Sunday, December 29, 2013


The Framo company was originally founded as the Frankenberg Metal Works factory by DKW founder Jorge Rasmussen, and his business partners, Paul Figura and Richard Blau. Originally housed in a disused military barracks, the factory turned out metal fittings for DKW motorcycles and cars. In 1924 the factory began building simple tricycle rickshaws powered by a single-cylinder, air-cooled 150cc DKW motorcycle engine. It was a very conventional machine but orders began to flow.

Similar in construction and conception to dozens of other delivery trishaws, such as the Brennabor and Tempo. It was manufactured from surplus DKW motorcycle and Lomo scooter parts.

Framo TV300
In 1926 the company developed a new, more substantial transporterwagen, the TV300. Largely constructed of wood with a rear carrying tray, it was powered by a 300cc DKW stationary engine mounted atop the single front wheel with a two speed gearbox. It retained tiller steering. A variety of body styles and engine sizes were offered. By 1928 the Frankenburg plant had built 1000 tricycles and employed some 700 people.

The TV was originally sold for a short time as the DKW Transportwagen, but DKW management objected so the name was changed to DGW. By 1928 the company settled on the name Framo as a contraction of Frankenberg Metalwerkes.

Framo LT300
In 1930 the transporter was modernized with a simple wooden cab and a three speed gearbox. Designated the LT300, it was still fairly primitive and retained its old fashioned tiller steering.

Framo LTH300
1933 the transporter was completely modernized receiving a more powerful engine, three speed gearbox with reverse and a fully enclosed cab. The LTH 300 'Liechertransportwagen mit haube' (light transport truck with cab) closely resembled its contemporaries and rivals - Tempo and Goliath.

An early model LTH. Tempo and Goliath dominated the tricycle market in Germany with Framo coming up a distant third. Tricycles with engines under 400cc did not pay road tax or require a drivers license.

An LHT passenger wagen. Customers were always able to order passenger versions of the three wheeled commercial vehicles.

Framo LTG500

A 1939 prospectus for Framo dreirads. "As strong as a bull... in a class of its own."

And meanwhile, over at DKW....
In 1932, DKW merged with Horch, Wanderer and Audi to form Auto-Union. With DKW the largest manufacturer in the group and contributing one half of the group's profits, Rasmussen felt that the managing directorship should be his by right, but soon found himself frozen out by the other board members. The State Bank of Saxony, which held the purse strings, stacked the Auto-Union board with its own nominees and had Wanderer's director of sales, Baron Klaus Von Ouertzen, named managing director. Tensions between Rasmussen and the Auto Union board became increasingly tense until in December 1933 he was summarily sacked. Rasmussen was not prepared to go quietly and his campaign against Auto-Union in the press and in the corridors of power resulted in him recieving a substantial settlement of 1.3 million Reich Marks.

Although he never stopped hoping for an opportunity to buy back his beloved DKW, Rasmussen was determined to continue building passenger vehicles and he would do so through Framo, which was not included in the Auto-Union merger. While Framo continued building the commercial tricycles that were its bread and butter, he established a research and development department to work on his vehicle projects.  

Framo Stromer
Rasmussen's first project at Framo was the Stromer - a highly aerodynamic streamlined three-wheeled budget vehicle. Built around a simple tube chassis, which was hollow and doubled as the exhaust. The car was front wheel drive, powered by a 200cc air-cooled DKW motorcycle engine, driving through a three speed gearbox with reverse. Although powered by a very small engine, the car was extremely light at only 300 kilograms unloaded, which allowed it to reach 60 KPH. The streamlined bodywork was constructed of wood covered with leatherette. It was priced at 1460 RM, which was slightly cheaper than a contemporary DKW.

The Framo Stromer on display at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show. The car was sleek and sporty, but the retention of a very conventional looking bonnet and false radiator screen used up valuable space in what was a very small car.

