History of VW
100 Years of Motoring and the Volkswagen
Why Is The Wolf Standing On The Castle?
Der Schwimmwagen Story
Wolfsburg 1945-1946 1
Wolfsburg 1945-1946 2
The Evolution of the VW Symbol
Ferdinand Porsche – Versatile Genius
The Denzel Sports Car
Flashback – Gene Berg
East Germany’s Finest – They’re Volkswagens
NSU – Who?
The Horch and Wanderer Story
The Only REAL Auto Unions
VW’s Early Years
Volkswagen – The Fab Four
The Link With Tatra
Cootamundra VW History
The Powertune Story
Obituary – Ivan Hirst
Charles Lindbergh’s VW
By Boris Orazem
On the 29th January 1886 a German engineer and inventor, Karl Benz, applied for a patent for a gasoline powered "motor car", little more than a three wheeled buggy. A lot has happened in the following ten decades of motoring, from a vehicle that was unreliable, hard to drive and manoeuvre, and next to impossible to start, especially in bad weather. In the early days a lot of manufacturers sprang up all over Europe and significantly improved the breed to a point where one could virtually crank the motor and reliably go for a country drive. One such example was De Dion Bouton who also sold engines to other auto makers included Renault. But this pleasure was reserved for the wealthy few that could afford the purchase price and possibly the services of a private chauffeur.
The next decade saw even more refinements and more manufacturers in Europe, England and USA. But it was Henry Ford that revolutionised the industry and brought the car to the masses with the Ford Model T.
During the great depression not as many cars were sold, and the more luxurious, small volume marques were either integrated or went under.
After the depression and before the Second World War, realisation of making cars smaller, more economical and generally more refined has come about. By this time there was also a prototype on the drawing boards, the future of which its designer, Dr. Porsche, did not envisage. That, of course, was the legendary VW Type 1 as we know it now.
World War II intervened and most of the world production centred on the vehicles for military purposes. In Germany the promised 'Peoples Car' never eventuated, but was instead modified to suit the regime of the time into Kübelwagens, Schwimmwagens, Kommandeurwagens and other variations. After the war the devastated VW factory was rebuilt and from there on grew to be one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. In 1973 the Type 1 outsold the T-Model Ford as the largest selling one model car at over 16 million units.
At the 100th anniversary of the motor car, and the "WHEELS 1985 Car of the Year Award" presentations held on 29th January (won by the Mitsubishi Magna), the Editor of Wheels Peter Robinson requested that my 1953 Oval Beetle represent the 1946/1956 decade of motoring. I gladly accepted and was honoured to be asked. Other cars of the parade (and each representing ten years) were: 1889 Benz, a priceless masterpiece; 1903 De Dion Bouton; 1914 Rolls Royce; 1926 Model T Ford and strangely yellow in colour; a very advanced 1937 Citroen Traction Avant; 1936 to '46 WW2 US army Jeep; then of course the Volkswagen and appropriately so, as these were the years in which the Beetle left the biggest impression on the buying public through its many trials successes. Next was the Morris Mini, another VW (this time a Golf) and finally a Honda Accord.
The parade was held in front of some 300 journalists, car factory representatives from here and overseas, and several other car buffs. I hope they all enjoyed looking at the history in front of them as I know I did. There was at least one Japanese gentleman taking photographs of the Beetle from all angles, maybe they are thinking of producing replicas? NOT A BAD IDEA AT ALL.
By Bill Rinker
Before 1938 there was no Volkswagen factory, and no Volkswagens. In the place where they both originated, there was only a castle and lots of open space in an area called the Lunenburg Heath in northern Germany.
Now in the olden days, European open spaces were considered perfect for marching armies, so in the year 1431 the Schulenberg and Bartensleben families built a castle to keep the louts off the lawn. An emperor named Lothair had given them the land in the year 1135. No one seems to know how he acquired it, but no one challenged his right to give it away.
There must have been no shortage of people who thought the real estate showed rear potential for development. Once circa-1584 account states, “…in particular, the von Schulenbergs and the von Bartenslebens were the true captains of men…the noble lord Otho took the field against the Junkers…nor was any of them strong enough to confront the proud young lion. But he routed them again and again…”
So, why wasn’t the place called Lowenburg (Lion’s town)? No one knows, but perhaps it was a good thing since it avoids confusion with a famous beer that originated in Bavaria.
Anyway, the Schulenbergs and the Bartenslebens continued to fend off assorted hordes until 1938, when they failed to fend off appropriation by the Nazis of the land on which the mile-long VW headquarters and plant would be built.
After World War II, as a town grew around the factory, it became known by the name of the old castle which had survived centuries of battle – Schloss Wolfsburg.
That was in 1945, and the city officials decided their town should have a crest just like every other German city, most of them hundreds of years older than this pup of a town.
So, the town artist got to work. He put the wolf on top of the castle. He added some wavy lines to symbolise the Aller River, which flows nearby.
The castle, which still exists on a grassy hill behind the VW factory, has been restored as an arts centre and tourist attraction, and will probably last another five hundred years. The crest, once used on Beetle steering wheels and bonnets, will continue to be almost as representative of VW as the encircled VW trademark. Our Club VW logo is an Australianised version of the Wolfsburg crest, with a wolf on the Harbour Bridge.
Did you know, incidentally, that the encircled VW design originated as a doodle on a beer coaster? It did, but that’s another story.
Both the crest and the VW logo are sensible, solid designs. But that makes sense when you think of the cars they represent.
By Greg Figgis
The history of the Schwimmwagen goes back to 1932, when Hans Trippel, a German industrialist, unveiled a prototype amphibious car with four-wheel-drive and a four-cylinder Adler engine. Of course Trippel’s amphibians were sporting vehicles, just as the gliders being used by the pre-war gliding clubs were playthings. But as war clouds gathered, the playthings were rapidly converted to military use.
After the fall of France, Trippel took over the famous Bugatti plant and used Bugatti’s tools to produce Opel-powered Trippels, but it was obvious to the German High Command that a less expensive model was needed.
The next step was to order Dr. Porsche to design an amphibious version around the same mechanicals as the Kübelwagen. In fact, the first batch of Schwimmwagens were called Porsche 128 models. The Type 128 of 1940 was designated the Model A and shared the Kübelwagen’s 2400mm wheelbase.
However, the Waffenamt (German War Dept. Weapons Supply section) now demanded that military vehicles should possess an engine developing a minimum of 25 PS (hp).
Consequently, the engine’s cubic capacity was increased from 985 to 1131cm3 and horsepower from 22 to 25. This was achieved with a minimum of modification by increasing the bore size from 70 to 75mm.
The Schwimmwagen was fitted with a five-speed gearbox, four-wheel-drive being operated when fifth gear was engaged. The suspension was torsion bars front and rear, located outside the hull and sealed with rubber boots, and these could be lubricated with the ‘Bijur’ one-shot lubrication system, also used by Rolls Royce and several American car manufacturers. The first models were a sealed, door-less hull and were capable of carrying four soldiers. After the Type 128 came the Type 138, Model B, and at the end of 1942 the Type 166, Model C. These later models had doors fitted to them. They had a smaller, 2000mm wheelbase and were also lighter at 910kg, compared with the Type 128’s 950kg.
Like the Kübelwagen, the Schwimmwagen used hub reduction gears to provide increased ground clearance. The propulsion unit in the water was a primitive application of the inboard/outboard system. In this case, the three-bladed prop was on the end of a jointed arm that was stored vertically in the ‘up’ position when the car was on land.
When you hit the water, you manually swung the prop arm down into place by way of an over-centre device and engaged the propeller, which was connected via a dog clutch directly to the engine crankshaft. Unfortunately, unlike a real boat, there was no reverse gear and no rudder; the 16 x 6 in. front tyres served that purpose. Canoe paddles and long poles were also provided in case the motor cut out in mid-stream. A top speed of 80km/h was possible on land, and 10km/h in water. Fuel was carried in two front-mounted petrol tanks, containing 24 and 26 litres of fuel.
Two other Porsche products of interest that utilised the 25-PS Volkswagen engine were the Type 164 project, a six-wheeler powered by two Beetle engines, though it was never developed beyond the prototype stage. The other project was the massive Porsche Type 205 Maus (mouse), a 185-tonne mobile fortress tank which used a Beetle engine to activate its auxiliaries. Only two of these were ever completed. One was destroyed by the Germans before the war ended, while the other was captured by the Russians and today is in storage at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Moscow.
Today Schwimmwagens are very rare. Only 14,283 had been made at Wolfsburg, and by Porsche at Stuttgart, when production ceased. Besides large losses of the vehicles in combat (they were mostly used by the elite SS on the Russian front), under the terms of the peace treaty the Schwimmwagens were classified as Naval vessels, and had to be cut up for scrap. Today there are about 130 of them in museums and in the hands of collectors around the world.
By Greg Figgis
May 1945 and Nazi Germany has surrendered. The first Allied units in the Wolfsburg area were American, but the town lay within the British Zone of Occupation. Therefore a British Army detachment consisting of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and Rear Area Operations Centre (RAOC) took over the VW works shortly afterwards.
The first post-war activity at the factory was the repair of captured enemy vehicles for German essential services, under the direction of the REME.
Under the REME’s control, what remained of the VW works also arranged the assembly of Jeep-type Kübelwagen VWs from existing parts, but the limiting factor was the availability of body shells that had previously come from the Ambi-Budd body plant in Berlin, now in the Russian sector.
One of the few remaining Beetles that had been built at the beginning of the war was sprayed khaki green and driven to British Army headquarters as a demonstration model. The result was an order for a batch of Beetles.
However there were quite a few problems before production could commence. There was extensive damage caused by Allied bombing. In the severe winter of 1945-46 the roofs of many of the giant buildings were open to the sky.
Giant girders lay twisted on the ground and valuable machinery lay about damaged. Official war records show that the RAF in 8 major raids had dropped a total of 206 high explosive bombs on the factory. The first raid was in 1940, but the biggest raid was on 20 June 1944 when 90 RAF bombers and 30 fighters took part.
Structural damage to the Wolfsburg factory due to air raids amounted to a total of 105,000m2. As a result of the raids, 60% of the production area was destroyed.
Also there was insufficient electrical power due to a lack of coal for the factory’s huge power station; a major shortage of serviceable presses, dies and machine tools, and a shortage of vital components – sheet metal, tyres and ball races. There was a distressing lack of food for the initial 450 workers, and in the background was the uneasy presence of a Russian unit comprising 2 officers and 30 men who were encamped in the village, eager for war reparations and with high hopes of salvaging undamaged machinery for ultimate use in Russia.
Perhaps the most serious problem was whether the Allied Control Commission could justify the existence of the Volkswagenwerk.
The British officer in charge of the factory was summoned to urgent talks with his regional chief in February 1946. He was told that with other Allied countries, especially Russia, clamouring for serviceable machinery for reparations, there would have to be practical proof that the Volkswagenwerk was still an essential and productive factory, otherwise it would have to be dismantled. The required proof for the factory’s continued existence would be the turnout of 1,000 new cars a month by the end of March.
The first step towards production was calling the German heads of the various Volkswagenwerk departments – about 35 supervisors in all – to a meeting. About 10 of the Germans had worked in American car factories before the war. The facts were told to them and they agreed to give it a go, so long as food and blankets were made available.
To get the factory back into production, working parties were organised to cut down the tangled girders, repair the wide-open roofs and remove the acres of rubble. To replenish Wolfsburg’s empty coal bins, the official in charge of a railway detachment at a nearby mainland junction was ‘bribed’ with a new Volkswagen Beetle, with the result that a trainload of coal on its way to Berlin was ‘hijacked’ to Wolfsburg!
The power station slowly returned to action, pumping steam, heat and electrical power into the gradually revitalised factory.
Red tape was cut to shreds. The reduction gears of two British automatic machines used for machining the crankcase were found to be broken or lost. A letter was sent to the chief of the British engineering firm who had made the machines, begging him to send the replacement gears with the upmost speed. The managing director of the firm actually flew to Germany with the gears!
Most of the precision machinery had escaped damage because it had been stored in separate compartments in the basement. Some had also been stored in a disused mine in the Harz mountains, where they had been placed for safekeeping towards the end of the war. Other precision machinery was lost when it was quickly claimed by Peugeot of France as their property.
The engine assembly shop was also located in the basement and was partly flooded, so duckboards were laid down for the workers.
Tyres and ball races were begged and borrowed from factories all over Germany. Tyres were so scarce that at one time during that all-important month of March 1946, there were hundreds of half-completed VWs on the factory floor on wheels minus tyres!
A temporary body assembly line was installed in the press shop, and jigs and fixtures were made to replace those damaged beyond repair.
Another difficulty was uneven ductility of sheet metal, due to the lack of instrumentation for the annealing furnaces at the rolling mills. Local annealing with an oxy-acetylene flame between drawing operations was the answer.
Improvisation was the order of the day. No fewer than 600 bodies were made with the roof in three thicknesses of steel. This was made possible by digging out from the wreckage of the factory and getting into working order again a complicated machine which butt-welded three sheets of steel together.
It didn’t do the dies any good but they only had one master jig for body manufacture.
All the engine machining was done in the factory except for the pistons and rings and cylinder barrels. The gearbox was also machined on the spot, as was the ring gear pinion and star pinions, and also the front axle.
The general standard of cars produced at this time was pretty low. The paint finish was rough and the doors a bad fit, but mechanically they were quite good. Three engineers from Ford of Great Britain visited the factory to test the VW, and tried to run one into the ground but failed. All they could manage was to make the doors fly open on a rough road.
It is interesting to note at this time that the officials in charge had a couple of Schwimmwagens made up at the factory from left-over parts, to use for duck-shooting. I wonder whatever happened to them?
Another critical problem was the carburettor, which had been made in Berlin under Solex licence. There was no manufacturer anywhere else in Germany, so the small parts were taken to Voigtländer, the camera makers, while the body and float were made at Wolfsburg.
Trouble arose when an Allied officer was killed driving a Beetle which crashed for no apparent reason. This was a crisis, especially when several other officers were involved in similar mysterious crashes. Volkswagen’s revolutionary steering and front suspension were suspected of being unsafe.
The Allied Control Commission began to take an official interest in the matter, and the outlook for the Volkswagenwerk began to look grim just as production was getting into full swing. A ‘stop production’ order from HQ was given, pending the arrival of an investigation team from England. Tests on the steering arm proved one thing – they were tough. The destruction tests that were applied failed to break up any of the steering arms selected. Otto Hohne, then the production chief, went one step further and disconnected one steering arm from a test Beetle without telling the investigation team. After taking them for a test run, he showed them what had been done, much to their amazement!
The VW, because of its trailing arm type of front suspension where the wheels are pulled, rather pushed forward as with more orthodox cars, could actually be driven with one steering arm disconnected! The reputation of the Volkswagen had been cleared, the factory was given official permission to continue production, and the accidents were put down to driver error.
Did the Volkswagen achieve the 1,000 cars a month deadline? By the end of March 1946, 1,003 Volkswagens had rolled off the production line!
Sizeable orders were received from the US Army and the French Army, and cars were also supplied to German essential services. In all, some 20,000 cars were delivered under these headings. Output from other German car factories in this period – BMW, Opel, Ford and Daimler-Benz – was virtually zero.
By Greg Figgis
The Americans were the first into Wolfsburg, followed by the British who set up a REME workshop in the ruins of the Volkswagenwerk and who then, as mentioned in the previous Wolfsburg story, got production going again.
However, much to the concern of the Germans and the British, a Russian Army detachment arrived and set up camp in the middle of the village. The Russians left no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was a Red Army outpost. The Russian camp could be spotted a long way off by its dominant feature – they had erected a large hardboard framework about 10 metres high, covered with giant pictures of Stalin! This propaganda spectacle was floodlit at night, but when the coal supply was low at the power station the electricity was cut off, which didn’t please the Russian major at all!
The Russians gave no trouble at all. Much drinking was done when two Russian officers arrived at Wolfsburg to collect the first 50 VWs exported from the Volkswagenwerk after the war. How close Wolfsburg came to being located in the Russian zone can be judged from the fact that at the end of the fighting the Red Army had penetrated as far west as Hannover (60km WEST of Wolfsburg), and when the line of demarcation was finally fixed these Red Army forward units reluctantly went back to the East as far as the next village east of Wolfsburg.
The Allied Control Commission officers themselves were inclined to be jumpy about what the Russians’ next move might be. From time to time the political situation flared up with the Russians, and none of the British officers wanted to be overrun and taken prisoner, so they kept their VW staff cars fully gassed up and under floodlights outside their quarters for a possible quick getaway.
German executives at the Volkswagenwerk were very conscious of the Russians’ unconcealed interest in the valuable precision machinery housed undamaged in the basement of the factory. Some of it was highly specialised equipment that had been used during the war in the manufacture of components of Junkers Ju88 aircraft and for the V1 and V2 rockets (which was why the Allies had bombed the VW factory). But did the Russians have any technical knowledge of the Volkswagen car or of the valuable machinery housed in the factory? No, definitely not. The Russian contingent that arrived to collect those first 50 export VWs had to be taught how to drive them!
Any public disturbances during 1945/46 were caused by Polish refugees and former POWs, who lived in a controlled camp in the village. Wolfsburg was a collecting point for thousands of homeless Polish families, who were kept in the transit camp under official supervision for one or two weeks, before being sent back to Poland via East Germany aboard special trains. The trouble the local Germans had with the Poles was tremendous; they were always on the rampage.
More trouble surfaced when the French took delivery of their first consignment of Volkswagens. The cars were loaded onto flat carriages and the train was ready to pull out that afternoon, but in some strange way the steam engine failed to function. The train didn’t leave until dark. Then, when the train stopped at the end of the spur line to get onto the main line, it was invaded by local Germans who knocked off wheels and various other parts. By the time the train reached Baden Baden quite a lot of the parts were missing. When the next train-load of Volkswagens left for Baden Baden, there were a large number of gendarmes riding shotgun on the rail cars.
The French were keen to find stolen French equipment, and called at the Volkswagenwerk to inspect a butt welder to check and see if it had been made in France. The butt welder, however, had in fact been made at the Volkswagewerke’s tool shop outside Braunschweig, where all the special tools for the factory had been made. The French were wined, dined and entertained at the factory by the British, but they got nothing. Speaking of stolen equipment, a lot of thieving went on around Wolfsburg and the factory. Stocks of a new batch of upholstery material were steadily dwindling for no apparent reason.
Then someone noticed that some of the women workers appeared to be putting on weight. When they were searched it was found that several of the women had wound the material around their bodies to get it out of the plant. A lot of wheels and tyres went missing also.
Some of the Germans could strip a car of its wheels and tyres in a few minutes. After they had removed the wheels, complete with tyres, they threw them into the canal alongside the factory. The weight of the wheels would sink the tyres to just below the surface of the water, and then after dark they would be retrieved by boat.
When the situation got really bad, special British security forces were called in, who discovered that one of the factory police chiefs was in league with the thieves.
When there was a stoppage in production, in any department, for any reason, telephone calls would get a five-man trouble-shooting team on the spot within minutes to sort out what was going on.
Much of the trouble was due to poor inspection of various machine jobs, and a number of machines were in need of overhaul.
Up to this time there was only one master body jig, but another was being made up. Later the Americans came along with offers of Lend Lease, and eventually all the gear-cutting machines were replaced with new ones from Cleveland, Ohio.
Finance to get the Volkswagenwerk back onto its feet was arranged through the Finance division of the military government with the Deutsche Bank for an overdraft on behalf of the Volkswagenwerk for the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds. How was the amount of money needed to get the factory back on its feet calculated? It was purely an arbitrary figure, and it was based on a reconnaissance and estimate by the British who were in charge of the plant at the time. In fact, the loan was just a credit with no collateral security apart from the works itself.
The next instalment of Wolfsburg 1945-46 will feature the first VW Cabriolet and the change from British to German control, and the Australian connection.
By Greg Figgis
Two interesting experiments carried out at the Volkswagenwerk in 1946 were the adaption of twin carburettors to the VW engine, and the development of the Cabriolet. Three Volkswagens were fitted with twin carburettors, but it was not much of a success. It was difficult to get good idling characteristics with the standard flywheel, which was too light, and fuel consumption increased dramatically, although top speed was increased by about 15km/h.
The modifications were a bit crude and made up from bits and pieces, which I suppose was to be expected, considering that the factory was in shambles.
A successful experiment carried out in 1946 was the Cabriolet. Two firms were given the chance to make a Cabriolet version of the Volkswagen: Karmann of Osnabrück, and Hebmüller of Cologne. Each company was given a body shell to cut down. When the prototype bodies had been prepared and road tested, however, it was found that by cutting the roof from the body the rigidity of the whole car was affected. The side-members of the body had to be strengthened, as well as the front door pillars and windscreen frame. After some further detail changes, it was decided to finish a few and an order for 100 was given to Karmann by Julius Paulsen, the works purchasing manager.
Until now the factory had been operated solely for the Forces of Occupation, but the original plan whereby Germany was to have little industry had been dropped, and more thought was being given to the country’s economic viability.
The Allied Control Commission consequently found itself taking an increasing interest in the possibility of exports from German manufacturers.
Officially the Allies were expected to do all they could to improve Western Germany’s economic situation, in order to ensure a reasonable standard of living in the Allied sectors as a bulwark against Communism. This was the time of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Airlift.
Volkswagen was steadily gaining momentum. First and foremost was the question of the management. The original post-war Plant Manager had fallen a victim to denazification, as had an excellent Works Manager appointed from outside the firm. The original Purchasing Manager had been elevated to Supplies Manager. The sales and service managers were performing well.
In short, the team was taking shape, but the right man still had to be found for the top appointment.
An assured future allowed for authorisation of more expenditure on building reconstruction and the replacement of machines and new plant to fill the gaps.
Elsewhere in Germany too, the position was improving and supplies were becoming easier. The total workforce at Wolfsburg was now approaching 10,000. Thus it was possible to step up production, and alongside deliveries for occupation requirements, cars now began to flow into the German economy. An export department was opened and Holland was the first country to which VWs were exported.
During 1947 Heinz Nordhoff was recommended for the top post of General Manager. This recommendation was confirmed and fully endorsed in January 1948. From then onwards, the Allies withdrew into the background.
Heinz Nordhoff continued to be responsible to the British board, but it was no longer necessary for the British to take direct action on day-to-day matters. The Type 2 Transporter project was put in hand, and building work continued at greater speed. It was then possible to improve the plant layout, especially for body assembly. Throughout, the commercial affairs had been managed on sound lines, so there were funds available for ploughing back into plant equipment.
In the autumn of 1949 the chairman of the British Control Board met the new Federal Minister of Economics and handed over the Volkswagenwerk, which has since been organised as an AG (Aktiengesellschaft) with part of its capital belonging to the private sector.
An interesting side play in 1948 was the Australian government’s interest in the Volkswagen factory. The Labor government of the time wanted a lower-priced ‘people’s car’ than the Holden for the Australian people. Lloyd Hartnett of Holden fame was instructed by the Government to look into the viability of the VW and other European cars.
The Renault 750 was considered, but Renault insisted that no change be made to their product for Australian conditions. FIAT was also approached, but the same approach as for Renault was insisted upon. Hartnett wouldn’t recommend an arrangement with such conditions, so the Renault and FIAT plans were dropped.
The Australian government believed the VW to be very cheap to produce because at that time surplus production cars were being sold for whatever Volkswagen could get for them. Sold under these conditions it WAS a cheap car, but nobody at the Volkswagenwerk was doing any costings, and currency values in Europe hadn’t yet settled down.
The Australian government was planning to move the VW works down under and set them up in a wartime aircraft factory in Victoria. However there was no proof that the VW would have had public acceptance in Australia, and eventually the plan fell through. It is believed that another motor vehicle manufacturer ‘persuaded’ the government to let them in and set up a factory. As it turned out, a well-known British manufacturer took over the aircraft factory.
As it was, Australia, with its British heritage, connections and family ties, got dumped with lots of pre-war English ‘rubbish’.
We VW lovers had to wait another five or six years before we got a car that proved itself over and over again to be utterly reliable and robust under the demanding Australian conditions of the time.
By Ray Black
The story begins with the ‘Arbeitsfront’ (Workers' Front) symbol. This symbol was used on all national works programmes, which included the ‘People’s Car’. The foundation stone at the Wolfsburg factory incorporated this symbol. The People’s Car was designed to be part of the KdF movement: a national recreation plan embracing hiking, mountain climbing, camping, etc. KdF stands for "Kraft durch Freude", which means "Strength through Joy". The "Volkswagen" (People's Car) was only a working name at this stage as the ‘KdF-Wagen’ was to be its official name.
This variation was used on certain items in the early days of the KdF-Wagen. Note the spinning swastika. This may be the origin of the belief that the current VW symbol, rotating at a certain speed, transforms into a swastika.
Many people connected with the design of what is now the VW, did not like Hitler’s idea of naming it ‘KdF-Wagen’. The name ‘Volkswagen’ was much preferred by Dr. Porsche, and, as a result, one of Dr. Porsche's engine designers, Franz Reimspiess, designed a ‘VW’ for the centre of the cogwheel device. He was rewarded with a bonus of 100 Reichsmarks. This ‘VW’ within the cogwheel, surrounded by the spinning swastika, was accepted as the new symbol and heralded in the still unofficial new name Volkswagen.
Possibly because of the need to cast and stamp the symbol into all car components, the complex spinning swastika background was dropped, and so the simpler VW within the cog was born. This, ironically, is still referred to today as the KdF logo and determines genuine wartime-manufactured vehicles and parts.
After the war, as part of the de-nazification programme, the cog teeth were removed, because of the strong political associations. The now-famous and classic VW symbol was created and remains, with various aesthetic changes, to this day.
Adapted by Ray Black
One day during the First World War the British car manufacturer Henry Royce, creator of the worlds first limousine, was listening to his engineers argue about engine output when he decided to end the discussion. “Gentlemen!” he said, “all I know is that this is the performance Porsche of Austria has achieved. Therefore, it must be the best possible!”
In that tribute was summed up the secret of Ferdinand Porsche’s automotive genius. A perfectionist who drove himself and his assistants hard, he was never satisfied with the run-of-the-mill or second best. Though he designed several extraordinarily sophisticated engines, he kept searching for the simplest and most rational key to complex technical problems.
Porsche, a self-made and largely self-educated man, was an inspired tinkerer who ranged all over the automotive map, designing vehicles of a fantastic variety of shapes and types. And though he catered to the rich for most of his life, his most stubborn dream was to produce a modest, robust car that the average man could afford. The result was the Volkswagen, one of the sturdiest and most successful cars ever designed.
Few men in history have dedicated themselves with a more concentrated single-mindedness to their profession. Ferdinand Porsche had no hobbies to speak of, was totally uninterested in politics, and preferred work to exercise He was always in his office by 7 am, often studying a sketch he had modified after his designers had gone home the night before, impatient now to discuss it with them. Hours of tense talk would follow, for once in the grip of a new idea there was no getting him away from the drawing boards. One of his associates recalled, “in those days I was always hungry for lunch.”
In temperament he had the tenacity of a terrier. Though short and unassumingly dressed in a felt hat and tweeds, he could be singularly imperious if he chose. His wrinkled smile would freeze, his trim toothbrush moustache bristle aggressively, his hazel eyes grow hard as flints. With his closest associates in particular he could be demanding to the point of exasperation. In New York he once ordered his private secretary to get him tickets on the Queen Mary, though he didn't have one American cent to pay for them. When the resourceful secretary returned to say that the shipping company would get around the regulations and accept German Marks, and that he had been given the finest stateroom on the ship, he merely nodded gruffly.
Yet even his severest critics had to admit he was a genius. The range of his inventiveness was prodigious, stretching from an electric-powered carriage he built in 1900 to a monstrous 180-tonne tank he designed during World War II.
He was the first to equip a car with brakes on all four wheels and the first to design a mixed electric-drive, petrol-powered vehicle. Above all, he developed the ingenious torsion system of suspension that was used for decades on Volkswagen and Porsche cars.
Some inventions that looked at first like crazy cartoon creations were in reality decades ahead of their time. Shortly before World War I he came up with a mixed-drive tractor capable of pulling two ten-tonne trailers. But while an ordinary tractor would have been stalled by the 20 tonnes it had to move, Porsche’s model moved at a steady 18 km/h because each trailer’s wheels were driven by electric motors powered by a cable from the tractor’s generator. The same principle today propels much earth-moving equipment.
Twenty years later Porsche again surprised the world by fitting a 16-cylinder engine into a racing car behind, rather than in front of the driver. "The man's crazy!" was the general reaction when Auto Union's ‘Silver Arrow’ first made its appearance. But in 1934 alone it broke seven world records. Later models, souped up to 545 horsepower, won race after race in a breathless duel with Mercedes which for six consecutive years - 1934 to 1939 - swept Bugatti, Alfa Romeo and Maserati from the field.
The internal combustion engine was little more than an idea in 1875, when Ferdinand Porsche was born in the Austrian town of Maffersdorf (now part of Czechoslovakia). In fact, there was good reason to believe that ‘horseless carriages’ would be powered by electricity or steam. The son of a modest tinker, young Ferdinand believed that electricity was the key to the future, and spent much of his spare time in the attic concocting home-made batteries out of jam jars and sulphuric acid. At a nearby trade school he learnt the rudiments of technical drawing and geometry, and soon knew enough to be able to make generators as well. One day, when his father was called away to a neighbouring village, he rigged up a flywheel-operated dynamo, a voltmeter switchboard and an entire electrical circuit. When his father returned, he was amazed to find his house aglow with electric bulbs!
Impressed, the tinker agreed to send his son to Vienna for further training. Four years later the 22-year-old Ferdinand was already running the Bela Egger Electric Company’s testing department.
Word of his inventive talent soon reached the ears of Ludwig Lohner, carriage-maker to the Hapsburg court, who asked him to help build an electrically powered carriage. The result: a compact four-seater that caused a sensation at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Its front-wheel hubs contained two 23-hp electric motors that could propel the carriage at up to 60 km/h, and for the first time in history all four wheels had brakes.
