Saturday, January 24, 2015

1939 Hanomag Diesel Rekordwagen

Hanomag was founded in Hannover, Germany, in 1835. The company specialized 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 mounted, 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 expand into 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 diesel engine was first developed in Scotland in the late 19th century as an attempt to improve on the thermal efficiency of industrial steam engines. Rudolf Diesel, after whom the engine is now named, was fortunate enough to 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 in the cycle – a small amount of gaseous fuel is injected into the cylinder which instantly ignites on contact with the super-heated 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 a petrol engine. However, the engine's main drawback was that the engine case and pistons need to be far heavier to deal with the higher compression pressures. 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. 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 involved complete skinning the car with its distinctive aluminum body. This was estimated to cost 60,000 euros.

The project is finally completed. Hanomag historian and project director, Horst-Dieter Gorg (left) unveils the completed car

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vintage Collective Markets Show and Shine 18 Jan 2015

Vintage Collective Markets Show and Shine 18 January 2015

The Vintage Collective Market is a celebration of all things vintage, from cars, bikes, clothing, records and memorabilia. As part of the event they held a classic car show and shine. A variety of cars of all shapes and sizes attended.

Eight cars from SIVA attended. Ironically perhaps, six of the cars were red, which made for a dramatic display.

1966 Renault Alpine. This is a lovely little two seater sportster.

Studebaker Hawk

VW Karmann Ghia and Renault's answer, the Caravelle.  The Caravelle was also styled by Ghia (and the Frua company, which styled the very similar Floride).

Rows and rows of cars. It was a hot and dry 36c.

Combi Collective

Cadillac Eldorado

There was a bit of a display by the Austin club


Hot Rod row

The markets made the day a little different.

Barber shop display

Vintage caravans

Sunday, January 11, 2015

1935 Maier Leichtbau

In 2008 Jorg Jansen, a German car enthusiast, heard about a strange car hidden away at the back of a panel beater’s workshop in Krefeld, Germany. The shop was experiencing difficulties and was looking to sell a number of project cars that had been cluttering up the workshop. When Jansen pulled back the dust covered sheet covering the car, he wasn't sure what he was looking at. At first glance it appeared to be a Tatra with its distinctive louvered slats over the engine bay, but the front was all wrong. A glance into the engine bay revealed the familiar sight of an air-cooled Volkswagen engine, but a quick check of the engine number showed this was a transplant from a 1960s Beetle. The car had no papers and the manufacturer’s plate on the firewall provided only scant information: Maier Leichtbau. Vehicle Number LM 050 1/35. Motor Number 386418, 20 horsepower. bore 76. Hubs 76. Weight 684 kg. Total weight 1034 kg.

The car as it was found in 2008. It had been repainted at the former owner's request but the restoration was never finished.

The panel shop explained that the car had been delivered to them for restoration but the owner had lost interest in the project. The car had been exchanged in payment for the work done. The car had been parked up in the back of the shop with the intention of completing the restoration at a later date, however, as time went on the project slipped further and further down their list of priorities. Jansen was intrigued however and decided to buy the car.

Jansen's search through the archives failed to find any record of an automobile company named Maier. He decided to take positive action and got the car running again on its Volkswagen engine and took it to the Schloss Dyck Classic Day in Grevenbroich where he put out a call for more information. The car drew the attention of Dutch auto historian, Herman Van Oldeneel, who began an investigation. Van Oldeneel managed to track down the likely manufacturer, Frederich Maier, through twelve patents which had been lodged in the US. A search of the engine specifications on the builders plate identified the unit as being from a DKW F2, which caused Van Oldeneel to contact me through this blog to see if I could shed any light on the car, having written extensively about DKW and Tatra history. At the same time Christine Dankbar of the Berlin Zeitung newspaper published an article calling for information about the mysterious car. Very slowly the story of the car began to be pieced together.

Frederick Maier - the innovative engineer

Frederich Maier was born on 1st November 1898 in Wollback, Germany on the Swiss border. He gained his pilot's license 1917, serving in the fledgling German airforce during the last year of the First World War. After the war he studied mechanical engineering, qualifying with high marks in 1923. He went to work with the German aircraft manufacturer, Junkers, serving overseas in South and Central America as a flight engineer. He returned to Germany in 1927 but was soon on the move again, this time to Russia where a joint venture aircraft development program was underway that allowed Germany to bypass the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. In 1928 he returned to Germany and took a position at the Albatross Aircraft concern outside Berlin, where he became plant manager.

Junkers was a pioneer of all metal aircraft construction at a time when most aircraft manufacturers used composite construction of metal frame and wood and canvas.

At the beginning of the 1930s his mind had begun to turn towards using his experience of aircraft engineering to automobile design and in 1931 he registered the company Leichtbau Maier. Over the next several years he lodged a number of patterns for various features, such as a height adjustable driver's seat, a new suspension system, turning headlights and, most importantly a self supporting body manufacturing method that drew heavily on his aircraft manufacturing experience.