"This is the new Framo 2 seater personal vehicle - the Stromer!  The Stomer makes its way - whether the road is good or bad - in sunshine, rain and snow, up mountains and down valleys, is economical on fuel, undemanding maintenance and does not need garaging."

Being a three wheeler with a small capacity engine meant owners needed neither a drivers license or pay road tax - an important selling point - but unfortunately the tiny two-seater did not sell well, with only 360 cars sold in three years. Even the car's exceptional performance in the 1933 endurance trials failed to boost sales.

In a 13 hour endurance trial on 2 June 1933 the Stomer covered some 8819 kilometres.

Stromers on the production line. A quick comparison with the production line photos from DKW's Zwickau factory (here- ) highlights Rasmussen's challenge at Framo - Framo simply wasn't big enough to challenge the established companies. In 1933 the Army reclaimed its barracks at Frankenberg, forcing Framo to relocate to new premises in Hainichen. The Army allowed Framo to move their production in stages over several years.

Framo Piccolo
Rasmussen's plans to get back into the passenger car market received a boost from an unexpected quarter when, at the opening of the 1933 Berlin Auto Show, the newly elected Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, called for an automotive revolution in Germany. The government would embark on an ambitious program of road building and the motoring industry was challenged to build a people's car or 'volkswagen' to get Germany moving. The volkswagen would be a car that every Germany worker could afford.

The heads of the auto industry however were aghast at the idea. Vehicle design, development and construction was time consuming and expensive, and nobody really wanted to budget vehicle as there was simply no profit in it. The industry as a whole began to delay and dissemble, hoping that the whole idea would fade away. But for Rasmussen, now very much an outsider, this was a great opportunity. Several years earlier Rasmussen had seized on the theme of the budget motor car when he and the DKW team had designed and built the DKW F1 in only six weeks in order to present it at the 1931 Berlin Auto Show. The radical, front-wheel drive little roadster merged simplicity in design with pleasing style and it proved to be DKW's ticket to automotive success.

The DKW F1 debuts at the 1931 Berlin Auto Show. When released it was the cheapest conventional car on the German market and was many German families first experience of motoring. Despite its simplicity and budget price the car had several radically new features, not least being its front-wheel drive - the first in any production vehicle. It spawned a long lineage of front-wheel drive cars leading all the way to our modern Audi and Volkswagen cars.

Rasmussen pared the F1 design concept back to produce a real budget 'volkswagen.' The Framo Piccolo was a small four-wheeled car with a steel tube chassis and independent suspension. The single cylinder, 200cc two-stroke, air-cooled DKW engine was mounted in the rear, just ahead of the rear axle - the cutting edge of automotive design according to Josef Ganz of Motor Kritik. Final drive to the rear wheels was via chain through a three-speed gearbox with reverse.

It was inevitable perhaps that the Framo Piccolo resembled contemporary DKWs, given their common origin. The original model featured a coal scuttle bonnet as there was no radiator. The plaque trumpets "no drivers license necessary!"

Rasmussen presents the Framo Piccolo to Adolf Hitler at the 1934 Berlin Auto Show. Note that to save costs the car had no left hand door, only a single door opening on the right. Hitler was not impressed, describing the car as "not half a grape." Nevertheless, the international press saw the Piccolo as the embodiment of Hitler's Volkswagen.  As The Daily News, Perth, Western Australia reported, '"Every German should have a car," declared the Chancellor (Herr Hitler) in opening the Berlin Motor Show, a feature of which was a four-seater Framo car costing 60 pounds.' 10 March 1934.

Unfortunately for the German auto industry Adolf Hitler was deadly serious about his 'volkswagen' project and for the avoidance of any doubt about his requirements, he spelt them out explicitly at the 1934 Berlin Auto Show. The new car was to be of modern steel construction, should seat four adults comfortably, have a top speed of 100 kilometres per hour, and would cost no more than a 1000RM. The German people would not make do with second-rate baby cars, three-wheelers, and motorcycle engined plywood and leather contraptions. Rasmussen's Piccolo, which was priced at 1295RM, was summarily dismissed from the running.

Nevertheless, the Piccolo was a viable small car and did sell, if only in small numbers. Framo responded to market demand by increasing the size of the car, its engine, and even added a second door! The flat, coal scuttle bonnet was replaced by a false radiator grill taken from the contemporary DKW F2. 737 were sold before production ceased in 1935.

"At last, the long awaited people's car, the Framo Piccolo. 1275RM for a four-seater (seating two adults and two children). Each affordable!"

Framo Rebell
It was clear that the Piccolo was not the car that would make Framo's fortune and so work began on a totally new car project. But the Piccolo and Stromer designs were not simply abandoned. A Stromer inspired body was mounted on an extended Piccolo chassis and fitted with a larger motor. The new Rebell was a handsome, sporty, yet relatively low cost car. Unlike it's predecessors it was a conventional design with front wheel drive and Rasmussen's trademark two-stroke air cooled engine. Unfortunately this promising project did not progress past prototype stage.

Design study of the Rebell. As with other Framo vehicles (and contemporary DKWs) the bodywork was plywood covered with leatherette for weather protection. The seats were cloth on metal frame.

What could have been? The handsome Framo Rebell prototype driven by Jorge Rasmussen's son, Hans, now CEO of the company. Despite its promise, Framo was simply too small a company to build multiple vehicle lines at the same time, and cancelled the project.  Besides, there was another promising project in the wings.

The Rebell outside Motor Kritik's office. Josef Ganz's Tatra 11 is in the background.

Framo Volkswagen

After the debacle at the 1934 Berlin Auto Show, Rasmussen was determined not to make the same mistake again and threw the company's best and brightest into the new 'volkswagen' project. Jorge's son, Hans, and chief engineer Fritz Goritz worked on a completely new design. Mounted on a narrow track, ladder chassis (Goritz patent) and powered by a 500cc 18 horsepower DKW two-cylinder two-stroke engine with water cooling, the car featured a handsome, modern looking wood and steel body.

The stakes were very high as Hitler's patience with the German automotive industry had finally run out - in spectacular fashion. In a fiery speech at the 1936 Berlin Auto Show Adolf Hitler raged against car industry for their inability deliver "the cheap car" and threatened to nationalise the entire industry. It was apparent to everyone that the volkswagen would be a nationalised project, which meant an enormous opportunity for the designer who could deliver the goods.

While his son and Goritz were working on the car, Jorge was working the political angle. He traveled to the United States with Ferdinand Porsche to study the US automotive industry and learn the lessons of mass production. Rasmussen was well aware that Porsche was working on his own 'volkswagen' project and had the Fuhrer's ear. He was also aware that Porsche's project was being held back by technical challenges with the rear engine layout. Rasmussen felt certain that if he could get his car presented first, he would be in with a chance. At the 1936 Berlin Auto Show, Rasmussen personally presented the car to Hitler. Hitler however showed no enthusiasm and would later openly declare his support for the Porsche project. It seems that Hitler had greater rapport with fellow Bohemian Porsche, than with the Danish Rasmussen.

All plans and details of the Framo Volkswagen have since been lost. Only a handful of photographs of the single prototype remain.

Framo-Goritz Streamliner
Although the Framo volkswagen proved a failure Hans Rasmussen and Fritz Goritz continued experimenting on the design until 1938. Taking the narrow track chassis and fitting it with tandem seats and a torpedo shaped body to produce a totally space-age vehicle.

Hans and Jorge Rasmussen drive the Framo-Goritz streamliner chassis. Although space age in appearance it remained a budget car. The car's single cylinder, 200cc water cooled two-stroke engine is clearly visible in the photo.

Several versions of the car were built and presented to the Government for evaluation, much to their annoyance. The automobile association demonstrated the car's impracticality by assigning their tallest SS test driver to drive the car in a 12 hour endurance test. Needless to say the driver's report was less than complimentary. In 1938 the Schell Plan put a stop to all further passenger car development at Framo.