In 1923 a dispute with the chairman of Austro-Daimler in Vienna ended Porsche's 17-year career with that company, and he moved his wife Aloisia and their two children. Louise and Ferry, to Stuttgart, where he became technical director of the German Daimler works. Never happier than when he had a spanner in his hand, Porsche had trouble gaining acceptance among the factory's stuffy executives and engineers, who expected him to sit at his desk and review designs brought to him for examination. But this was not Porsche's way of doing things. One day, when he found the white-clad engineers standing around a defective model arguing over the possible causes of the trouble, Porsche picked up a screwdriver and a spanner and crawled underneath the car. When he finally emerged, a bystander was rash enough to ask what he had found. “Go and look for yourself, you blockhead!” he rasped and stamped away. Porsche was not an armchair manager, and he was not going to be served by armchair engineers.
In 1930 he decided to strike out on his own by founding a design studio to develop new car engines and ideas for other firms. Consisting of ten close associates, the Porsche Construction Bureau was at first a shoestring operation. Its quarters were cramped, and to make ends meet Porsche had to borrow against his life assurance policy. Salary payments were erratic. Yet out of these modest facilities came a number of epoch-making blueprints.
One of the first was a revolutionary version of the torsion-bar suspension system, which Porsche and his chief designer, Karl Rabe, developed to replace the heavy multiple-leaf or coil-spring suspension of earlier cars. It was successfully sold to Morris, Citroen, Standard, Volvo, Alfa Romeo and other firms. “If Porsche had never developed anything else but this torsion bar,” German car expert Hans Brelz once wrote, “his name would still have acquired immortality as an inventor and constructor.”
No less original were the plans that Porsche drew up for a future People's Car. To begin with, its engine was air-cooled. Next, it was so far behind the driver that it protruded beyond the rear axle. The four air-cooled cylinders were paired off horizontally, yet again a radical departure from the usual layout and an anticipation of the basic pattern which Porsche cars have followed ever since.
Finding a sponsor to mass-produce this car proved far more difficult than designing it, but when Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933 Porsche saw an opportunity in the Fuhrer’s earlier campaign promise to help the German car industry. He obtained an audience with Hitler and a few months later submitted a memo on the future Volkswagen.
Most German manufacturers were hostile to the small-car idea, however, and tried their best to abort the project. Porsche and his associates went ahead anyway. Parts were ordered from various firms and assembled in the only place Porsche could find - his own garage, which he enlarged and converted into a workshop. By 1935 the first prototypes were ready for testing and the problems of mass production loomed. The official target was 15 million Volkswagens, but no factory in Europe was then capable of rolling so many cars off its assembly lines. To see how American manufacturers coped with such problems, Porsche made two trips to the United States. Meanwhile, a pre-production series of thirty Volkswagens were test-driven over mountain roads for a collective total of more than two million kilometres - the most exhaustive testing to which any car in Europe had yet been subjected. As a result, the green light was given and construction of a plant near the village of Fallersleben commenced in May 1938.
By the time the factory was completed in October 1939. World War II had begun and the plant soon started production for military needs. Later on, Porsche was appointed chairman of the Ministry of War Production's Panzer Commission. Inventive as ever, he adapted the Volkswagen to military needs, producing the Kübelwagen, a jeep-like scout car whose air-cooled motor proved invaluable in the Russian steppes and in the North African desert. An even more ingenious adaptation was the Schwimmwagen, equipped with a propeller; more than 17 000 of these cross-country amphibious vehicles were built during the war. Meanwhile, Porsche's little Construction Bureau in Stuttgart blossomed into a thriving business with its own factory.
Porsche's fascination with technical problems blinded him to the political consequences of his involvement with the Nazi regime, a mistake that was to cost him dearly. Some of the projects he worked on used forced labour, an onus that remained with him to the end and embittered his waning years. After Germany's collapse, he was arrested first by the Americans, who released him after a few months, then by the French, who imprisoned him under unfounded charges for almost two years. His Stuttgart factory was taken over by the occupation authorities, and when he was finally released in 1947, he was a broken man.
Yet the sheer force of Ferdinand Porsche’s inventiveness and achievement carried him throughout this sombre period, and shortly after his release he was hard at work on an eight-cylinder sports car that was the forerunner of today’s sleek road-hugging Porsches. A revived Volkswagen company had been in production since 1945, paying him a royalty on every car produced, and over the next few years the initial trickle of money gradually swelled. Further recognition came in 1950 in Stuttgart, where his 75th birthday was celebrated with the first Porsche car rally ever held. Four months later, he died peacefully.
His achievements, however, remain very much with us. The Stuttgart factory, which was returned to the family in 1952, has grown from a few workshop sheds to a modern plant that has turned out hundreds of thousands of prestigious sports cars. On the world's racing circuits, high-powered versions of those speedsters are among the most consistent winners. And in all corners of the earth, the clatter of the Beetle proclaims the enduring brilliance of its creator. Around 21 million have rolled off the assembly lines in more than a quarter-century of unbroken output – along with that of the Citroen 2CV, one of the two longest runs of any car in history.
Like its creator, the VW was a product homely and visionary, simple and sophisticated.
By Dave Long
This is on the subject of the Denzel sports car, and the man who built them, Wolfgang Denzel. Denzel was a motor sport enthusiast who began modifying 1100cc VW engines for competition almost 40 years ago.
One of his earliest attempts at a competition car was derived from a Kübelwagen, and with streamlined body and improved running gear, it served as a prototype for the eventual Denzel 1300 sports car.
Probably the most outstanding aspect of this saga is that when Denzel was occupied in Vienna, not far away at Gmünd, also in Austria, Ferdinand Porsche was engaged in activities of his own, along similar lines. At that time, in the middle 1940s, both were working independently to develop a small, rear-engined sports car. Common to the two constructors was that both chose the early Volkswagen engine as the basis for their designs. To be fair to Porsche, he had been responsible to a large degree for the creation of the Volkswagen engine.
Material shortages immediately following the war made their operations difficult, as the limited production relied on a supply of VW components; ‘production’ components initially were scrounged from some very second-hand sources, usually war surplus. Even at the infant Porsche works at that time conditions were tough; Dr. Ferdinand had been virtually ransomed from prison where the French had interned him since the war. Three cars were initially built, including the narrow coupe which has become known as the ‘Progenitor Porsche’. Before production could continue, these had to be sold to raise capital for more cars.
Contrasting Denzel and Porsche, however, it is remarkable that the approach of the two manufacturers, while so diverse, should see them reach such similar results.
Very few know of the achievements of Denzel; everyone knows of Porsche. Wolfgang Denzel is descended from a line of bell founders, whose history goes back more than 400 years. This founding tradition probably stood him in good stead for aspects of his small-production sports car manufacturing. At first engines were a direct adaptation of the 1100cc unit we know as the 25 hp - the Germans probably knew it as the 20 PS. This power unit was modified to give 38 hp SAE, an increase of more than 50%. In a car only weighing 590 kg, it posted a number of competition successes from 1949 to 1952.
In 1952, in place of the VW floorpan, a tubular frame was designed and integrated with a sleek aluminium body. This car weighed just 545 kg, and was 3505 mm long, with a short wheelbase of about 2080 mm. It had relatively large wheels, alloy brake drums, and was designed with a minimum overhang at each end, in keeping with its sporting character. This feature allowed sharp entry and departure angles on tight mountain roads.
It had a new engine, still VW-based, of 1290cc, employing the 64 mm crank with 80 mm cylinders. Compression was 7.5:1 and power output reached 52 hp SAE at 4400 rpm.
There was also a more sporting version measuring 74 mm x 74 mm whose compression, while high, was not disclosed. Power was 64 hp SAE at 5400 rpm. These engines both employed cylinder heads of special Denzel design, as well as chromed aluminium cylinders, but were based on the stock VW crankcase.
While Dr. Porsche and Mr. Denzel had similar objectives, to produce a light, agile sporting car, their purpose was quite different. Porsche was involved in small production specialist car manufacture, whereas Denzel developed his car because of a keen and active interest in motor sport. He had conceived the idea prior to 1947 to furnish himself with a competitive vehicle to contest the 1300cc class of the Alpine rallies and trials, which at the time were so prevalent around the Alps of his native Austria and surrounding areas. Having enjoyed outstanding success, including many class victories and an outright win in the 1954 International Alpine Rally (an occasion where Stirling Moss managed only 10th!), the cars proved so effective that they were built and marketed in small numbers, allowing others their ‘moment of glory’ whether competing or simply touring. In 1949 a Denzel had taken the Austrian Alpine Rally, and did it again in 1952, with less than 1100cc and 38 hp! The newer 1300cc car carried off the 1500cc sports car class of this event in 1953.
Denzel sports car production continued for 10 years until 1959, in which period a total of approximately 350 cars were made. In addition the small Denzel works produced separate engine kits for the 36 hp VW engine block, and rumour had it there were similar components available for a while in the 1960s to suit 40 hp types, although I have never confirmed this.
By Rod Young
The KdF-Wagen Savings Certificate shown below was found by Geoff McVey, but I’d like to make a few comments on it.
The owner of that particular piece of paper was no ordinary good German worker. Ghislaine Kaes, whose occupation is given as ‘Sekretar’, was only Dr. Ferdinand Porsche's private secretary!
I wonder when/if Mr Kaes finally got his Beetle, since none of the citizens who conscientiously saved up their five Reichsmarks per week actually ever received a KdF-Wagen, what with a well-known military action intervening in the meantime. In the early 1960s legal action was instituted against the Volkswagenwerk for delivery of cars for which money had been paid. VW, though in no way connected with the pre-war KdF organisation, obliged by giving holders of a ‘Sparkarte’ a discount of up to 600 DM on a new Beetle, or a 100 DM cash grant.
It has been claimed by some commentators that Hitler's plans to motorise the German public had been a swindle, that the factory was built for military purposes and the money that had been collected from faithful savers, altogether 267,867,937.30 Reichsmarks, was put to use in the war effort. In fact, to my knowledge, the funds collected under the savings card scheme remained intact in a Berlin bank vault until the end of the war, when the victorious Russian Red Army confiscated them. It appears that this was one promise that Hitler planned to make good.
Mr Kaes’ card has some interesting details. The expected year of delivery (voraussichtliches Lieferjahr) is not indicated. His place of residence is shown as Stuttgart - of course, this is where Porsche had his design bureau and is still the site of the Porsche works. He possessed a class IIIb driver's license, noteworthy because possession of a driver's license was by no means common at the time.
During the Hitler years, Germany was divided into ‘Gau’, or districts. At the place on the certificate indicating the ‘Gau’ of issue of the card, ‘Volkswagenwerk’ is entered, since the name ‘Wolfsburg’ was a post-war coining, and the name of the gestating town was an unwieldy ‘Stadt des KdF-Wagens’ - City of the KdF Car.
The ‘Volkswagenwerk’ stamp also contains the letters ‘G.m.b.H.’, which means more or less ‘Pty. Ltd.’ This suggests a private company, though as we know, the works was controlled by the K.d.F front, a state-run organisation. A bit of a mystery to me.
Mr. Kaes had been sticking down his weekly 5-Mark stamps ever since August 1938. Fifty of these in a year made up the 250 Mark entries in the left column. He didn't have far to go to make up the 990 Marks.
There is a notice stating that if you lost your card, it could not be replaced, meaning that the prospective owner would have lost all. They wouldn't have been left lying around in that case.
There is a section at the top of the left of the card for additional stamps to cover special equipment (I wonder what trendy accessories you could get?) and transport costs. Mr. Kaes wasn't into accessories - he was to get a ‘Limousine’, or steel-roofed, standard (grey)-coloured KdF-Wagen.
Savers could spare themselves transport costs by taking delivery of their car at the factory. Hence an entry for place of delivery, which is given as ‘Gaustadt’, or Stuttgart in Mr. Kaes' case. However, he is not charged for transport costs – he must have known someone in the business!
Insurance was a relatively hefty 200 Marks, one fifth of the car's value! However, the length of insurance cover is not stated.
By Dave Long
I hope you're not all tired of reading about Gene Berg and his exploits, because I came across more information that puts the old engine hot-up article more in perspective. This is from DB&HVWs as it was then, and started life as an interview by Jere Aldaheff. I intend to turn it into a straight narrative, so see what you think.
“The way I started with Volkswagens was that I couldn't get it fixed, so I ended up always doing it myself. The first thing you know, I had neighbours' cars to fix. In 1960 I went to work for the VW dealer in Kenton, Washington, and worked there for two years. I took the position of service writer with the stipulation that I would attend the VW train¬ing schools. Part of the time I wrote service but I also learned all the facets of the business from lube jobs to engine work. At this time I also attended the VW mechanics and service writers training school. This was from October i960 to August 1962. I left there and began painting cars at home and doing furniture upholstery. Pretty soon the Volkswagen customers began to find me.
“About a year later, Enco built a gas station 200ft from my house, and I leased it and worked on Volkswagens there. A year later Enco decided that working on VWs and pumping gas didn't mix. I said I was going to work on cars, so I left. I bought some property behind my house and built a small garage there. I worked in that shop until I moved to California in 1969.
“In 1961 after I started at the VW dealer, I met a guy named Lonny who had a Porsche-engined VW sedan. He decided he wanted to build an X-dragster (4-cylinder class) with a Porsche engine. Every time the car would run close to the record, a Model-A Ford dragster in California would lower it. Lonny wanted to sell the dragster, and I bought it complete with Porsche engine. I put a Corvair engine into the dragster for a while, then I put toge¬ther a VW engine for it. I had gotten to know Dean Lowry pretty well by this time. The dragster benefited immediately from the engine - the first run was in the mid-11s. They changed the rules and allowed 6-cylinder and Straight-8 Buick engines in the class. A dragster with dual Straight-8 Buicks lowered the record into the 10.70s. So I pulled out.
“To give an idea how involved was this first drag racing effort, we had a '61 VW sedan with Porsche engine. We would carry the dragster less engine on a roof rack on the sedan. When we arrived at the track, we would remove the engine from the sedan, change the exhaust, remove the engine tin, install it in the dragster and go racing. We would run X class with the dragster, then put the engine back in the sedan for H/Gas class. If we won H/G we'd run Street Eliminator with the sedan, then put the engine back into the dragster for Little Eliminator. After Little Eliminator we'd win four trophies in one day with the same engine in the two cars. We never even thought of breaking the car, never even dream¬ed about it.
“I sold the dragster less engine in 1964. I installed that engine in my 1964 VW sedan and with stock gears in the transaxle and 155 Pirelli radials on the rear, we smoked the tyres and ran a 13.00 going across the finish line in third gear. I never even dreamed the engine would run that time in a sedan. When that engine was in my dragster, Dean Lowry held the H/G record at 14.30 and that was using a Porsche close-ratio gearbox. Both our engines were the same size, too. It was a 74mm Okrasa stroker with 90mm Corvair pistons and cylinders. The heads were Okrasa (twin port) with 36HP VW rods. It had Pontiac valves in the head (40 inlet by 34 exhaust). I made the inlet manifolds since Okrasa did not make manifolds to fit the Solex 40-P11 carburettor.
“In 1966 we switched to the new VW dual port heads and bought EMPI manifolds which promptly broke, so we made castings ourselves. Actually, this was the beginning of our manufacturing. We couldn't get quite the product we wanted. At that time there was a lot of difficulty with parts breaking or not fitting. We figured we could do as well or better.
“We started with intake manifolds, then an oil sump like EMPI’s, only ours could be removed with a socket rather than an open-end wrench. I couldn't afford a Porsche transaxle so I decided to make close-ratio gears for a VW. The first ones were horrible. We only intended for them to get us down the ¼-mile. It didn't matter if they were noisy or if they wore out. They were built for our use, not for resale. Eventually the quality increased, and the gears are now very good. We sell an awful lot of gears now, in many various ratios.
“A while after that I moved to California, and it happened like this. In 1960 Dean Lowry left EMPI and along with his brother Ken began Deano Dyno Soars. I was making their intake manifolds, linkages, sumps and close-ratio gears. We'd made some ratio rocker arms by then, out of Porsche rocker arms. After coming down for the early Bug-Ins and the SEMA show, we moved in June of 1969 and I bought into Deano's and began working there. After six months a communication problem with Ken caused me to leave, and I moved my stuff out into the street. I was flat broke but Dave Vanderbecke let me share his shop for one month, then I found my own building and opened shop on 15th Dec¬ember 1969, manufacturing parts, building engines and transaxles. After two or three years we stopped doing assembly work and concentrated on manufacturing, along with research and development.
“In late 1970 we began a crankshaft project in conjunction with Bob Dixon. Bob counterweighted the first VW crankshaft in 1971, and it is still in use today after 96,000 miles in my VW Bus.
“We moved in to a new building in September, 1975 and we have plans for a radical dyna-mometer room. Our latest move is to have new counterweighted crank forgings supplied from Europe by the original air-cooled crank supplier to Volkswagen. They will be available with larger Type 4 main bearing journals. They will also be available with a larger centre main as currently in use in our race engines. We also have raw cast cylinder heads coming from Brazil. We will be able to do as we wish with these, even make 40-hp dual-port heads. With these, we can put the spark plugs in where we want them, as well as the valve guides, and install any size valve seat we wish. They will be available to us with or without the raw ports, but they will have a combustion chamber.
“We are also doing work now on forged alumin¬ium connecting rods, and a lot of transaxle development - that's kind of my thing. As you know, we are working on the five-speed gearbox and hope to have a few available by the World Finals. These ' boxes will also be supplied for the street; it will allow the use of close-ratio gears with an overdrive type 5th gear. And since the fifth gear we use is actually a woodruff key fourth gear, there are nine ratios available for fourth or fifth gear.
“On the engine side, our business keeps increasing on air-cooled VW products, and we have to devote a lot of energy to keep up with it, plus stay ahead in development. We've worked with crankshafts and cylinder heads for the water-cooled VW, but at present there isn’t that much of a market. We’ll stay with it as much as time will allow, though. The aircooled VW market is increasing almost daily and we intend to keep up with it”.
The above piece was condensed from an article published in October 1978.
By Anderer Bleistift
With the fall of the iron curtain and German reunification, the local East German Trabants and Wartburgs have become the butt of the world's car jokes. Why do Trabbis have a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm when pushing them. How do you double the value of your Trabant? Fill it with petrol! Chuckle chuckle, but in fact these stinky old cars are very much connected with VW historically, and not only because Trabants now have 1.1 litre VW Polo engines either.
To find out how and why, come with me while we go back in time to before the Second World War.
It was 1928 that Audi, the car company started by August Horch in 1909, was taken over by DKW. This motorcycle company had rapidly expanded during the 1920s, and were attracted by the facilities at Audi's factory at Zwickau in Saxony, in southeast Germany. Their first steam car of 1916 had been called the Dampf Kraft Wagen (Steam Powered Car), and their first two-stroke motorcycle engine was called ‘Das Kleine Wunder’, the little wonder. Hence the DKW name. Up to the start of WW2, DKW were the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world with factories at Zschopau, Chemnitz and Hainichen, all in Saxony. Their motorcycle success led DKW to manufacture small two-stroke cars at Zwickau for the first time from June 1929. Thus, the first two Auto Union members had amalgamated.
The third auto company, Horch (started also by August Horch in 1899) was also located in Zwickau, and were a natural to join the growing Auto Union combine, which they did in the worsening economic climate of 1931. The fourth member, Wanderer, was also located in Saxony, at Chemnitz, only 12 km from the others at Zwickau, and they joined Auto Union in 1932.
Once Auto Union was established, the emphasis was on integration, and the Audi production was transferred to the Horch plant in 1934. By this time, the only Audi model was the 2-litre Front, an appropriately named front-drive, straight-six cylinder car that did not sell well despite its impressive mechanicals. By contrast, the little front-drive DKWs were going from strength to strength. The 2-seat, 584cc Reichklasse and 4-seat Meisterklasse, both of wood and fabric construction with a Horch-like radiator, together sold nearly 40,000 in 1937 alone.
Thus, in the years up to the start of the war, Auto Union based their success on the tiny two-stroke DKWs, while Wanderer made dependable but unsensational middle class cars. Horch provided prestige with DOHC 3.1 litre straight-eights, flathead 3.5 litre V8s and 6 litre V12 limousines. Audi, by then with experimental 3-litre rear drive straight sixes, were the only weak link in the operation. It's quite ironic then, that the least successful Auto Union concern of the 1930s was the name destined to survive in the post-war years, albeit after a 25-year absence.
All Auto Union marques made contributions to the war effort, as staff cars, transports, army motorbikes and trucks. But the ending of hostilities in 1945 saw the partitioning of Germany, and an Eastern Zone dominated by the Russians. What this meant was an end to all Auto Union's Saxony-based activities, as the area lay within the Russian Zone. The Russians even renamed the city of Chemnitz ‘Karl-Marx-Stadt’.
Horchs, Wanderers and Audis had only been made in small numbers but there were plenty of DKWs in the west, perhaps 150,000 of the little front drive two-strokes. There was a large demand for transport of any kind in western Germany (the reason the Volkswagen plant up at Wolfsburg was kept in operation), and spares for those DKWs was required. Messrs Bruhn and Hahn (father of the current VW Chairman) set up a parts depot at Ingolstadt in Bavaria, and in 1949 Auto Union was registered as a new company in the West. The first car they made was a small delivery van, the Schnell-Laster, with the inevitable front-drive two-stroke layout. By the time the first DKW car produced after the war came in 1950, it was made at a renovated bombed-out factory in Düsseldorf.
This was in fact the pre-war Meisterklasse with the 684cc two-cylinder engine, although with hydraulic brakes and new bodywork. The three cylinder 896cc Sonderklasse arrived in 1953. In 1956 DKW developed the four-wheel drive Munga, a jeep-like vehicle powered by the Sonderklasse's 3-cylinder engine. Popular with NATO and local farmers, it was an ideal cross-country vehicle. It was produced until 1968 and was the last DKW two-stroke with a total of 46,750 having been built.
Anyway, back in East Germany, what was to all intents the DKW Meisterklasse, the ‘F8’, appeared in 1948. It was made by the East German Government-owned ‘IFA’ – the Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau (Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction), at the old Audi factory at Zwickau. The F8 lasted until 1955. In 1950 came IFA's F9 model with 3 cylinder 894cc DKW two-stroke, four years ahead of the West’s DKW Sonderklasse. It lasted until 1956, by which time output had been transferred to the former BMW works at Eisenach and the IFA badge replaced by the new ‘Wartburg’ name. The upgraded car was powered by the 894cc engine initially but was increased to 991cc in 1962. This two-stroke, front-drive DKW descendent slumbered peacefully on and received a modern 1.3 litre Opel engine in 1989. The last Wartburg was made only recently, in April 1991.
Meanwhile, that two-cylinder F8 was replaced in 1956 by a model called the ‘Zwickau’, after its place of manufacture, using the same 684cc twin but with resin impregnated glass/cotton fibre bodywork, the first mass-produced German car to use that material. This continued until 1959 when it was renamed the ‘Trabant’, and given a smaller 500cc motor, enlarged again to 594cc in 1962. It was given the ‘Trabant’ name in honour of the Russian Sputnik satellite of 1959, as ‘Trabant’ in German and ‘Sputnik’ in Russian both mean ‘Fellow Traveller’.
Back in the west, DKW went on to success in the 1950s and was bought by Daimler-Benz in 1958. They persisted with newer two-strokes and body styles into the 1960s, but sales began to slip. When Volkswagen bought DKW from Daimler-Benz in 1965 they were looking for more manufacturing capability for Beetles, but DKW proved Volkswagen's long-term salvation when the DKW name was finally laid to rest and replaced by the resurrected ‘Audi’. They may have dropped the two-stroke, but they kept front-wheel-drive, and the rest, as they say, is history.
And in the East? With the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 VW were very quick to negotiate with Trabant for the replacement of the ancient two-stroke, which produced more than five times the pollution of a modern western car. Trabbis with 1.1 litre Polo engines appeared in April 1990, firstly from western imports but later from local manufacture at the old Zwickau plant. IFA wanted to jointly design a Trabant successor with Volkswagen, but by June 1990 had decided instead to begin local assembly of Polos and Golfs from western SKD kits. Production will be 400 daily by 1992, while Trabbis with Polo engines will continue until the end of this year.
In September 1990 Chancellor Kohl and VW boss Carl Hahn together laid the foundation stone for a new VW plant in Mosel, near Zwickau, to produce Golfs complete at a rate of 250,000 annually. Containing a press shop, bodyshell line, paint shop and assembly line, it will come on stream in 1994. In addition, the old DKW engine plant at Chemnitz is being modernised by VW to produce 420,000 VW engines annually by 1993, creating 35,000 jobs in the process. Another new VW factory is planned for Dresden. VW expects to invest DM3.5 billion annually in eastern Germany for the next five years.
Yes, it's easy to laugh at the ancient Trabants and Wartburgs, but with so much interlocking history it's a surprise and delight to see that they're Volkswagens too.
By Anderer Bleistift
In a previous Zeitschrift article we chronicled the history of the various Auto Union marques before and after the war, and how the coming of East Germany forced the separation of VW/Audi in the west from Trabant and Wartburg in the east. You'd remember how, in 1928, the small Audi company was taken over by the growing DKW motorcycle concern. Audi's fortunes declined despite DKW's continuing success, and in 1932 they were joined in the new Auto Union combine by the prestigious Horch and the stable Wanderer. These four companies are each represented in today's famous four-ringed Audi badge.
DKW was the sole surviving Auto Union marque to be restarted after the war; Horchs, Wanderers and Audis were no longer made. DKW was again a success in the 1950s but by the time the 1960s came along their time had passed. Daimler-Benz had bought DKW in 1958 but sales slumped under their control, 1964 sales of 78,790 being only half that of 1959. Volkswagen bought DKW from Daimler-Benz in 1965 and immediately began phasing out the old two-stroke designs that had lasted so long. At the same time VW decided to discontinue the DKW name as it was too 'two-stroke' related, and replace it with the 'Audi' name that had been dormant since 1940. The first new Audi was a 1.7 litre car that became the ‘Super 90’ in 1966. 1966 also saw the debut of the Audi 80L and the Audi 60 followed in 1968, all of these cars sharing the same body and suspension.
It was in August 1969 that Volkswagen's chairman, Kurt Lotz, was able to buy the Neckarsulm-based NSU company, and merge them with Audi. Lotz had taken over as VW boss following the death of Heinz Nordhoff, and VW was trying to find a successor to the Beetle. NSU had a few other attractions for VW as well...so who is this NSU anyway?
NSU is actually the oldest of all the players in this story, predating even the four Auto Union marques. They date right back to 1873, when Christian Schmitt and Heinrich Stoll set up a workshop for knitting machines at Reidlingen, on the Danube in southern Germany. Success prompted a move to better premises in Neckarsulm, a town with water-driven machinery at the confluence of the rivers Neckar and Sulm (aren't the Germans logical?) The workshop was called 'Neckarsulmer Strickmaschinen Fabrik', or Neckarsulm Knitting Machine Works.
‘NSF’ diversified into bicycles in 1886; first penny-farthing types but later the newer small wheeled design we know today. Sales grew, and knitting machines were phased out. In 1892 the directors agreed on a new brand name derived from NeckarSUlm, and an NSU trademark featuring stag-horns. Motorcycle production began in 1900, with small 15-hp cars following in 1905.
Following the devastation of the Great War, NSU relied on motorcycle production for survival, particularly during the difficult 1920s. Some good cars were made in these times. The new six-cylinder NSU won the German Grand Prix in 1925 and 1926, but in 1929 automobile production was phased out and NSU sold its new Heilbronn car plant to Fiat.
Motorcycle and moped production kept NSU in business through the 1930s and ‘40s, and in the early 1950s NSU was the largest motorcycle maker in the world. However this changed quickly in the mid 1950s when the first effects of cheap Japanese motorcycles were felt, and their sales declined. In 1957 NSU re-entered the car market with the air-cooled, 600cc two-stroke rear-engined Prinz. There was also a Sport Prinz, and it was a derivative of this, the convertible Spider of 1964, that was the first production car in the world to be powered by a Wankel rotary engine. This rotary system offered a compact, light power unit with only a third of the parts of a reciprocating engine.
Unfortunately, everyone today thinks of the rotary as a Japanese invention, but NSU first became associated with its inventor, Felix Wankel, in 1951. The concept first appeared as a supercharger for a record-breaking motorcycle in 1954, and in April that year NSU decided to press ahead with a four-stroke engine based on the rotary principle. The resulting Wankel engine ran for the first time on 1st February 1957.
NSU's Dr. Walter Froede introduced an eccentric motion to the rotor, and a 1.5-litre single rotor unit powered the two-seat Spider that debuted at the Frankfurt Show of September 1963, just a month ahead of the Mazda Cosmo (which was the result of another Wankel licence). The innovative and pretty Spider remained in production until 1967, but NSU's next project, the Ro80, was far more ambitious. The Ro80 (Ro for Rotary) had a stylish, wind-cheating body (elements of which can still be seen in today's Audis), powered by a 2-litre twin-rotor Wankel, and it was voted Car of the Year on its debut in 1968.
It was unfortunate that the Ro80 didn't live up to its good looks, even though NSU offered extremely generous warranty terms - engine replacement free of charge! You see, although the Ro80 performed very well on the Autobahns, it didn't do so well in traffic jams where the Wankel tended to stall. This exacerbated the problems of an energy absorbing torque converter and power-steering pump, and it was at such times that the vital rotor apex seals, made of ferrous alloy, would suffer excessive wear. This in turn accelerated the already high petrol and oil consumption.
The commitment to the Wankel stretched NSU's finances to the limit, making the company vulnerable to a takeover, which was what Volkswagen achieved in 1969.
NSU was also on the point of introducing a conventionally-engined front drive model, but it was shelved until late in 1970 when it entered production as the Volkswagen K70 (K for Kolben, or 'piston') at a new VW plant at Salzgitter. Sadly, it didn't materialise as the hoped-for Beetle replacement, nor was it parts-compatible with any other VW or Audi in the range, and it was quietly discontinued in 1975.
The Prinz had also been dropped in 1972, so this left the Ro80 as the only NSU left as 1976 arrived. However, the Wankel engine suffered from the post-1973 energy crisis, and its high fuel and oil consumption, coupled with poor exhaust emission performance, outweighed any mechanical or technical advantages. So, finally, in March 1977, VW discontinued production of the pioneering and innovative Ro80 after 37,204 examples had been built.
With it went the NSU name. The spirit of the Ro80 survives today in the equally innovative Audi 100, as does the Neckarsulm plant where Audi 100s are now built. However, it was a sad end for such a striking car, and a courageous auto company.