Following Adolf Hitler’s call to build ‘the people’s car’ at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show a group of financiers from Munich agreed to lend Maier 300,000 RM to build an experimental prototype that would meet the Fuhrer's specifications. Maier set about building a modern steel car in his modest workshop in Berlin. The car had a number of cutting edge features including a central headlight that pivoted as you turned the wheel and a rear mounted engine. He used a trusty DKW water cooled two cylinder, two stroke engine of 692ccs. The car was named the Maier lightweight sedan and was completed in 1935, receiving a manufacturers ID plate numbered 1/35. The car may ave been exhibited at the 1935 Berlin Motor Show, but by this time Ferdinand Porsche had received the contract to develop the People's Car. Maier's car was reglegated to the sidelines and obscurity. In an attempt to bury the car, it appears the Nazi administration confiscated several of his patents. Only the US patent records exist.

This copy of the patent highlights the aeronautical influence on the car's construction.

From this point it seems Maier's fortunes began a long downward trajectory. In 1938, the Schell Program, which rationalised the automotive industry, banned him from developing or building automobiles. Maier however, was still able to shop his designs around and in 1938 representatives from the Auto-Union body design office visited him to discuss self-supporting steel body construction. Auto-Union's new DKW F9 Hohnklasse was scheduled to go into production in 1940 and a key part of the company's strategy was to minimise manufacturing costs via monocoque construction. However, that plan had run straight into legal trouble as Adam Opel held an exclusive patent for monocoque construction from General Motors in the US. To license the GM process would add significant cost to the DKW project, eroding the forecast cost savings. Maier explained to the Auto-Union management that his patent was independent of the GM process and he could license it to them. Auto-Union engineers examined the Maier Lightweight car, but after consideration, the Auto-Union board decided to continue with their traditional separate body and chassis construction.

Auto-Union was not the only suitor during this time. Although formal documentation is lacking, it appears that Maier consulted for Peugeot as the company gifted him a brand new Peugeot 202 sedan in 1939. In 1947 after the war, Peugeot's new model, the 203 would be released featuring a monocoque self-supporting body. This very successful car had its genesis in the late 1930s, which fits with the timeline.

Maier's fortunes declined rapidly during the war years. His facilities in Berlin were requisitioned by the military for vehicle servicing. In 1943 and 44 the factory was severely damaged by bombing and many of Maier's designs and documents were destroyed. Maier's family moved to Denmark for safety, leaving Maier to struggle along alone. Following the Soviet occupation of Berlin, Maier was identified as a person of value and arrested, destined to be shipped to the east to work in the Soviet aircraft industry. However, he managed to escape during transport and made his way back to Germany.

For more information about the Soviet relocation of the Junkers plant to Russia, see here:

There was little for him to come back to. Maier’s engineering business was destroyed during the war and his vehicle patents had all be commandeered by the Allies as war booty, leaving him penniless. To make matters worse, he found himself in a legal dispute with his former investors seeking recovery of their 300,000 RM investment. Maier attempted to recover his patents through litigation, but this proved both costly and unsuccessful. As his disappointments compounded, Maier increasingly withdrew from the world. His family left him in the late 1950s and became estranged. The car, damaged in the air raids of 1943, was laid up in a cow shed outside Berlin, virtually derelict. In 1975 he loaned the car to a movie company as wreck in the WW2 mini-series ‘Tadelloser and Wolff.’ Needing to get the car moving for another scene in series, they ripped out its original engine and drive and replaced it with a Volkswagen 1500cc engine.

The car as seen in the Tadelloser and Wolff TV series. This is the only image we have showing the car as it was built. Shortly after this the engine and drive train was replaced with Volkswagen running gear.

In 1976 Maier died in poverty and obscurity. His estranged daughter sold the car and Maier’s Peugeot 202 to the movie props company in Aachen in 1976 and all of Maier’s paperwork, including any remaining patent documentation and vehicle designs were thrown away.

The Maier in storage.

The car went through several hands in subsequent years before it ended up at the panel shop in Krefeld. The car at that time was pale blue. By this time the car’s origin had been long forgotten and everyone thought it was an early Volkswagen so it was painted in same (rather awful) bright red as the Volkswagen Museum’s V3 replica.

The Maier in the mechanics workshop. The suspension is original.

Since then the Maier car has been seen out at many German classic car events where it draws considerable attention.

It is currently on display at the Zylinderhausmuseum, Adolf-Kolping-Str. 2, 54470 Bernkastel-Kues (as at 2021).

Jorg Jansen and Herman van Oldeneen are still keen to find more information about Maier or the car. If you have some information to share, Jansen can be contacted at and van Oldeneen at

AutoCult produce a very fine 1/43 scale model of the Maier Leichtbau

Some links:
Jansen's website -,10809148,25774532.html
Photos from Schloss Dyck Oldtimer Treffen.
My video presentation: