Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Historic and Rare Volkswagens: A Visit to the Automuseum Volkswagen, Wolfsburg, Germany

Hi folks -- today we visited the VW museum in Wolfsburg before going to the VW plant for a tour.  On the outside this museum didn't look like much;  but inside it proved to be remarkable.  I'm not going into details from the photos -- I'll let you do the identifying for now.  A must visit for anyone interested in VWs or post --WWII auto history.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Visit to the Da Capo Auto "Oldtimer" Museum in Leipzig

Can you identify the following cars?  Pretty tough stuff!

I'll give you the above -- an American Erskine!

Hi folks -- a surprise visit to the Da Capo Oldtimermuseum thanks to a wonderful friend's suggestion.Located at Karl-Heine-Strasse  105, 04229 Leipzig.  It was hot in there, but some cars I have never come even close to seeing before.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Gothic Diversion: 20,000 Goths descend on Leipzig this weekend!

Hi folks -- can I possibly be related to these people?  A big weekend in Leipzig, as the city is overrun by Goths!  Sort of like a black Mardi Gras!  If I can find Goths in cars I will take photos of them to see what  they drive. 

Driveable Dreams from Eastern Germany: A Mercedes 200

Hi Folks -- I am starting to troll the streets looking for "driveable dreams."  The above is a 1960s Mercedes 200.  It has been spot painted (especially low along rocker panels), reupholstered, and lives down the street from my apartment.  There are few cars of interest parked on Leipzig streets, so this one stands out, no matter its condition. Either there are new Mercedes, Audis, or BMWs, or old cheap cars, but few "Oldtimers."  Perhaps this is to be expected, as people are still picking themselves up ecponomically, even 20 years after the end of communism.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HST 344 Leipzig: The Automobile and American Life, European version, is about to begin!

Hi folks -- Emily and  Peter  arrived this morning and met with hosts and mentors.  The flood of students arrive this afternoon.  First classes Thursday, 9 a.m.! City tour on Thursday afternoon, and class all day (ugh) on Friday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Syllt: Cars and Status, and where Audis, M-B, and Porsche Roam!

Hi folks -- I took a side trip to Syllt and the town of Westerland yesterday. This is the northern most point in Germany.  It is a place for the well-to-do, and only accessible via train. Cars do get on the island, however, via a rail car transport system that is rather expensive.  As one German told me, it is all about Audis, M-B, and Porsche and "see the car I own."  The Germans are about materialism gone amuck, and this place reflects it perfectly. But the air was so fresh and good. 10 Celsius yesterday, but it felt warmer.  I guess I am as materialistic as the next person on this island, as  I felt right at home!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A German Car that was not so good -- 1974 Ford/Mercury Capri

A belated autobiography – my 1974 Ford Mercury Capri
One of, if not the worst car that I ever owned was also the first car that I bought new.   It was the fall of 1973, and I was working at Clemson University in Agricultural Chemical Services.  Why a Mercury Capri?  Made in Germany, at the Cologne plant, perhaps.  As it turned out, a real piece of junk.
There were two Capris at the Edwards dealership in Walhalla, SC. One was a new 1973, yellow,  hood damaged probably in transit, V-6, 2600 cc.  In retrospect I should have bought it, but I opted for a new 1974 green Capri, loaded with 2800cc v-6, sunroof (manual), 4 speed, tan interior, cool little map light, AM-FM radio.
It was a dog, but I kept it nearly ten years. There  were just too many add-on  emissions control devices – a decel valve, a thermactor pump, spaghetti like vacuum lines all over the engine compartment. 
And then there was the clutch cable. It first kinked about 6 months into our relationship.  I began to lose pedal height, and it felt strange, like it was being wound up.  4 cables later, the problem (as  I remember) was solved.
More… water pumps. I had several of them as well. And for a time, they came with imperfect castings, not exactly flat, so when the mechanic tightened down on the bolts, the pump cracked!
So much for German quality.  It was not always so good, especially at Ford Germany and from what  I gather, Opel. We can romanticize about a place in a way that can be totally undeserving.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Auto History Trip To Germany, May 17-June 22

Hi folks -- for the next several weeks I will be sending updates from Germany. I leave today, and begin teaching auto history in Leipzig next week. I sure will miss being home and driving my Porsche, but the opportunity to learn again, as in 2009 is immense.