By Anderer Bleistift
Previously we've looked at the rise of DKW and its acquisition of Audi, then followed the plot as it joined up with Horch and Wanderer to create Auto Union, which was eventually acquired by Volkswagen. Last time we followed the story of NSU, the innovative company that VW merged with Auto Union to form today's Audi concern. The story seems complete, and yet - who were Horch and Wanderer, and why was the old Audi company such a struggler?
To find out, let's go back in time and meet August Horch (1868-1951), born at Winningen on the Mosel River near Koblenz. Son of a blacksmith, he progressed through wagon building to making torpedo boat engines, and by 1896 was managing Karl Benz's Mannheim motor-works, at the time the largest automobile works in the world. However, the innovative Horch was frustrated by Benz's staid approach to engineering, and in 1899 Horch received enough financial backing to start his own motor works.
His first model was a progressive shaft-driven 10-hp horizontally-opposed twin, and by 1902 Horch had a factory in Reichenbach producing 2.5 litre vertical twins. The works moved to Zwickau in 1904, which became the firm's headquarters. This factory was destined to be used later by Audi, then Auto Union, then IFA, then Trabant, then finally Volkswagen today! But I digress. Horch's designs became more adventurous, including 2.7 and 5.8-litre four cylinders, and an 8-litre 50-hp six cylinder in 1907. 1908 saw the development of special Horches with aerodynamic bodies for the Prince Henry Trials of that year. Unfortunately the six-cylinder was a flop, and Horch's continued interest in race specials generated hostility among his co-directors, so much so that in the summer of 1909 Horch left the company that bore his name.
With his departure, the original Horch company foundered somewhat at first, but recovered successfully and by 1914 it had a top-of-the range 6.4-litre four cylinder model capable of 135 km/h, available with an electric starter! Horch designs of the early 1920s were the work of Swiss engineer Arnold Zoller, but in 1923 the experienced Paul Daimler arrived in Zwickau and he introduced the first of a new generation of big straight-eights in 1926 for which Horch became famous. These 3.1-litre, twin overhead cam models, in a great number of variations, sold consistently and built Horch a prestigious reputation. In 1931 new SOHC straight-eights with greater reliability appeared, being the work of engineer Fritz Fiedler who later left Horch to join BMW. In late 1931 the huge 6-litre V12 Horch type 670 appeared. In 1932 Horch joined Auto Union.
Meanwhile, after August Horch had left his original company in 1909 he wasted no time setting up a new business virtually next door to the Horch works, in the name ‘August Horch Automobilwerk’. Not surprisingly, his former associates weren't very happy about a newcomer with the same name, and they obtained a court injunction forcing Horch to drop the name. In a gesture of defiance he simply translated his surname into Latin on the suggestion of his son, and the matter was resolved. You see, ‘Horch’ in German means ‘hark’ or ‘listen’, and the Latin equivalent is ‘Audi’. The correct pronunciation of this word rhymes with ‘Howdy’.
Anyway, the new Audi marque forged ahead, with August Horch continuing his interest in competition specials. The Prince Henry Cup had been discontinued, so Audi looked to the Austrian Alpine Trials, and won the event in 1913 with a 3.5-litre four cylinder 35-hp Type C, repeating the feat in 1914. Audi's trademark became the figure ‘1’ to symbolise its winning ways, and other pre-war designs included a 4.6-litre Type D of 1911-14, and the 55-hp 5.7-litre Type E that lasted into 1915.
The Great War produced great upheaval, and in 1920 August Horch left Audi to work in the Berlin economics ministry. Technical Director Lange took over as Audi boss but the company stagnated, and the Audis of the 1920s were technically uninspired, boxy saloons, like many other German cars following the Great War. There were exceptions though, like the aluminium block and pistons of the 1921-5 Model K and the 4.6-litre Model M capable of 150 km/h with overhead cam and servo-assisted four wheel hydraulic brakes. Production of the Model M lasted until 1928 but only 230 were ever built. The 1920s were disappointing years for Audi as annual production of all models never exceeded 309, and in fact slumped to a low of 90 in 1927.
DKW took control of Audi the next year and began assembling their little cars in the Audi works, although Audi production continued. Audi adopted Horch-like straight eights in 1929 in an attempt to go up-market, but these were unsuitable in the harsh economic climate of Germany then and these cars, whose engines were made by Rickenbacker of Detroit, USA, bombed badly. Audi then attempted a cheap model powered by a 1.1 litre Peugeot engine, and 300 were built at DKW's Spandau works in Berlin. This model died in 1932, a disastrous year for Audi with only 22 cars sold.
In August 1932 DKW and Audi joined with Horch to create Auto Union, so after 23 years the two firms started by August Horch were reunited under the Auto Union umbrella. August Horch himself was to return to the board of Auto Union in 1933 (aged 65), but he retired in 1937. He published his autobiography, called ‘Ich baute Autos’ (I Constructed Cars). He was made an honorary citizen of Zwickau in 1939 and he survived WW2. August Horch died in 1951, aged 83.
And the fourth Auto Union member, Wanderer? Based in Chemnitz, only 12 km from Zwickau, this firm had an NSU-like early history beginning with bicycle manufacture in 1885 and progressing through typewriters and motorcycles in 1902 and 1903. Car production began in 1911 with the 1150cc four cylinder ‘Puppchen’, or ‘Little Doll’, and the following year progressed to fours and sixes, some of the latter being built under licence by Martini in Switzerland.
In 1931 Wanderer had been the first customer at Ferdinand Porsche's design bureau in Stuttgart, and the result was the diplomatically titled ‘Type 7’ with a 1.7-litre OHV six that was similar to the Type 30 Steyr that Porsche had designed for that Austrian company earlier. This car entered production, but a new model with a 3.5-litre straight eight, with optional supercharger (Model types 8 and 9 in Porsche's register) was not produced. The reason was that by this time Wanderer had joined Auto Union and it was decided that the well-established eight-cylinder Horches would be the group's large car commitment.
So there we are - DKW, Audi, Horch, Wanderer, the four rings in the famous Auto Union badge. DKW's offerings up to WW2 have already been described, but Wanderer continued making unsensational saloons powered by the Porsche-designed 1.7 or 2.0-litre six that did not even get independent front suspension until 1933. They dispensed with overhead valves and superchargers in 1937 and made side-valve 1.7-litre fours and 2.6-litre sixes until the last Wanderer in 1940.
Horch introduced V8 models in 1933 and 1934, but production was modest with only 1,270 cars in 1933. Production improved to 2,030 in 1935 and Horch's best effort was 2,855 cars for the first ten months of 1939, but by then the war had begun. Horch trucks were built until 1944.
And Audi? Following transfer to the Horch factory in 1934 they introduced the front-drive ‘Front’, powered by the Wanderer six turned back to front. It sold a mere 2,165 examples before dying in 1938. The new 920 model that appeared in December 1938 had rear drive and a 3.2-litre Horch straight eight, less two cylinders! It proved more popular, selling 1,085 in 1939, Audi's best inter-war effort. The last Audi (until recently) was made in 1940.
By Anderer Bleistift
We've been through the histories of all the individual Auto Union marques – DKW, Audi, Horch and Wanderer. ‘Auto Union’ did not appear as a name on any of the cars in the group, although they all displayed the Vier Ringe badge on their radiators. There was a glorious exception, however, and that was the mid-engined Auto Union racecars that appeared in 1934 and went on to dominate, with Mercedes-Benz, Grand Prix racing until the war.
No tour of Auto Union history is complete without looking at these beautiful monsters, so here were are! Conception dates from October 1932, when a new racing formula was released requiring cars to be limited to 750 kg less tyres and fuel, but, significantly, engine size was unlimited.
The Stuttgart-based Porsche bureau decided to press ahead with a design for the new formula, despite finances being at low ebb. Initially only an engine was designed, the Type 22, and in November 1932 a company was formed to produce the complete car, the Hochleistungsfahrzeugbau (High Performance Vehicle Development Company). It was financed by Adolf Rosenberger, who had also backed Porsche in establishing his design bureau. By 15 November 1932 the specifications of the P-wagen (for Porsche) had been agreed - an ambitious 4358cc 45-degree V16, with Josef Kales responsible for the design. Porsche's chief engineer, Karl Rabe, was responsible for the suspension.
Porsche had no resources to produce the car himself, so he had to interest a manufacturer who could but in those years the national morale was low and he was unsuccessful. Racing driver Hans Stuck (father of the present Audi race driver Hans-Joachim Stuck) had a financial interest in the P-wagen, and he met with Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler to bewail Germany's lack of prowess on the European circuits.
Porsche, however, had begun talks with Auto Union through his Wanderer connections. Daimler-Benz's efforts had begun to leak out. Though they were interested, Auto Union had no funds to undertake such an ambitious project, so Porsche agreed to approach the government for help. Hitler had become Germany's new chancellor on 30 January 1933, and he had met Porsche before and been impressed with the straight-talking Austrian. Porsche met with Hitler in March and put forward the P-wagen case. Hitler listened attentively and agreed on a grant of RM450,000 to be split between Porsche and Daimler-Benz, so this gave the green light to the contract between Porsche and Auto Union. Work on the car began at the Horch works at Zwickau in May 1933, with the design finished by July.
The first prototype was ready by October, with former Daimler Benz driver Willy Waub at the wheel. He managed a few circuits of the Horch factory, then drove the single seater for a short run on the public highway. Later, after testing at Nurburgring, the car averaged 200 km/h in January 1934 as stipulated in Porsche's contract. A second car was completed the same month, and further testing runs were done at Avus and Monza, including along the Milan-Varese Autostrada! A long-tailed P-wagen made its public debut on 6th March at Avus, where Hans Stuck averaged 217 km/h. The car was triumphantly displayed at the Berlin Motor Show, opened by Adolf Hitler.
Obviously unorthodox, the A-type Auto Union (P-wagen) had its 220 kW V16 behind the driver. The engine had two valves per cylinder, the inlets operated directly by an overhead camshaft while the exhausts were pushrod and rocker actuated from the same source. A Roots supercharger was employed. The chassis was simple tubular construction, carrying the engine coolant through it, with Porsche's transverse torsion bars and trailing links at the front, and swing axle with twin transverse leaf springs at the rear. To keep under 750kg, some body panels were doped aircraft fabric, the rest were light alloy.
At their first outing at the Avus Grand Prix in March 1934 an Auto Union came second to an Alfa Romeo, then second at Eifelrennen, then at the prestigious French Grand Prix the two Auto Unions retired, but so did the rival Mercedes-Benz W25. The P-wagen redeemed itself at the German Grand Prix, when Hans Stuck gave Auto Union its first GP win, with Mercedes Benz second and an Alfa Romeo third. Further success for Auto Union came with victories in the Swiss and Czech Grand Prix.
It had been a promising start, and the car was refined for 1935. The Type B had a larger bore 4950cc V16 with stub exhausts, rear torsion bars replacing the leaf springs, and all metal bodywork. Despite these improvements the season was a patchy one for Auto Union with the rival Mercedes W25s winning 9 GPs that year. Auto Union was triumphant at the Italian and Tunis Grands Prix, and Bernd Rosemeyer took a P-wagen to victory at the Czech GP. Rosemeyer, a new recruit to the team, had graduated from Auto Union's DKW racing motorcycles.
More modifications were made for 1936, the Type C car seeing a leap in capacity to 6010cc and a ZF limited slip differential to cope with the 390 kW. With Rosemeyer in fine form Auto Union had an impressive year, its best ever, with victories in the Eifel, German, Pescara, Swiss and Italian Grands Prix and the European championship.
The following year, 1937, saw Mercedes-Benz introduce the 445 kW W125. It was a long and exciting season, with Auto Union finishing only just behind on 6 wins from 13 races. Mercedes-Benz won the other 7 in a year dominated by the big German cars. With the ending of the 750kg formula in 1937, the four seasons had produced 22 Mercedes and 18 Auto Union victories.
New regulations for 1938-40 saw weight restrictions lifted and a 3-litre engine size limit introduced. Both Auto Union and Mercedes Benz opted for V12 engines, but where Mercedes' W154 remained front-engined the new Type D car from Zwickau was a further refinement of the mid-engined concept. As Ferdinand Porsche was by this time committed full-time to the Volkswagen project, the Auto Union Type D was largely the work of Prof. Eberan von Eberhorst. The new engine boasted three camshafts, one operating the inlet valves and the other two in each cylinder bank operating the exhausts. A Roots supercharger was again used and the engine developed 315 kW. The chassis was similar but 228mm shorter than its predecessor, and while the front torsion bar suspension remained the same the rear was a Mercedes-Benz-like de Dion layout. Fuel tanks were moved from behind to either side of the driver, and because of the shorter engine he now sat in the centre of the car rather than the front, improving weight distribution and roadholding.
Unfortunately the awaited 1938 season was overshadowed by the death of Bernd Rosemeyer in January during a record attempt. You see, from 1934 onwards Auto Union participated in record breaking with souped-up versions of the P-wagen clothed in aerodynamic, all-enveloping bodywork. Rosemeyer had averaged 408.3 km/h for the flying kilometre on the Frankfurt to Darmstadt Autobahn in late 1937 in such a machine. Mercedes-Benz responded with 430.2 km/h, and on a blustery day in early 1938, Auto Union and Rosemeyer came back to try again. It was as the car was running flat out that it suddenly lurched in a crosswind, threw off a tyre, disintegrated and crashed into a nearby bridge. Rosemeyer was thrown clear but died immediately. Auto Union never undertook any further record attempts.
In addition to this tragedy, the Type Ds had teething troubles and Auto Union missed the first three major races of 1938. Their eventual debut at the French GP was a disaster, both cars retiring on the first lap. It was then that Tazio Nuvolari, the greatest driver of his day, was signed to drive for Auto Union. He had previously been faithful to his native but increasingly overshadowed Alfa Romeo. The maestro took three GPs to come to terms with the big Auto Unions before overhauling Mercedes-Benz successfully at Monza and Donnington.
In 1939 both Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz adopted two-stage supercharging, boosting the Type D to 365 kW. Auto Union won the French GP, but thereafter the more slippery Mercedes-Benz W163s had the upper hand, although Nuvolari beat them at the Yugoslav GP on 3rd September, the day Britain and France declared war on Germany. This put an end to Auto Union's racing activities, even though work was well advanced on a 1.5 litre Type E intended for the post 1940 season.
By Dave Long
The VW Beetle is a car with many technical features - all ahead of their time - which contributed to its resounding success all over the world for three decades, Australia included. Its remarkable air-cooled boxer engine had a lot to do with those winning qualities of reliability, economy and long life. But even the VW couldn’t sell itself.
The late Doug Donaldson, Managing Director of previous VW importers LNC Industries Ltd, had remarked on the early days in a 1979 interview.
Mr Donaldson’s history parallels that of the VW Beetle he promoted. After experience with an oil company, in motor spare parts and as a car salesman, he joined a dealership called Larke, Neave and Carter in 1953 as Sales Manager, at the age of 25.
Part of Mr Donaldson s previous motor trade experience was in selling the Tempo Matador light truck, which was VW-powered. At that time, the management consisted of Reg Locke as Managing Director, Donaldson as Sales Manager, the late Bill Curtis as Parts Manager and the late Bruce Butler as Service Manager.
There were two salesmen, Bruce Cartrell and Dieter Theile. VW distribution, service and parts function was carried out in NSW by Larke, Neave and Carter and its subsidiary, Lanock Motors Ltd.
“Success of the Volkswagen was not instant. It was initially regarded as an ugly car,” Mr Donaldson said in 1979. “It was noisy, and its rear engine was unacceptable to most people. So we had to promote, and promote hard. We set out to build a family of VW lovers. This was achieved by ensuring that every customer was regularly contacted by myself and the salesmen at weekends and nights to enquire whether they were satisfied with their purchase, and of course to obtain new prospects.
“We formed a Volkswagen Club in which all executives participated, even though some of us weren’t good drivers. It seems funny today that when a shipment of, say, 60 cars arrived, every one of us, including W.R. Locke (the Managing Director) would put on overalls and ferry cars from the Woolloomooloo wharf to our service station at Rushcutters Bay. There, all would help in detailing and cleaning of the new vehicles so that deliveries could be effected quickly.
“This went on for many years, and by our constant calls, and the fact that each and every one of us carries a notebook listing registration number and the owners name of every Volkswagen in the Sydney metropolitan area, we were able to build up a family of Beetle lovers. The rest is history.
“It has been said we were lucky we had such a good franchise; I would say to everyone joining the industry today - the harder you work, the luckier you will get.”
Mr Donaldson retired from LNC Industries in 1986, and passed away in 1991. The Australian VW franchise was moved from LNC to Ateco in 1987, then to TKM in 1990, and Inchcape, the present distributors, in 1992.
By Ray Black
The Porsche Bureau in Stuttgart had a contract with Daimler-Benz to develop new Mercedes designs just prior to the outbreak of war. When the contract expired in 1940, there was no further incentive for Porsche to come up with any more brilliant civilian auto designs. The whole country was at war.
Daimler-Benz generously recommended the Porsche Bureau to the Military Supply Office, which only meant one thing - involvement with military designs. This inevitably brought Porsche into the sphere of tank designing, and they were soon deep into producing tank drawings, blueprints and plans.
Ferry Porsche concluded that this was the Military Supply Office’s way of getting even with the Porsche Bureau, since the orders for developing the VW Kübelwagen had come directly from Hitler himself, thus going over the heads of the Military Supply Office. They had wanted to push their own design for production, and so Porsche was not popular with them.
The Kübelwagen, or ‘bucket car’, was of course the military version of the VW Beetle. A cross-country, cut-down Beetle prototype had first appeared in 1937, followed by its evolution into the Type 82. The Kübelwagen featured a lightweight body built by Ambi Budd Corporation of Berlin, a part-owned American firm, fitted onto a Beetle chassis. At this stage Porsche’s technical expertise was not challenged.
But the Military Supply Office still had one ace up their sleeve. When the orders came for Porsche to prepare and test two Kübelwagens in the North African desert, the Office was gleeful at Porsche’s prospects of failure. If the Kübels did fail in the tough conditions the consequences would be doubly serious. Porsche’s reputation would be compromised, and Hitler’s men would lose confidence in their abilities.
Porsche's detractors were to be deeply disappointed, however. In spite of the desert heat, sand and the brutal treatment given to the military VWs, they performed faultlessly and, in fact, seemed to thrive in the rough conditions.
Of course, Porsche had reason to be well pleased with the results, and they would have even found them comical if not for a sad series of events. Due to a typical bureaucratic stuff-up at the Military Supply Office, the 500 specially prepared desert Kübelwagens were never sent to Rommel’s Afrika Korps - instead they ended up at the Russian front! Rommel received a shipment of regular Kübelwagens, which nonetheless performed very well.
The wastage of the lovingly prepared desert VWs was a terrible waste, especially considering the extra thought and effort that had gone into creating them. For example, much attention had been made to keeping sand out of the ignition system, and the distributor was carefully shielded. A much larger engine duct was fitted to allow more cooling air to reach the engine, via a king-sized air filter.
There were many other small, carefully considered features. The front axle had been modified to allow the car to go faster over sand dunes. Porsche had also fitted larger tyres, inflated to a lower pressure, exactly as done by today's dune buggy enthusiasts. The rims for those special tyres were much wider, and they were made lighter to compensate for the extra metal. Amazingly, the tyres themselves came from certain large aeroplanes, and proved most suitable for their new purpose. The only change was that the tread was skimmed off to give a bald finish. Tread only tends to trap the tyres in the sand.
The troops of the Afrika Korps were particularly happy with one feature of the Kübelwagen, and that was the provision of two jerry tanks on every car. One was used for water, and the other for petrol. Since the VW engine used no water, and the men did not have such a great thirst either, they could fill the other jerry can with petrol as well and thus increase their range.
Still, it is amazing that the Kübelwagen was so suited to both the severe heat of the north African desert, and the sub-zero chill of the Russian front. Field Marshal Rommel was particularly complimentary about them, saying to Porsche:
“Your desert car, which I used in North Africa, saved my life. It didn’t pack up when crossing a minefield, when the heavy Horch trucks travelling behind with the supplies were blown sky high.”
Whether Rommel was just lucky and did not hit a mine is not known!
By John Wright
How long can we keep handing you this same old line? The line itself was familiar back in the early 1960s but its application in a car advertisement was radical. The old line in question was, of course, the profile of the Volkswagen Beetle and the theme of the Doyle Dane Bernbach campaign was to use humour to emphasise the Beetle's virtue. Poke some fun first (“some people even think it's a funny little engine”), then throw in a few facts and conclude the ad by revealing the supposed failing to be a strongpoint (“our funny little engine sure can push our funny little car fast”).
No, said these brilliant ads, the VW is not new. Neither is it pretty (yes, it's ugly). It has no fins or flash nor new fangled gimmickry. But just look how well it works, how cheap it is to buy and run and how long it lasts. And, come the rise of the counter-culture in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, look how well this image suits those who dare to stand apart! The Beetle was promoted as the car for the counter culture.
By 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had strutted briefly upon the lunar surface but the Beetle still looked much as it had before World War Two. An ad audaciously linked the car with the lunar module. Under a photo of the Eagle LEM lander were the words, “it's ugly but it gets you there.” Every American with even a nodding interest in things automotive recognised this as a VW ad.
Those clever Doyle Dane Bernbach campaigns insulted to deceive. How about the advertisement that offered itself as the first-ever pretty picture of a VW? Well, there was this snowy landscape but very little Beetle to be seen.
The underlying paradox through all this is that the VW Beetle was conceived as a people’s car, and yet it inspired one of the most sophisticated advertising campaigns ever seen. I think it is entirely reasonable to suggest that the car has produced deeper emotion - whether positive or negative - in the public consciousness than any other car ever made.
Certainly there has never been and perhaps never be again a cheap car with which so many buyers across so many national borders, language barriers and social classes have identified, nor a car which so many owners have given a name. Herbie was just one in a million. The Citroen Deux Chevaux is ineluctably French, while the Fiat Topolino was forever Italian. The Mini has come closest to the Beetle as a cult car and has played a greater role in influencing other designs, but its own popularity barely spanned two decades. If you include the latest ‘trendy’ VW movement, the Volkswagen's appeal has now lasted significantly more than half a century.
I was four when I first saw a Volkswagen. That was in 1954 in Tasmania, the first year it was sold in Australia. In a world of Holdens, Morris Minors, Hillmans, Austin A40s and Vauxhalls it was an oddity. It wasn't just that it was German with the War less than a decade gone, but that it looked peculiar.
From a comparatively slow beginning in Australia, the Beetle had gained mass acceptance by the end of the 1950s. It was, in fact, the top selling small car in this country for several years. Those clever American advertisements were not the reason; Australia had its own series of unique VW ads. Rather, the Beetle drove its way into the hearts of many buyers through the famous ‘Round Australia’ reliability trials of late 1950s. VWs won outright victory (finishing 1-2) in the 1955 Redex, perhaps its most notable achievement, but VWs also won the ’57 Ampol Trial, and all three Mobilgas Trials in 1956, ’57 and ’58. In the ’57 Mobilgas, VWs finished 1-2-3-4-5-6. The Volkswagen began to acquire a reputation of invulnerability. And this in a country which had traditionally shrugged its shoulders at the concept of four-cylinder cars! Four cylinders, a boxer-style engine, the engine mounted in the rear - what a miracle that this car won acceptance in Holdenland. Along with the Morris Minor and perhaps the Peugeot 203 it can claim credit for beginning to break down the Aussie distrust of small four cylinder cars.
Perhaps it was the battler, the underdog? Perhaps people unconsciously felt sorry for it? Heading the Holdens, Vanguards, Customlines and Humbers home in 1955 was certainly the material of instant heroism.
For whatever reasons, the VW was on a high heading into the 1960s. In 1961 the power output climbed from 36 horsepower (gross) to 40, lifting the maximum (and cruising) speed from 68 mph to 72. The gear-change was slicker with synchromesh on first, and other detail changes set the formula up for another half decade, although, of course, every year brought a new feature or two. Local assembly was in full flight and Doug Donaldson, the forward-thinking salesman who went for the NSW franchise in 1954 when most people thought the VW would have no chance of succeeding here, was laughing all the way to the bank.
In 1963 the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition took a Beetle to Antarctica. So well did it perform there, that the organisation permitted one of its members, Ray McMahon, to endorse the car in a 1964 advertisement: “We've got the world's worst conditions in Antarctica,” he said. “Yet, we wanted a car that any member of the expedition could hop into and drive off without a moment's hesitation. I don't think we had any other choice but a Volkswagen.” The ad attributed the VW's Antarctic success to two factors: air cooling and the placement of the engine over the rear wheels for superior traction.
Advertisements such as that and the ones where the Beetle was shown to be capable of amphibious activity emphasised the car's distinctiveness in a way that tended to undermine worries that it was too old in styling or that it could suddenly snap into oversteer if cornered too hard. The ads played brilliantly on the car's uniqueness. It's surprising the copywriters never used the line that later - absurdly – was used to promote the HQ Statesman: “what makes it different is what makes it better,” because, basically, that was the continual theme.
The advent of the Mini slowed VW sales somewhat, but it was the Japanese invasion in the mid-‘60s that sent it plummeting off the bestseller list. There was a fine irony here. In the mid-‘50s some people believed the VW's country of origin would count against it. Indeed, in 1955 many Australians still baulked at the idea of a German car and almost none would then have bought a Japanese model, had such an oddity been available. But one decade later the Japanese cars were selling a storm, and at the expense of this German car and, of course, the British models too.
As Beatlemania infected Australia, Beetlemania was already on the wane. Cars such as the Isuzu Bellet, Datsun 1200 and Toyota Corolla seemed to offer more features and modernity for the money. And, of course, more performance. Even the British cars had lifted their game and the original Cortina and the Vauxhall Viva clearly outperformed the Beetle. In a bid to win back favour for the Beetle, a stripped ‘Standard’ version was offered in 1963 for around the same price as a Mini. Off came the chrome, the upholstery was more utilitarian and even the interior light was deleted. This ‘austerity’ model, later updated to the ‘Custom’ model, was a sales failure and was discontinued in 1968.
In 1966 the 1300 was introduced with 50 horsepower instead of 40. And in 1968 the now CKD-assembled Beetle was modernized to the current German specs, with a full 1.5 litres with 53 horsepower. The '68 model was clearly superior to its predecessors, and especially the 1300 which did suffer from some quality problems; the 1300 engine was never as reliable as the old 1200. But also the competition was far superior. Consider the class of '68: Renault 10, Holden Torana, Morris 1100S - not names you'd get too nostalgic about nowadays but all impressive in their way at the time. And just a notch upmarket was the International Car of the Year, the Fiat 124 with four wheel discs and 0-100 km/h in 14 seconds (the 1500 Beetle needed over 20).
The clever advertisements continued, but it required great faith on the part of prospective buyers to turn away from more contemporary competition. Certainly the 1968 Beetle was far superior to the 1958 model but not, I would argue, by the same margin as a Renault 10 or even a Toyota Corolla was superior to an Austin A35 or a Standard Super Ten.
1971 brought the Superbug S with 1600cc and 57 bhp. The front suspension was changed to a MacPherson strut system and the rear used the sophisticated Porsche-style double-jointed axles from the semi-auto, and suddenly, surprisingly, the Beetle was an outstanding handler. But by this time the comparatively cramped interior, the noisy boxer engine, the poor acceleration, the heavy fuel consumption (compared to small rivals) and the inescapably dated styling had moved the Volkswagen far from the market frontline; it sold to enthusiasts and in very limited numbers.
A curved windscreen, a new dashboard, a four-spoke steering wheel, revised seats and other changes didn't win the 1973 Superbug L model much custom. It soldiered on here until the end of 1975, by which time even the home front competition in the form of the new Golf showed it to be an overpriced anachronism. Briefly, the Golf sold for $4,600 but the price climbed steadily. By 1976 the Beetle cost $4,500, while the equally dated Mini S commanded just over $3,700 and the Honda Civic was just over $4,000.
In retrospect the heyday of the Beetle in Australia was from 1959 until 1964. At that time it could still trade on its sporting successes of the late '50s and it still offered tangible advantages over most competitors. A top speed of 72 mph was only average (Mini 850 71 mph, Minor 1000 75, Cortina 1200 77), but a cruising speed of 72 (116 km/h) was singular in an era when a typical small car grew quite unhappy over 65 (105 km/h). That 40 bhp version of the 1200 engine was demonstrably understressed.
The 1300, however, seemed to lose that relaxed feeling. It was as if the Beetle engine had begun to find its limits. There were too many cases of premature problems. The 1500 model was better. So was the Superbug. And yet, these cars, too, seemed harder working than the old 1200. Or was it more that the standards by which judgements were made had itself changed?
In the ‘50s when the VW began its hard work throughout a basically sceptical world, small cars were a very long drive from what they became a decade later. The German Volkswagen was many country kilometres ahead of its competition - so far ahead that the manufacturer could change the split rear window to a single piecer in 1953 and that was big news. Five years later the rear window was enlarged and that, arguably, was even bigger news.
The formula had gained such acceptance that any change was automatically seen as progress (and few asked why these glaring changes hadn't been made earlier!) Not surprisingly, Doyle Dane Bernbach best summed up this Beetle attribute in 1975: “Some things change. Some things never change. Volkswagen does both.”
By Philip Lord
The Beetle is the car on which Volkswagen's success or failure depended. It has, with over 21 million cars built on the same basic platform, proved to be an unparalleled success. It is not a car that owes its success to one outstanding individual alone, not even its creator Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. While the integrity of the Beetle's design took the special engineering and design efforts of Porsche, the design itself was not revolutionary; it did not originate solely from the inspiration of Porsche.
Evidence shows that many of the design cues for the Beetle saw their provenance in the work of Hans Ledwinka, director of Czech car company, Tatra. These Czech cars featured the backbone chassis ten years before it appeared on a Volkswagen prototype. The Tatra T11 appeared in 1922 featuring for the first time a central frame backbone chassis.
Tatra was not the only source for the Beetle’s design principles. De Dion Bouton patented a horizontally opposed aircraft engine very similar in the Beetle engine in 1895. The swing axle used on both the Tatra cars and the Beetle was patented by Edmund Rumpler in 1903.
These engineering ideas were all used in a Tatra experimental vehicle of the early 1930s. This car featured an air-cooled twin-cylinder horizontally opposed engine fitted to the rear on a backbone chassis. A later version called the V570 featured this type of motor and chassis set-up, with an aerodynamic body that the rear-engine position permitted. The benefits of aerodynamics were becoming apparent in the field of car design at this time, and the rear engine layout allowed freedom of space at the front for smooth, aerodynamic styling.
An instrumental player in the Volkswagen project, Adolf Hitler, noted Ledwinka’s ideas most carefully. The Volkswagen Beetle and Adolf Hitler are unavoidably linked; the whole idea of a car for the people - hence Volkswagen - came from Hitler. Hitler commissioned Porsche (and others) to come up with a suitable car, one that even poor people could afford to buy and run. Hitler set almost impossible targets for the Volkswagen, such as very cheap purchase price, which industry observers claimed wouldn’t cover the production labour and material costs. It was a state-owned organisation (KdF) whose job it would have been to assemble the Beetle, had the war not intervened.
Hitler, the villain of the 20th century, is said to have liked Tatra cars after having been chauffeured around in a Til during his extensive political tours. He was impressed by the Tatra's ability to be driven long distances without fault, apparently not commonplace for cars during the 1930s.
Hitler attended Berlin motor shows in the early 1930s where he met Ledwinka at the Tatra stand, and made particular effort to meet with Ledwinka again. Hitler wanted Ledwinka's ideas for an affordable car for the German people. They had several meetings to discuss the requirements of such a car, Hitler most keen for it to emulate the best of Ledwinka's designs. Erich Ledwinka, Hans’ son, claims that his father and Hitler together formulated the design principles for a Volkswagen, which Hitler promptly passed onto Porsche. It is said that Hitler gave strict instructions for Porsche to incorporate all the Ledwinka-inspired guidelines that he had gleaned from his meetings with the Tatra boss.
Porsche was not oblivious to the strengths of Tatra cars; indeed neither were most car
designers and engineers of the time, as they all shared their design ideas. The secrecy that shrouds new car development and design came later; it did not happen during the 1930s. Speaking about the similarities between his and Ledwinka's work, Porsche once conceded, “Well sometimes I looked over his shoulder, and sometimes he looked over mine.”
With both Hitler and Porsche very much au fait with the Ledwinka design concepts, and as both held them in high regard, it is not surprising that Hitler's brief for the Volkswagen specifically demanded their use; neither is it surprising that Porsche was able to adopt such concepts for his prototypes with the speed that he did. He had no choice. Hitler taking such a personal interest in the Volkswagen project meant that Porsche could not try to reinvent the wheel and call it something else. He had to use Ledwinka's patented designs - not such a dishonourable action in itself - but in Hitler's inimitable style, the Nazi government did not seek permission from Ledwinka to use them. In this vein, early Beetles featured primitive cable brakes only because the Nazi government was reluctant to pay an American company royalties for the use of their hydraulic brake design.
Ledwinka saw Porsche's patent infringement as blatant, as did his company Tatra, who promptly took legal action against Porsche. The bone of contention was the imitation of the patented rear engine/gearbox layout and ducted air-cooling. Tatra's litigation efforts never proceeded to court, for by then it was 1938 and war was soon to quash any thought of civil legal action.
By almost sheer luck Volkswagens began rolling out of the Wolfsburg factory in 1945. Sheer luck because during the war the allies had almost completely destroyed it. No one was thinking about infringement of patents as (thanks to the gifted British army's Major Hirst) the Beetles started to churn out first for the allied forces and then a car-starved German population.
Soon after this, as it was realised that the Beetle was not going to disappear into obscurity along with the Nazis, Tatra re-commenced its fight for recompense for patent infringement. Some DM 3 million was handed over as a result of an out of court settlement - an implicit admission by Porsche that a patent infringement acceptable in Nazi Germany was no longer.
More recently, Volkswagen have publicly stated that they are aware of the Beetle' s heritage, saying "...many of the ideas that Ledwinka realised in the Tatra were used in similar fashion on the Volkswagen."
Despite the large compensation figure, none was passed onto Ledwinka. He died before any legal action could be taken to stake his claim on some of the compensation money. This was not for the want of trying, but he could not afford legal counsel, stalling his efforts at remuneration.
While the unfair treatment of the pioneering Ledwinka has brought the Beetle’s origins to light, there is no evidence that his ideas alone have made Volkswagen the success it is today. The Beetle was instrumental in the growth of Volkswagen, and to an extent the fragile early post-war German economy. What made the Beetle so attractive to buyers was not only the design of its parts. After all, the very design principles that Volkswagen copied from Tatra are now out of favour, and other companies that attempted to build cars on the same principles proved to be unmitigated disasters - look at the Chevrolet Corvair, for example. Only low volume or localised, government subsidised manufactur¬ers have successfully continued to build air-cooled cars. Who are they? Porsche AG with the 911, and Volkswagen de Mexico with the Beetle.
By John Collins
In 1955 the John Meagher's department store (!) at Cootamundra acquired the agency for Volkswagen Sales and Service. That was the year of VoIkswagens' successes in the third (and last) Redex Trial, when VWs finished 1st and 2nd in front of a Vanguard and Holden.
At the 1955 Cootamundra Show, John Meagher's Department Store was able to display Laurie Whitehead’s winning VW to promote Volkswagens.
John Rickett, a 17-year-old farm boy from Wallendbeen, was impressed by the Redex Trial VW and feasted his eyes on it all day. When the foreman-in-charge had to take the VW back to the shop after the Show, he offered John to drive it there. John was overwhelmed by the invitation and enjoyed the drive.
He later ordered a new car! That was 1 out of 3,946 VWs sold throughout Australia in 1955.
Soon Meaghers Store had sold quite a few VWs. They were serviced out the back, amongst the agricultural machinery, by Cootamundra pilot Frank DeBritt and an apprentice.
Later Frank DeBritt acquired the VW franchise and opened up Cootamundra’s VW Sales and Service in a proper Service Station.
The Australian VW distributors supplied Travelogue Films to their VW Agencies to promote their businesses (in those pre-TV days). The public were invited to come to see these films at the Cootamundra Town Hall.
VW owners received invitations to park their cars together in front of the Town Hall and John remembers proudly parking his VW with about a dozen other VWs in the display line-up. Those were the days!
By Adrian Corvisy
Hi, I'm Adrian Corvisy, and I started Powertune Engineering in 1974, having worked for a number of Volkswagen businesses while studying for a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Sydney University.
From there I learnt the design principles used in the construction of machinery and mechanisms including, of course, the fascinating motor car. Being the owner of a 1956 Beetle who couldn't afford a fast sports car, I decided to reconstruct it for circuit racing and hillclimbs while still keeping it as my daily driver.
There was not much high performance aftermarket equipment for Volkswagens in Australia in 1966, and while EMPI were operating in the States and Okrasa with Denzel in Germany, the parts were scarce and very expensive in this country. Having tried a Judson supercharger on the 36-hp motor with sonic extractors, I went to an English Shorrock supercharger (better) and fitted some Maico disc brakes (real brakes for a change, but still a flawed design).
Then the changes occurred rapidly with a Type 3 1500 motor being used to fit a succession of bigger superchargers, from a GMC 3-71 to finally a Godfrey Marshall unit from an aircraft! My custom exhaust with twin aluminium mufflers was loud, but the scream of the blower was electrifying and the car was awesome to drive. A 1952 Porsche gearbox, adjustable custom-built suspension and 9" wide wheels with Dunlop racing tyres under very reworked mudguards made this a real Unidentified Air-cooled Object.
It was fast but harsh and very noisy (headphones instead of stereo speakers!), but I had already formed a plan for a new, equally fast but civilised high-performance Beetle.
In 1971, while working for the Bug Inn in Neutral Bay, I was given the task of developing a Beetle for Rallycross racing at Catalina Park, Katoomba, being a direct telecast and high-profile event at the time. I was given a large budget to work with (only to find later that the owner could afford it only by not paying his bills!), and the car was based on a 1968 Beetle. I designed and had made spiral-cut high cross-ratio 1st and 2nd gear sets, and built a 92mm x 82mm roller bearing motor, both firsts for Australia. I designed and constructed a camshaft evaluation machine that unlocked the mysteries of cam profile and operation with the special requirements of the air-cooled motor (Gene Berg showed great interest in this machine on his final trip to Australia, 24 years later), and I built my own cam profile from scratch, also pioneering the use of low-thrust cam gears. The car was virtually unbeatable and number 77 was driven by drivers including Peter Hill, Doug Chivas (a regular Bathurst racer), and the legendary Barry Ferguson for whom I was later to build a modified 1600 engine to power his 1967 works rally Beetle, winner of the Southern Cross Rally of the same year, for the Bourke to Burketown Bash in 1985. Video footage taken from the ABC helicopter shows it out-accelerating Simon Townsend's ‘big inch’ Ford Galaxy and the rest of the field in one spectacular start, just like a Herbie movie!
Later, in 1974 at Powertune, I built and fitted a motor to another Rallycross car for Ed Mulligan (owner of Opposite Lock accessories), but television had gone from Rallycross, and with it the sponsors and money. The car was very quick but seldom finished a race, being the old Chris Heyer Rallycross car that was well past its use-by date and falling apart. I was only to find out a few years ago that this was second of two VWs taken to and used in Antarctica, and certainly worthy of a better fate.
At the same time I also built a similar engine for my faithful '56 for more racing, and this Beetle was usually faster than the hot production cars of the day, including Torana XU-1s, Bathurst E49 Chargers, GTHO Falcons and the occasional Porsche and Ferrari of the era.
After the car was destroyed in a race track accident in 1972, the salvaged engine was kept and in 1974 was fitted to a stock 1962 Beetle for one day to run the standing quarter mile at Castlereagh Raceway in 13.20 seconds using only three gears. By this time I had started Powertune at St Leonards, and I had a contract to repair and service the delivery cars for Pacific Film Laboratories, who had a fleet of around 350 Beetles. It was my responsibility to take delivery of new cars, paint them in the company colours and maintain them for 2-3 years. After that I would purchase and repaint the cars to original colours and sell them. And even though the cars may have travelled up to 400,000 km, they were in excellent condition thanks to being continuously hot running for eight-hour shifts. I accumulated a wealth of information and experience from these hard-working little cars in a very short time.
With the '56 Beetle now gone, I had the chance to start again with a clean sheet of paper to construct the civilised sports Beetle I now wanted. Starting with a brand-new 1974 1300 and a new power testing dynamometer, I embarked on a development program for the roller bearing 2180cc engine that not only saw significant power gains but also a dramatic reduction in noise levels with unique design registered intake and exhaust systems and a revised valve train. Durability was also improved with a cylinder strengthening system and support plates, custom made sodium filled exhaust valves with 9mm stems, machined-down chrome nickel diesel truck valve seats and oil jets to cool the piston undersides and a spray bar lubrication system for the roller bearing big ends.
This allowed the engine to run with wide throttle for long periods of time, just as a factory performance air-cooled engine like a Porsche or aircraft engine would. The crankcase was through-bolted in the centre main journal and a sub-chassis with extra engine mounts was designed for the increased torque reaction without transmission of noise or vibration. The two 16-row oil coolers were controlled by a unique internal oil control thermostat. A special fixture to modify and torque test clutches was built, resulting in a comfortable, easy to use clutch that eliminated the shock loading and subsequent gearbox damage that the excessively savage aftermarket Crown clutches had caused.
The race-type 46IDA Weber carburettors were made to run smoothly, like fuel injection, with specially drilled additional fuel circuits (also done by Gene Berg 14 years later), idle stabiliser, automatic cold fast idle device and a non-sticking pump rolled modification. Not only was the economy in the 20-26 mpg range (depending on the driver), but power was now improved 390% over a stock 1600 engine!
The long periods of dyno testing also showed weaknesses in the standard transmission, as well as using steel side plates and chrome-moly differential housing. I created a mainshaft bearing retaining plate that eliminated the pounding of the housing and bearing failure (these also appeared on the American market in about 1985, 11 years later), and a modified lower 3rd gear from an earlier model. Close tolerance blueprinting completed the gearbox at this time.
I constructed a brake conversion system using the big Type 4 brakes and made a quick and easy to use adjustable front suspension that could be set from the boot area of the car, ideal for adjustments at the race track or to compensate for extra weight. The rear suspension height was also made to be quickly and easily adjusted and the whole suspension was kept compliant with maximum wheel travel so the car can safely handle real roads at speed, and not just race tracks.
The wide German Ronal wheels needed flared fibreglass guards to cover them, and a front air dam and whale-tail spoiler were created to greatly enhance high-speed stability, especially in side winds. The whale tail was also used to improve cooling, with cold air ducted directly into the special air cleaner.
The interior was upgraded with carpet, extra soundproofing, new side trims, Recaro Concorde seats, race harnesses and a revised dashboard that put the main instruments in the driver's line of vision. The fibreglass panels were matched to the new original paint and the bumpers, headlight rims and blinker housings colour matched, as well as black door and bonnet handles and thick bumper rubbers.
And so was born the 2200 Stage 5 conversion and a unique Australian style that was to be copied shamelessly for many years to come. But the ‘look’ did not make much sense without the mechanical upgrade and most never looked correct with wrong wheels and so many missing details the copiers never understood.
The orange 1974 prototype was on the Recaro Seat stand at the May 1975 Sydney International Motor Show, and the response was more than encouraging. Over the next ten years, 15 were built on mostly new or low mileage cars (including the one owned for 30 years by Steve Carter), but the prototype is still owned by me. I raced it vigorously in the late '70s but now, with only 40,000km accumulated, it has been assigned to street driving duties to reduce the chance of accident damage.
The last 2200 Stage 5 was a detuned version with small valves and cam built on a 1976 model, in 1985. This original, one-owner car was converted to run on unleaded fuel in 1996 and entered in the 1997 Targa Tasmania, a demanding rally of 2,000km over closed public roads where it finished 4th in the Late Classic Modified class (up to 3-litre), in spite of time lost due to a serious crash. The car was 84th on handicap in a field of over 200 cars with many high-budget overseas entries using new, current model, modified Porsches, Ferraris, Lotuses and MGs, to name but a few. No maintenance or adjustments were needed in a race where major mechanical repairs and engine replacements were not uncommon.
In 1981 Powertune ran the Comalco Wunderlich Sports Sedan Championship Series at Amaroo Park in a highly modified 1971 Superbug, with a 2-litre engine (92 x 74 mm). It ran an Okrasa crank, Carillo rods, 330° camshaft, 48IDA Webers, dry sump and magneto ignition. It could rev to 8000 rpm and raced for 18 months without attention. Driven by Greg Mackie, the results speak for themselves. Winner of the 2-litre class and 2nd outright behind the ex-Bob Jane 650 horsepower Monaro. The car still holds unbeaten records set at Silverdale and Dapto Hillclimbs in 1981, and is still in the Powertune ‘Working Museum’ collection. It is, so far, the fastest circuit racing Beetle in this country and was built from a standard car in around 18 months.
Over the years, a number of mechanics who worked at Powertune have gone on to start their own Volkswagen businesses. However, all machine work, modifications and development have remained my job and I employ the help of others in the assembly and service of the cars that were built. This is the only way I could be sure that my products could not be replicated. So if it didn't come from here, then it isn't a Powertune product.
