Snowy Mountain Roads ? No Problem When You’re Powered by the Best Propulsion Available !

Winter and its difficult conditions with slippery roads are still a problem today. Now on top of that, add the aspect of having to drive up a steep mountain. This not being enough, now imagine only having 1930s technology available.

Maybach Motorenbau (Maybach Engine Works) advert for the Maybach 12 Type Zeppelin. Published in the early 1930s. © Daimler AG
It was this especially adverse environment for a car that MaybachMotorenbau (Maybach Engine Works) used for one of its most iconic adverts. The automobile driving up strong ascent is rendered in hues of green and orange to create a strong complementary contrast. Shades of blue are used to depict the snowy mountain which constitutes the foreground and background. The typography is neatly embedded in square shape into the motive – it reads Maybach Bergbezwinger (‘Mountain Conqueror’), Maybach 12, Type Zeppelin followed by the contact information of Maybach Engine Works. This data is followed by an impressive list where Maybach agents were established back then : It starts with Berlin and ends with New York.

Advertising and its promises are one thing one may say – so how much reality is in this graphically beautifully executed artwork ? One has to start by answering this question by looking at the technical aspects that Maybach cars were bringing to the table. Maybach cars which entered the market in 1921 were absolute state of the art and demonstrated what was possible concerning powerful engines and gears combined with groundbreaking technical intricacies that were added. A high torque combined is an essential aspect that Maybach car engines were known for – ease of acceleration and managing ascent with no problems were two of the more obvious profits. Maybach however used this aspect to help enable features that were unheard of before, namely the Vorwählschaltung (Preselection Gear-Shift Mechanism) that allowed to switch gears via a lever on the steering wheel. Good elasticity is another feature of the engines that Maybach Engine works constructed their car engines with. Due to this characteristic increases in strain (in the sense of an increase in driving resistance), such as when driving uphill as in our example, can be managed without changing gear despite a drop in speed.

These and other technical aspects combined with long-lasting quality made it possible to take part in races and endurance rides. Some of which, namely the 1924 Winter Ride organized by the ADAC (Acronym for Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, General German Automobile Club, founded in 1903 and today Europe’s largest motoring association) laid proof that a Maybach car was able to face the harsh conditions of snowy mountain roads : The first three places went to Maybach Engine Works. Maybach Cars were products that were produced to the highest standards and therefore also lasted a long time – if correctly taken care of. Indeed, some of the few produced cars remain to this day and lived some very interesting lives.

Sketch of a Cabriolet body on a Maybach chassis. Painted in grey water-color (Grisaille-Gouache). 1930s. © Rolls Royce Power Systems AG/MTU Friedrichshafen AG

A white Maybach Zeppelin DS 8, which still exists today, is one of the rare examples that was built as a two-seater cabriolet, what is more, it strikingly resembles the car depicted in the ‘Bergbezwinger’ advert. The sketch is shown here, which dates roughly from the same time, also is of a car with a very similar layout. This rare vehicle’s story tells the global connections of the brand Maybach. The car was commissioned by Gustav Zingg, an immigrant from Germany to Venezuela and a wealthy businessman. Among his jobs also was to be Maybach sales representative in Southern America because he had personal ties with Karl Maybach. Originally delivered as the first twelve-cylinder model, the Maybach 12, it, later on, was retrofitted with the last iteration of the twelve-cylinder car engines, the DS 8, which also might have included the installation of another radiator grill. After delivery, the car supposedly also made the journey across the Atlantic several times as Zingg traveled back to Germany. For some decades the car was neglected as termites had damaged it. Helmut Hofmann, the probably most important Maybach car collector however managed to track it down and made the purchase. The car’s last journey back to Europe across the ocean turned out to be devastating – seawater partially flooded the container and caused further damage to this very valuable car. Having already seen worse the collector kept his spirit up and the car is now exhibited and restored to all its glory. Today it can be seen in the Museum for Historical Maybach Vehicles (the only one solely dedicated to these stunning vehicles) in Neumarkt, Germany.

There are several books available on Maybach Cars though one especially stands out. Graf Michael Wolff Metternich’s ‘Maybach Register’ has become a standard source because it records many of the exciting stories the cars lived through after delivery. On the 13th of February 1967, Count Metternich became the founding president of the Maybach Club, an association of Maybach car enthusiasts and owners. Metternich tirelessly recorded the available information of cars that were still existent back then, becoming one of the leading experts. In 1996 he published the third and last version of his important historical research.

Count Michael Wolff Metternich who was born in 1920 and had become known as an essential figure in the field of automotive history scholars, passed away in 2018 but his legacy lives on in his books.

In the following, we have collected some literature on the topic of Maybach automobiles. Sadly, only one of these is available in English, Niemann’s ‘Karl Maybach, his engines and automobiles’.

  1. Graf Wolf Metternich, Michael (1996): Maybach Register, Sieger Verlag GmbH, Lorch.
  2. Graf Wolf Metternich, Michael (1990): Distanz zur Masse, Sieger Verlag GmbH, Lorch.
  3. Mirsching, Gerhard (2001): Maybach-Karosserien aus Ravensburg, Hermann Spohn und sein Werk, Robert Gessler Verlag, Friedrichshafen.
  4. Niemann, Harry (2006): Karl Maybach, his engines and automobiles, Classique car Library.
  5. Niemann, Harry (2004): Karl Maybach, seine Motoren und Automobile, Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart.
  6. Graf Wolf Metternich, Michael (1978): Maybach, Die Geschichte der Maybach-Automobile, Uhle & Kleimann, Lübbecke.

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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