Among the filed trip experiences this time around are the following:

1. BMW Leipzig, at the plant for the entire week of June 4-8.
2. Porsche Leipzig, plant tour, June 12.
3. Visit to VW, Wolfsburg.
4. Visit to Mercedes Museum, Stuttgart.
5. Visit to Robert Bosch manufacturing plant, Stuttgart.
6. Trip to Eisenach for BMW and Rolls Royce die facility.
7. Trip to Horch/Audi Musuem in Zwickau.

I am probably missing something as I do not have my calendar in front of me. Anyway, expect plenty of posts during the days ahead!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

You have to take this quiz on American cars from the 1950s!

Hi folks -- I took this quiz and got a 100%.  I dare you to see how good you are as a "car spotter!"

Monday, May 14, 2012

Historically Important German Cars: The 1924 Opel Laubfrosch or "Tree Frog" -- the first moving assembly line car in Germany

The 1924 Opel is one of the most important cars in German Automotive history. It's green color is at the origin of its "tree frog" nickname, but its importance is because of the way it was made, the numbers made, and the controversy over its design related to a very similar looking Citroen model. A car with 4 taxable horsepower, approximately 120,000 were made by 1931.

Opel’s Rüsselsheim plant may have contained the first automobile production line assembly system in Germany, but the first automobile production line in Europe had been created by Andre Citroen who had initially adopted Henry Ford’s system for the production of munitions, and subsequently applied the technique to production of the Citroen Type A. It was not merely the production system that Opel took from Citroën. The two-seater Opel 4 PS when launched in 1924 bore an uncanny resemblance to the little torpedo bodied Citroen 5CV which had been launched in 1921. Sources differ as to whether Opel purchased the right to assemble the Citroën under licence, or merely copied the design.
There were differences. The Opel’s wheelbase was longer by 5 mm and the look of its radiator was different. The early Opels were mostly green whereas the early Citroëns were mostly yellow. Under the skin, the Opel had a twelve-volt electrical system at a time when most cars (including the Citroën 5 CV) used a six-volt system. And the Opel’s four-cylinder water-cooled engine size was larger, at 951 cc, than the Citroën’s 856 cc.

The Rickenbacker, DKW, and the move to Germany

1929 Audi SS Zwickau, based on the American Rickenbacker
Innovation at the Periphery:  The Cracker Jacker, Rickenbacker
            The Rickenbacker automobile, advertised as “a car worthy of its name,” was manufactured in Detroit between 1921 and 1927.42 Named after Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s “ace of aces” during World War I and the commander of the “Hat in the Ring” squadron, the Rickenbacker was designed along the lines outlined by former auto racer “Captain Eddie’s” specifications. In 1919 Rickenbacker decided that he would build a car that incorporated such race-proven advanced features as a rigid frame, 4-wheel brakes, and a high standard of construction. Envisioned as fitting in the market somewhere between the low-end Ford Model T and the far higher priced Cadillac and Packard, it was to be affordable to white-collar workers, prosperous farmers, and “women of taste.”
            Rickenbacker sold his ideas to Maxwell executive Harry L. Cunningham, who subsequently recruited an impressive management team. Among the new firm’s executives were coach builder Barney F. Everitt and Walter E. Flanders, formerly the production manager at Ford. With Cunningham as Secretary and Treasurer and Rickenbacker as Vice President and Sales Manager, the Rickenbacker Motor Company was initially well positioned.
            During 1921 a six-cylinder prototype was built and tested, $5 million worth of stock was sold, and a plant with a 12,000 unit capacity was acquired. Three Rickenbacker models debuted in 1922 – a Tourer, Opera Coupe, and Closed Sedan – and more than 3,700 cars were sold, resulting in a 5 percent stock dividend.
            Rickenbacker six- and eight-cylinder models gained a reputation for innovative technology and enhanced safety features. For example, while not the first American automobile to offer 4-wheel brakes, the Rickenbacker was the first moderately-priced car to do so. Other advances not found in less expensive models included a low vibration flywheel engine, ignition and transmission locks, and an ingenious system to purify engine oil and avoid crankcase dilution, a carburetor air cleaner, and automatic windshield washer. The proud owner of a Rickenbacker could sing along to the popular tune “Merrily I roll along and there’s nothing wrong . . . in my cracker jacker, Rickenbacker.”43
            But in fact storm clouds soon passed over the fledgling firm, and it began to experience production and financial difficulties. By then, Walter Flanders had died the result of an unfortunate accident. Handicapped with small profit margins, Everitt cut prices without consulting dealers and stockholders. Marginal dealers went bankrupt, stockholders and management squabbled, and in 1926 Captain Eddie resigned. Everitt was now on his own and on borrowed time, and the company closed its doors in February 1927. Its machinery and engines were later sold to German industrialist J. A. Rassmussen, who used Rickenbacker engines in his Audi Dresden Sixes and Zwickau Eights between 1928 and 1932.
            Like the Richelieu, Saxon, Dort, Flint, Winton, King Jewett, Wills Ste. Clair and numerous other Midwestern automobile companies, the Rickenbacker could not survive competition from more highly capitalized and cost-efficient firms, even during America’s prosperity decade of the 1920s. 

Enter DKW into the Rickenbacker story

DKW was another new name on the German automobile scene during the 1920s.  DKW = Das kleine Wunder (the Little Wonder) started out in the 1920s as a motorcycle designed and made by Danish engineer J.S. Rasmussen. in the small town of Zschopau. By the end of the decade it was Germany's largest motorcycle maker, using a moving assembly line to produce 450 per day. At he time Rasmussen also acquired more small firms, in addition to foundries and forges. In 1928 he began making small cars in Berlin, using the DKW name and a two stroke water-cooled engine. The car was designed by Rudolf Slaby, it had no frame, and was held together by a unitized plywood body. In 1930 a modified model had front wheel drive, and it gained market acceptance despite Depression economics. 
Rasmussen bought all the Rickenbacker designs, patterns and equipment and brought them to Zwickau.  Yet, these cars proved to expensive for the Germans, and in 1932 DKW was merged with other Saxon companies into the firm Audi.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Smaller German Auto Firms Pre-WWII: Brennabor

Hi folks -- off to Germany soon and getting ready for classes by doing some background work on smaller, lesser known manufacturers, pre-WWII.  One such firm was Brennabor, a baby carriage, bicycle and later car company that went out of business in 1945 after it found itself in the Soviet Zone. An early pioneer in the moving assembly line,

The company was set up in 1871 by three brothers named Adolf, Carl and Hermann Reichstein. The brothers had already been producing basket-work child buggies and children's two-wheelers in 1870, and in 1881 had moved into the booming mainstream bicycle business. From 1892 the bicycles were branded with the Brennabor name.
By the 1930s the company had grown to become Europe’s largest produced of infant buggies and was also a leading bicycle producer. Volume production of motor bikes began in 1901, and from 1903 the company was producing, at this stage only to special order, three- and four-wheeled powered vehicles. 1908 saw the beginning of series production of cars, and this was also the year that the company’s own racing team began to enjoy world-wide success in motor sport. However, car production was suspended in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI, while motor bike production was ended in 1916.
After the war, in 1919, the company presented the Type P a car targeted at the upper middle classes, and volume production began in 1921. In 1924 Brannabor was employing approximately 6,000 people. During the mid 1920s Brennabor became Germany’s largest car producer, and it was still in second place, behind Opel, in 1927/28.
In 1919 the company formed an alliance with two other manufacturers, NAG and Hansa - Lloyd, the resulting tripartite grouping being known as GDA (Gemeinschaft Deutscher Automobilfabriken /Association of German Carmakers). The association lasted until 1928 but never progressed to the point of becoming a formal merger between the member companies.
The one-litre Brennabor Type C/D of the early 1930s was not sold in large numbers

In 1923/24 Brennabor led the way, as one of the first German auto-makers (along with Opel) to adopt US-style production line techniques. However, Brennabor had no small car model to compete with Opel.  The German economy was particularly badly hit by the world economic crisis of the 1920s, and the company saw demand and production volumes cut back at the end of the decade.
The company attempted a come-back in 1931, applying developments in front-wheel drive technology, but this led only to a prototype based on the company’s six-cylinder Juwel 6.. There was insufficient funding for any progression to volume production of any front-wheel-drive model. 1932 saw an eight month hiatus in automobile production: production resumed at the end of the Autumn/Fall, but came to a permanent end in 1933. The company continued as a producer of components and motor bikes until 1945, and also produced armaments during the WWII but it’s history came to an abrupt halt in 1945 when  the plant was disassembled.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An incredible miniature V-12 engine

You have to watch this video!  Thanks again to Samuel for the information.

      This is not CNC technology; this  guy made everything at home on his lathe and drill press.  Took 1220 hours (a year and a half?) to make the 261 pieces.  Note the end-loaded crankshaft into the block (like an  Offy), 12 individual cylinder heads,  TINY    rods and pistons, dual "underhead" cams with pushrods to  rockers in the heads.  And, he did break-in using an  electric drill driving the crankshaft!  
      Even if you're not an engineer,  you'll love this!