicist. The drop base frame was also a great platform for Roehr's successor Karl Jentschke to realize the 2.5-liter streamline production car Type 10 'Autobahn'. In February 1937 the Adler Autobahn was presented and had a similarity to Chrysler's Airflow from 1934 which also followed Paul Jaray's knowledge base for aerodynamics. More beautiful was the very rare Sportlimousine (coupe) produced from 1938-39.

In 1938 BMW established the department for artistic design 'Kuenstlerische Gestaltung'. Wilhelm Meyerhuber and his team were in charge to develop forms for coming models. In late summer BMW tested the prototype of the 'Kamm'-Coupe based on chassis of a BMW 328 with a drag coefficient of only 0.25 compared to the great 1940 Mille Miglia winning BMW 328 Touring Coupe with drag coefficient 0.35.

Daimler-Benz continued the great heritage from the two pioneer companies with astonishing cars labeled as Mercedes-Benz. From 1930-43 the most luxurious Mercedes Type 770 was available with Compressor for 200 hp. Rudolf Caracciola won 1931 Italian Mille Milgia with the legendary 7.1-liter, 300 hp SSKL (SuperSportShortLight) with 'only' 1,500 kg.

When Mercedes presented the new W25 race car on June 2, 1934 the official scale showed 751 kg for the car. During the night white paint was removed from the aluminum body and Mercedes won the race at Nuerburgring with the first 'Silver Arrow'. The same year the 160-hp Mercedes 500 K was presented, one of the body types is the high speed 'Autobahn-Courier Car' with its great aerodynamic design. Also in 1934, Mercedes offered with Type 130 a small rear-engined, four-cylinder car. From 1936 a bigger and improved version was sold as the Type 170 H. The earlier Type 130 was too expensive and like the Chrysler Airflow or Adler Autobahn, the cars were too advanced for their time.

New car concepts started to circulate from young engineers and science departments of universities. The big streamlined six-seater CzechTatra 77 was presented in March 1934. This was the first aerodynamically designed production car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled motor. Consequently, streamliners were not necessarily beautiful, and consumers never would have accepted the extreme forms. Also, most contemporary road conditions did not allow constant high speed where aerodynamics would become effective.

Ferdinand Porsche gained experience as chief engineer at Austro-Daimler, Mercedes, and Steyer. He started his own engineering company with ten people in Stuttgart and in 1930-31 developed a water-cooled, five-cylinder, rear-engined car for Zuendapp. This Type 12 had 26 hp and weighed 900 kg. Zuendapp decided not to build the cars.

As Porsche's idea of an affordable and effective car for mass mobility was rejected by the automotive companies, unexpected feedback came from the new German government. Hitler and his Nazi party were elected in 1932 by 37.4% of the Germans. He promised a better world and protection against communist terror. Hitler was fascinated by the idea that every working German should have the ability to buy an inexpensive car.

None of the existing car manufacturers wanted to produce a car without profit. Porsche's new company was the best candidate for this project and in January 1934 delivered the 'Expose concerning construction for a German common car' to Berlin. Due to the fixed price limit of 990 Reichsmark, Porsche proposed existing engineering patterns with his earlier inventions.

In 1936 the first three prototypes were tested. In the same year a sports car based on this Type 60 would animate interest for the coming KdF cars during a long distance drive from Berlin to Rome. The shape of these three aerodynamically optimized Type 60 K 10s became the guideline for the post war Porsche 356. With the beginning of World War II in September 1939 only a few hundred KdF Beetles were produced before 1945 for high-ranking party members. Military derivatives and amphibious cars took production priority.

Starting on September 6, 1939, use of private cars was forbidden in Germany or allowed only with special permission. In 1942 construction of a highway system, the famous 'Autobahn', was stopped after only 3860 km. Ford stopped production of civilian cars and concentrated on truck production until the end of the war. Volkswagen factory production of the amphibious Schwimmwagen car and Kübelwagen began. Opel began production of a semi-tracked 'mule' which was also produced at Mercedes later.

Opel and Ford remained as American owned companies, producing German products by appointments with the German government. The Ambi-Budd company in Berlin pressed the tubs for the amphibious cars. What started with political promises ended with a disaster for the whole world. Once again the German economy was nearly wiped out at the end of the second World War. And again only the strong could survive.

Related stories:
German Design History: Part 2
German Design History: Part 1


© 2004 Car Design News Ltd
Last updated: Fri, Dec 3, 2004