Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hanomag Diesel Rekordwagen

The Hanomag company was founded in Hannover, in Germany’s industrial heartland, in 1835. The company specialised in steam engines, but soon expanded into trains, rolling stock, steam road wagons and farm equipment. In 1925 Hanomag ventured into the automotive market with a small, budget car officially called the 2/10PS, but better known as the ‘kommisbrot’ (army loaf). Largely constructed of plywood, with old fashioned wooden spoked wheels and powered by a rear mounded, single cylinder 500cc engine, the kommisbrot was typical of the cyclecars of the period. Nevertheless, it was a popular seller, with slightly under 16,000 being sold.

The success of the kommisbrot led Hanomag to move to more serious car production. In 1928 they introduced a move conventional car, the 3/16PS. This was replaced in 1931 by a new small car called the 1.1 litre. However, it was the introduction in 1934 of the 1.5 litre Hanomag Rekord that really established the company as a force on the German auto scene.

Hanomag Diesel
The first diesel engine was designed in Scotland in the late 19th century as an attempt to develop an engine that was more thermally efficient than the current steam engines. Rudolf Diesel, after whom the engine is now named, did not design the original concept but was fortunate enough to build, demonstrate and patent a practical working engine in 1897. The difference between diesel and petrol engine was in their ignition and carburation systems. A diesel engine has no spark plug or ignition system per se but relies on highly compressing the air within the combustion chamber until the air itself reaches 550 degrees Celsius. At this point – top dead centre – a small amount of gaseous fuel is injected into the cylinder which instantly ignites on contact with the superheated air. As both the fuel and the air are introduced to each other in a highly volatile state, the diesel engine needs far less fuel than an Otto cycle or two-stroke petrol engine. The main drawback the diesel engine faced was that the engine case and pistons need to far heavier to deal with the high compression. Consequently they were seen as being more suitable to heavy industrial use, such as in ships engines, driving turbines and in trains.

Rudolf Diesel's engine was no small affair. They were soon being employed in heavy industrial use.

Despite these drawbacks, after the Great Depression, several auto manufacturers saw there was an opportunity to use fuel efficient diesel engines in a motorcar. Citroen was the first company to introduce a diesel engined production car when they introduced the Citroen 11UD "Rosalie" in 1934. In 1936, both Mercedes-Benz and Hanomag presented diesel engine cars at the Berlin Auto Show.

Hanomag had its start with diesel engines in 1934 with diesel engine tractors. The new car originally featured a four cylinder 1.5 litre diesel, but this was soon increased to 1.9 litres. The engine put out a meagre 35PS. Sold as an option for the successful Hanomag Rekord, sales were relatively modest. Out of the 19,000 Hanomag Rekords sold only 1,100 were Hanomag Diesels.

The Rekordwagen
Wanting to promote the efficiency of its diesel engine, Hanomag’s management turned to motor sport. Although several one-off diesel cars had been raced in time trials in the United States and Great Britain in the 1920’s, Hanomag had the field to themselves for production cars with engines under 2 litres.

The Rekordwagen was fashioned from a standard Hanomag Diesel Rekord chassis and 1.9 litre D engine. The standard D engine was designed for fuel economy, not performance. In fact, the challenges of adjusting the early fuel injector technology to get more power, was perceived as one of the underlying weaknesses of the diesel engine. The engineering team managed to tune the engine to give it a little more oomph, but at 40HP the engine couldn’t really be described as high performance. Hanomag compensated for the lower horsepower by fitting the car with a streamlined aluminum body that was mounted on a lightweight tube frame.

On 8 February 1939, the Hanomag Diesel Rekordwagen was ready to make its debut. The stretch of autobahn between Dessau and Leipzig provided the track.

Days before, Hanomag’s rival, a Mercedes-Benz W154 had set a land speed record for a petrol engine car from a standing start with a speed in excess of 400 kph.

The Mercedes-Benz W154 trial car lines up on the Dessau autobahn. This car was built specially for the standing start speed record.

The Rekordwagen set four world records. The first record was 89.5kph over a mile from a standing start. Once it had reached speed, it achieved a maximum speed of 156kph over both a 5 kilometre and a 5 mile course. In comparison with the Mercedes-Benz’ record, the Rekordwagen’s performance was rather modest, but Hanomag were under no illusions that they were in the same league as Germany’s premier automobile manufacturer. The Rekordwagen had done what its makers had set out to achieve – demonstrate to the world that diesel engines were capable of more than powering tractors and that Hanomag was at the cutting edge of diesel engine design.

The Dessau run proved to be the Rekordwagen’s one and only moment in the spotlight. It did not race again and was put in storage. Later, during the Second World War, the Allies bombed Hannover into rubble and Hanomag’s factory, which manufactured trucks and half-tracks for the German army, was destroyed. The Rekordwagen was destroyed along with all plans, designs and records.

For many years the only evidence of the Rekordwagen’s existence was a handful of publicity photographs taken on the Dessau autobahn. Then, in 2006, came the unexpected discovery of a complete set of plans and specifications for the Rekordwagen. A small group of Hanomag enthusiasts began discussing the idea of building a replica of the car. In 2007 the group was provided a donor chassis and standard engine, which they restored. Using the designs a tube body frame was constructed. By 2012 the car was fully functional, if somewhat skeletal in appearance.

Photos and details of the project can be found here -

The donor chassis. 

The tube frame built to the original design

Taking shape

The chassis and frame come together

On the 75th anniversary of the car’s record breaking run, the incomplete but running Rekordwagen attended the commemorative race program at Dessau and even took to the A9. The car is currently on display at the Junkers Museum in Dessau beneath the wings of the museum’s signature Junkers Ju52 ‘Tante Ju.’

The final step in the project will be to complete skinning the car with its distinctive aluminum body. The team need approximately 60,000 euros to complete the replica. If you want to learn more about how you may contribute to the project, please visit :-

Hanomag historian and project director, Horst-Dieter Gorg

New book published in 2015
A German language book covering the development of the Hanomag Diesel Rekordwagen, the Dessau world record, and the reconstruction of the replica will be published shortly.

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