Framo commercials
While Rasmussen was unsuccessfully pursing his passenger car dreams, Framo continued manufacturing commercial vehicles. In 1934 Framo released its first four wheeled commercial, the HT600. Powered by an 18 horsepower DKW two-cylinder, water-cooled, two-stroke engine, it was capable of carrying a payload of almost a ton. 1200 were built between 1934 and 1937.

A larger version, the HT1200 was also built, powered by a 1.2 litre Ford four-stroke engine. Although capable of carrying a larger payload, it was more expensive and consequently less popular. Only 250 were built.

Framo V500 & V501
In 1938 the Nazi's implemented a comprehensive rationalization of the automotive industry. The Schell Plan, named after its author Colonel Adolf Schell, determined which company could produce what. Framo's tricycle and passenger car production was stopped and they were permitted only to produce their new V500 and V501 light truck. Powered by a 500cc DKW two-cylinder, two-stroke engine, in either air-cooled or water-cooled versions. Almost 6000 were built during the war years and served with the Wehrmacht in all theatres.

By the time the war turned against Germany Jorge Rasmussen was living in retirement on his estate in Sacrow. When the Eastern Front collapsed in 1945, he and his family fled west, eventually settling in Flensberg on the Danish border, where the remnants of the Nazi government had established its ghost government. After the war he retired to Denmark.

Framo's Hainichen factories escaped war damage but was systematically stripped by the Soviet engineering corps. Every single item of value, right down to door frames and light switches, were removed, packaged up and shipped off to the USSR. Nevertheless, the factory struggled back into existence building hand carts, wheel barrows and horse drawn wagons. In 1947 some trucks were built from pre-war and war-time stockpiles of spare parts.

In 1948 the new East German government nationalized the factory, which was renamed IFA-Framo. In 1949 the first new trucks began rolling off the production line. The new model, the V900 was externally similar to its predecessor, the V500/1, but featured the new 900cc three-cylinder, two-stroke motor designed for the 1939 DKW F9. This engine was also used in the new IFA F9 which was also unveiled at the Leipzig Motor Show the same year. The engines were built at the former BMW works at Eisenach.

Between 1948 and 1957 Framo improved and enhanced the V900, such as improving fittings and increasing the horsepower of the engine. Production facilities at Hainichen were however limited so some production was transferred to a newly rebuilt factory at Chemnitz. Production of the V900 ceased in 1961 after some 29,000 had been built.

Barkas 1000B

1956 saw the release of a substantially redesigned variant of the Framo V900. Goritz' patent narrow track chassis was employed to allow a low floor platform, while the 900cc two-stroke engine was lowered and moved forward. The cab was also moved to a forward-control, cab-over engine position. The new van was named the Barkas (spark). The company was also changed from IFA Framo to VEB Barkas and a new company logo was established.

In 1961 the old Framo V900 was retired and the Barkas received a new 1000cc two-stroke engine and was renamed the Barkas 1000B. The Barkas would remain in production until 1991 as East Germany's sole light commercial vehicle. The Eastern equivalent of the Volkswagen Transporter, the Barkas was a remarkably versatile vehicle that could carry extraordinary payloads - up to four tons, far more than its little engine would imply! It came in a wide variety of body styles - minibus, enclosed van, drop sided truck, tipping tray - the combinations were endless. In 1990, Volkswagen bought into VEB and began replacing the two-stroke engine with a 1.3 litre four-stroke engine. Sadly the attempt to modernise the Barkas, like that of the Trabant, ultimately failed and VEB Barkas closed its doors in 1991.

The late model Barkas with a four-cylinder, four-stroke Volkswagen engine.

Information about Framo and Barkas in English is very scarce but they have dedicated followings in Eastern Europe in much the same way as the Volkswagen Transporter has elsewhere. Here are some links-

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