An Unexpected Legend : Celebrating 100 Years Maybach W3

Today we are presenting an iconic image of which we recently acquired an original example for our collection. Specifically, the ad for the 2270 PS car that we today know under its designation W 3 (‘W’ is short for the German word ‘Wagen’ = vehicle/car). The year 2021 sees the 100-year-anniversary of its launch – a fitting occasion to look into the pretext that led to cars being built in Friedrichshafen at Maybach Motor Works.

WWI meant a ceasure to world history and when it ended, it had left many parts of the world devastated. The impact on markets and economies was likewise drastic. For Maybach Motor Works it meant that the area in which they had proven their competence, was now prohibited. The Versailles treaty of 1919 stated that all production of aerial machinery in Germany shall cease. However, it was clear, that the company’s capacities in constructing and manufacturing high-performance engines could also be applied to other applications, one of which was automobiles. Karl Maybach, who oversaw Maybach Motor Works, himself had developed a racing car engine in France that served as the base for the developments of aerial propulsion. His father Wilhelm Maybach had done groundbreaking work which culminated in the first Mercedes (1900) that was definitive for the shape of the modern automobile.

Dismantling at Maybach Motor Works after WWI | © MTU Friedrichshafen


Maybach Motor Works set out looking for a partner to supply a newly developed car engine to. Trompenburg, a Dutch manufacturer was chosen. The car they marketed became known as Spijker Tenax, the latter meaning ‘tenacious’. Indeed, the product managed to achieve some success, such as victories at several endurance rides, one of which the car successfully ran across 30,000 km through the snowy Netherlands and beat an older record by Rolls Royce. Despite this promising start, the cooperation soon came to an end as Trompenburg filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, in Friedrichshafen, there was a backlog of engines that were ready to be used – but the partner would neither be able to install them all nor, more importantly, pay for them. It was this twist of fate that led to cars being built in Friedrichshafen at Maybach Motor Works.

Back then cars were largely manufactured as chassis, onto which bodywork was installed. This was also the path taken at Maybach Motor Works but now a chassis needed to be developed. The task was quickly taken up and completed not much later. The W 1 type engine was installed in the new chassis and was combined with a newly developed cooler grill, essentially giving the vehicle a ‘face’. A body taken from a Daimler military vehicle was put on the chassis and the first Maybach test vehicle had seen the light of day. This car was given the same designation as the engine it was using – “W 1” — and though photographic documents exist, the original is lost without a trace.

Maybach W3 Advert Page from around 1921 | © MTU Friedrichshafen


One would expect the W 1 car to be followed by a W 2 model, but interestingly no such vehicle is known to have existed. The first Maybach Car in serial production got the designation W 3. It used the W 2 type engine and was presented in 1921 at the IAA (Internationale Automobil Ausstellung = International Automobile Exhibition) Berlin from the 23rd of September to the 2nd of October. Delivering 70 horsepower already at 2200 revs., it was met with good resonance by the press and the public as it combined the Maybach quality standard with new technical intricacies. Two of these are mentioned on our advertising page : ‘Ohne Schaltung’, meaning ‘without gear shift’ and ‘Vierrad-Bremse’ meaning ‘four-wheel break’. The first meant that due to the engine’s elasticity, the car used only two gears which could be shifted via a foot lever. The result of the driver rarely having to take his or her hands off the steering wheel was taken another step further by embedding the mechanism for the horn into the door – the driver thereby could use it with his or her forearm. The four-wheel brake system mentioned above, which had been developed at Maybach, made tours a safer endeavor and was for the first time used in a serial car in Germany. It effectivity further enhanced driving comfort as it lessened the need to shift gears. Maybach cars were never produced in large numbers because they were top-notch products in terms of reliability, quality, and performance. Sadly, none of the remarkable vehicles that were the W 3 series, has survived till today. The chassis by itself cost a whopping 24,000 Reichsmarks and an additional 15 to 25,000 had to be added, depending on what kind of body was to be installed. For reference : the average yearly salary in 1924 was 1,233 Reichsmarks. The cars that followed the W 3, such as the twelve Cylinder models Maybach 12 and DS 7 and 8, are legends to this day still — a hundred years after the story began.


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