And on the subject of business policy, I have learnt that as much fun as it may be, the drag strip is not a good place to rate a car that is to live in the real world. Such racing requires no braking or handling capabilities and these items, in fact, add weight that would reduce the drag strip performance. Nor does the engine need to be quiet, smooth, economical or even durable. Just take a look at the top fuel dragster to see where evolution will take a car designed only to do the quarter mile.
So the main business of Powertune is to build legitimate performance street cars that can be raced, and not vice versa. With care and attention to good design, it is possible to have a good all-round car that is safe and fun to drive under all conditions, yet still do 13s over the quarter mile. What else could you want?
And where does the future lie with air-cooled cars? Some will say they have no future, but I don't think so. I believe that the New Beetle (Golf-based, front engine, water cooled) will generate an entirely new interest and appreciation of the original classics from people who may not have had much to do with Volkswagen previously. And as long as there is an effort to maintain good standards and keep the dysfunctional ‘lost cause’ cars off the road, both car enthusiasts and businesses will all benefit in the long run. There is still some life left in the old bug yet. And I'm producing a totally new Stage 6 conversion, but don't ask for a completion date just yet!
Happy Volkswagening! Adrian Corvisy, Owner/Manager of Powertune
From the London Times
Major Ivan Hirst, car engineer, was born on March 1, 1916. He died on March 10 2000, aged 84.
Amid the bomb-blasted ruins of a German factory, Sir William Rootes, who with his brother Reggie had founded the British car dynasty, poured scorn on a young officer's plans. "If you think you're going to build cars in this place you're a bloody fool, young man," he told 29-year-old Major Ivan Hirst.
Rootes, later Lord Rootes, had not counted on the determination of the young REME officer and his colleagues, and over the next half-century some 22 million Volkswagen Beetles rolled off the production line. The German plant, at Wolfsburg in the north of the country, had been built to turn Hitler's dream of a small, cheap reliable ‘People's Car’ into reality. Only a handful of prototypes were built, however, before the plant was commandeered for the German war effort.
By the war's end Wolfsburg was in ruins, and Allied bombs had destroyed two thirds of the factory. The factory was in the British sector, so the British Army took control of the works. Hirst's commanding officer, Colonel Michael McEvoy, who had seen the Volkswagen at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show, suggested the pair of them rig up a prototype. They painted it military green and showed it to their Allied commanders, winning an immediate order for 20,000 cars.
"Nobody gave me a real brief," Hirst once explained. "I was just told to go there and do something." British Intelligence weeded out Nazis from the factory's management, Russian slave labourers were sent home, returning German POWs were offered employment, and by 1946 an 8,000-strong workforce - living in huts and surviving on potato soup - were labouring round the clock to turn out 1,000 Beetles a month.
Nevertheless, Hirst was faced with continual staffing difficulties. "It was a time of de-Nazification and the locals were making claims and counter-claims about each other all the time. Workers would arrive one day, be kicked out the next and turn up again in a couple of weeks." By 1947 production was up to 2,500 a month and soon surplus models were being sold for export. British motoring manufacturers expressed dismay as the car's success grew. Some openly wondered which side Hirst was on.
In Whitehall the Treasury had no doubt. It encouraged the exports because the Beetle brought in badly needed currency for Germany, saving the British taxpayer money.
Years later Hirst described his role in what was a quasi-military operation. "I inherited the basic car but I introduced to the factory valuable lessons I'd learnt in the Army. I arranged an efficient back-up service and ensured that no car left the plant without spare parts being readily available."
Born in Saddleworth, Ivan Hirst was educated at the local grammar school and at the University of Manchester. He worked in the family's optical instrument firm, high up in the Pennines.
Soldiering with the Territorial Army at the Huddersfield drill hall and driving grand cars were his main interests, but come the Second World War he was promoted to the rank of major in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and was evacuated at the fall of France. Transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1942, Hirst managed a tank repair shop in Brussels after D-Day before being sent to Wolfsburg.
Eventually, tipped off that his masters felt it was time for a German to take over, Hirst recruited Heinrich Nordhoff, a former production manager with Opel, to his team. Nordhoff was appointed as managing director in January 1949 where he remained until his death in 1968.
Hirst left Wolfsburg in August 1949, a month before the company was formally handed over to a trust run by the West German Government, and later worked in the Foreign Office's German section before joining the secretariat of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. He retired back to the Pennines he knew and loved in 1975, where he became a popular figure, inspecting passing VWs and welcoming interviewers.
Meanwhile, the Beetle, with its curious rear engine and frog-eyed lamps, could not be squashed. When Volkswagen stopped production in Germany in 1978, assembly continued in Mexico and Brazil.
Wreathed in pipe smoke, with his cravat and clipped white moustache maintaining the military air, Hirst was modest about his achievements, although he did find it strange that ultimately the Allies had contributed so much to the German economic miracle,
"Perhaps as a country we've not been too willing to accept some of our own ideas and wisdom," he mused. "I'm still bewildered as to how things have turned out." His wife, Marjorie, predeceased him. They had no children.
By Paul Simsa
The 1959 Volkswagen Beetle that famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh bought new in Paris and drove 130,000 miles on four continents has made some exotic trips, but its current trip may be its most unusual.
The car has undergone conservation as a museum artefact and is on display at the Minnesota History Centre in St. Paul. Over the past few months, the car's engine and mechanical parts were mothballed. In the process, conservation experts at the Minnesota Historical Society pushed the car through the long halls in the sub-basement of the Minnesota History Centre into the conservation laboratory. In the lab, the car was prepared for temporary display in the Minnesota A to Z exhibit under ‘J for Journey.’
In the summer of 2002, the car was moved into a remodelled Lindbergh House visitor centre. The new centre is scheduled to open on the 75th anniversary of Lindbergh's return to Little Falls after making his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1927.
The VW's latest journey began in March 2001 when the car was removed from the garage at the Lindbergh House, where it sat next to the 1916 Saxon car Lindbergh's parents had purchased new in Little Falls. From Little Falls, the Beetle went to Karmann Jack's (currently AutoHaus Experts), a Volkswagen specialist in Stillwater, where mechanics and technicians cleaned all of the car's mechanical parts and removed all of the fluids, says Aaron Novodvorsky, a Society exhibits project specialist.
“The car's running gear, drive train and engine were completely disassembled and the fluids were replaced with Cosmoline wax,” Novodvorsky says. “This is the process the military uses when it ‘mothballs’ its vehicles like jeeps and trucks. Although the car has not been started since the 1970s, the wax could be removed at a later date and the car made to run again if required.”
Society conservator Paul Storch, who worked on the car in the Society's lab, says a rust inhibitor was applied to all hidden parts. Storch cleaned and stabilized the car's body. This is not restoration to ‘new’ condition. “We try to keep further deterioration from happening and to keep the car in its current well-maintained condition,” Storch says. He saved the little dents, such as the one Lindbergh's daughter Reeve writes about in her memoir, Under a Wing, published in 1998.
Recalling her first visit to the Lindbergh House in 1975, she writes, “I was amused to see our old Volkswagen, the one I had learned to drive in, with a dent still in the left front fender where I'd run into the stone wall at the curve of our driveway.” Her father had told her the car was being used on the farm, but she found that “it had been placed reverently on display.”
The car's colour is Diamant Grau, a sort of diamond-flaked grey colour, a factory colour but not a popular one, Novodorsky says. Reeve Lindbergh described it as “the drab, nondescript aspect and colour my father always favoured during my childhood.”
The car also speaks to the humility of its former owner, says Donald H. Westfall, Lindbergh House historic site manager. “Most of our visitors are amazed to learn that Lindbergh drove this sort of car, considering the fact that he could afford to be driven around in a limousine anywhere he wanted,” Westfall says. “He wasn't necessarily one to seek out physical comforts for himself. Rather, he would appreciate the challenge of not being so comfortable. In addition, he would prefer to travel incognito without being recognized as a celebrity.”
The car is “a fabulous artefact,” Society collections specialist Cindy Hall says, “Because it tells us so much about the man — how well he cared for the car and how meticulous he was in his travels. Unlike many objects from the past, this object was donated by a living person, a hero, who told us about it and wrote about it.”
The car, along with a collection of related objects, shows that Lindbergh planned his trips carefully. He carried maps with notations on them. Other objects left with the car include a flashlight, petrol can, canteen, machete, inflatable air mattress, whisk broom, a small shovel, miscellaneous tools, wire, metal tubing, a spoon and cans of dried beef, sardines and baked beans. He also left behind two suitcases. For authenticity, Reeve Lindbergh writes, the Society also “needed one of his shoes, unlaced and opened wide to pillow his head.”
Lindbergh drove the Beetle to Little Falls and left it there. The car was last licensed in Connecticut, where he was living, and the plates expired in October 1972. Mounted behind those plates are European ones, probably French.
“I bought it in Paris, in 1959,” Lindbergh wrote about the car, “and operated it under a French tourist license for a number of years. I drove it considerably through most western European countries, and Anne and I used it as a family car while we were living in Switzerland. I once drove it around the eastern Mediterranean, leaving it for several months in Istanbul while I carried on airline and other activities, and for another several months in Beirut.”
A tall man in a small car, Lindbergh slept in the car on trips to Beirut, Egypt, around the Mediterranean and throughout Europe. “I suppose that, over the years, I have spent more than a hundred nights in it,” Lindbergh recalled. “I found that I could take the right front seat out, take its back off, reverse its position in the slide grooves, and with the use of an air mattress-make a comfortable full length bed.”
In Autobiography of Values, Lindbergh wrote about encountering two Maasai spearmen in Kenya and offering them a ride. “They accepted solemnly and started to climb into my small Volkswagen, but their sharp-bladed weapons were too long to take inside. Seeing their confusion, I switched off the engine, walked around to their open door, and held out my hand. Each man handed me his spear. I motioned one to the back seat and the other to the front, then placed the spears, point forward, against the side of the car. The man in the front held them there, through the open window. My Volkswagen must have looked like an armed knight as it rolled through the dust and sand.”
By Cameron Halsall
The birth of the Volkswagen had begun in 1933 at the Berlin Auto Show when Adolf Hitler announced the importance of a small, economical car. He stated that the living standard of a nation was judged by the total length of its good highways, and a good highway was important only in that it could be the avenue for a dependable, yet inexpensive car that could be owned by the average German worker.
His concept of the ‘People’s Car’ was summarised in five points:
1. Speed. The car had to be capable of a sustained speed of 100 kilometres per hour for the great new autobahn then under construction.
2. Economy. Fuel consumption had to be about 7 litres per 100 km and repair costs were to be minimal.
3. Seating: Four or five persons should be accommodated so that parents and children could travel together.
4. Air cooling: Because of the cold winters in Germany, and as most potential owners would not have garages, an air-cooled engine would eliminate the hazard of a frozen radiator.
5. Low purchase price: The initial cost of the car had to be less than RM 1000.
The German automakers at that time could not see how a car could be produced cheaply enough for the middle classes, much less for the large population of German workers. They regarded Hitler's ideas as political propaganda, but little did they know that the development of a small car would be included in the official Nazi government budget.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had earlier developed similar small car ‘Volksauto’ designs under contract for German automakers Zundapp, then NSU. Through secret meetings between Dr. Porsche and Hitler, the Nazi government gave Porsche the authority to design and produce a ‘People's Car’, or ‘Volkswagen.’ The immediate task was to design and build three prototypes at his workshop in Stuttgart. Using previous ideas from his NSU Volksauto, Dr. Porsche and his engineering team developed the ‘Series 3’ prototype, completed in October 1936. The air-cooled engine was the work of Franz Reimspeiss. Strenuous tests were then held, and the three test cars proved themselves suitable.
Hitler realized that a separate company had to be formed if his project was to be carried through to production. Hitler met with the head of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF), and it was decided that a government-owned company was to be chartered to perfect the design and build a production facility. This proper financial backing now allowed Dr. Porsche to refine his design, and in less than a year 30 more prototypes were completed under the official designation ‘VW Series 30.’ These vehicles then underwent an extensive and punishing series of tests, passing them in sensational fashion.
A few months after completion of the Series 30 testing, Dr. Porsche and his staff continued on the development and introduced the production design that was designated the ‘VW Series 38.’ Soon after, the cornerstone ceremony was held at the newly laid-out factory and town lands on May 26, 1938, with Hitler the centre of a gala opening ceremony. A few VW-38 units were hand-made and driven up from the Stuttgart workshops for the ceremony. Hitler announced that the new car would be known as the ‘KdF-Wagen.’ This abbreviation came from the German Labour Front slogan "Kraft durch Freude" (Strength Through Joy), as they were funding the construction of the factory. Porsche and his designers had reservations about the name – how could a car with such a name be sold in the USA, for example?
The KdF-Wagen was presented at the Berlin Auto Show in 1939 and a special postage stamp was issued depicting a happy family speeding along the autobahn in one of them.
The DAF organization established a savings system for the purchase of a KdF-Wagen, which strangely prevented anyone from simply buying one outright. This plan enabled the average worker to purchase a weekly 5 Reichmark savings stamp, which was to be pasted in a savings card. To promote the new savers program, a KdF brochure was printed which included an application form to be completed and presented at a local DAF office. Another smaller pamphlet was printed, called the trans-art brochure. It contained several cellophane pages, which had various constructional views of the KDF-Wagen, and when overlayed, showed the complete unit.
Upon approval of the DAF, a confirmation card was mailed to the applicant, which informed him that he could commence buying a car. The DAF then issued a KdF savers card, which was to be filled with the RM 5 stamps until RM 990 was accumulated. Several cards had to be filled out since one card held only 50 stamps. An additional two-year auto insurance plan was also provided, costing RM 200. Upon completion of the above requirements, the worker would be required to travel to the KdF factory and pick up his new KdF Wagen.
The funds raised by this savers program were put into a special account of the DAF treasury. During the program more than RM 280 million was collected from about 700,000 workers, of which about 336,000 workers actually completed their savers program by the early months of the war. However, not a single worker ever received a KdF-Wagen. By 1940 the KdF factory was busy producing Kübelwagens and Schwimmwagens for the war effort, as well as other war hardware like field stoves and aircraft parts.
Only about 630 KdF Sedans were actually built up until 1944, and all were given to important officials of the Nazi party. Some said that the whole scheme was a ruse to raise funds for the German war effort, but this was not the case. All KdF saver funds were deposited in the DAF account in the German Labour Bank in Berlin, where they remained through the war. The invading Russian Army confiscated the funds when Berlin fell in May 1945.
All was not a total loss for the owner of a completed KDF savers card, though, for in 1950 an organized group of KdF savers pressed claim for credit toward purchase of a Volkswagen, which by that time was a reality. It was difficult, as the post-war Volkswagen company had been started by the British Army and had no connection with the pre-war DAF or the KdF-Wagen. Their claim was in court for 12 years before a settlement was reached in October 1961. Volkswagen agreed that a complete KDF savers cardholder would receive 600 DM credit toward purchase of a new VW. This credit would amount to about $150 toward a $1,300 VW. The car holder also had the option of taking 100 DM in cash.
Given the value today of one of the early KDF-Wagens, it can be seen that the cardholders were definitely small losers in the great defeat of the Nazi Germans.