Working as Gottlieb Daimler’s chief constructor at the Deutz gas engine factory in Cologne, Wilhelm Maybach contributed to the international success of the so-called Otto-Engine by redesigning it in 1873. The congenial Daimler-Maybach duo became independent in Cannstatt in 1882. In a greenhouse building, Maybach constructed the first high-speed single-cylinder four-stroke engine, the so-called “Standuhr” (Grandfather Clock). Maybach first built this engine into the “Reitwagen” (Riding Carriage) and then into the “Daimler Motorenkutsche” (Daimler Motor-Carriage) in 1886 – the automobile was invented. At the same time, Wilhelm Maybach pursued the goal of incorporating the “Grandfather Clock” into all vehicles by land, by air, and by sea: automobiles, rail vehicles, airships, and also boats.
In August 1886, Daimler and Maybach organized the first test run with a seven-meter-long wooden boat, powered by the “Grandfather Clock” – the first motorboat was invented. The boat was given the name Neckar. People in the 1880s distrusted the internal combustion engine -the new technology-and initially rejected the invention. For this reason, Gottlieb Daimler camouflaged the boat with electrical insulators and wires to simulate an electric drive. The engine was also dismantled after each trip and returned to the workshop. A small shipyard on the Neckar River served as a test workshop for Daimler’s boat projects. From the beginning, Maybach and Daimler received support from Friedrich Lürssen from the town of Aumund near Bremen (Germany), who later built the Maybach boat icons.
During another ride at a rowing regatta in Frankfurt am Main, Wilhelm Maybach played a trick on the police. The policemen approached Maybach’s motorboat in a normal rowboat to control him, which did not succeed: To the amusement of the audience, Maybach let the police boat approach him several times, starting the engine just before making contact and quickly driving away again and again. In this sense, it was Wilhelm Maybach who drove the first race with a motorboat at the end of the 1880s.
However, 1894 is actually considered the year in which a race with motorboats was held for the first time. The venue of the race was Nice, France. It was a Daimler boat, with an engine designed by Wilhelm Maybach, which won the race with significantly less horsepower than the other participants. The secret lay in the aerodynamic glide of the hull. Especially the racing boats named Mercedes I and Mercedes II dominated the young racing boat scene in the first years. None other than racing legend, Emil Jellinek, (see our block article: https://maybach.org/wilhelm-maybach-shaping-the-modern-automobile/) steered the boats. The boats were equipped with the 40 hp Maybach four-cylinder engine from the world-famous Daimler car “Mercedes-Simplex”. The example shows that at that time the development of motorized land and water vehicles happened hand in hand. And it was the pioneers of automotive engineering, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, who laid the groundwork.
The era of autoboats – boat building and automotive engineering cross-fertilize each other
At the beginning of the 20th century, the still young automotive industry also conquered the market for motorized watercraft: Autoboats were the names of the front-engined watercraft that quickly became popular from 1900 onwards thanks to spectacular races in Germany, France, the USA, and Monaco. However, the First World War not only prevented sporting events throughout Europe but also largely interrupted technical innovation in sport boat engine construction. Boat owners were called upon to turn over engines, parts, and even entire boats to the military. After World War I, the provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty prohibited the navigation of rivers and lakes by German boats of any kind until 1920. All in all, the war meant that the leading innovation in the production of motorboats did not take place in Europe for a long time, and certainly not in Germany.
In the United States of America, on the other hand, the market for vehicles of all kinds was booming. The possibilities of the new mobility in the golden 1920s seemed limitless. In particular, touring and sport boats were extremely popular and sold in very large numbers. In Northern Europe and Germany, the enthusiasm for motorized vehicles arrived years later. Nevertheless, by 1929 thousands of sport and leisure motorboats had been launched for the German market.
In Germany, such famous car manufacturers as BMW, Daimler, and Maybach were mainly involved in the motorboat-boom. But also engines from Alfa Romeo, Austin, Bugatti, Duesenberg, Fiat, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Maserati, Peugeot, Renault, and many other manufacturers can also be found in autoboats. Autoboats, recognizable by their long foredeck and V-shaped water deflectors, central steering column and windshield, appeared around 1905 on the Great Lakes of France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and North America. While at the beginning of the 1920s the transfer of car bodies from the automobile industry to motorboats was still considered impractical, by 1925 people were already convinced that sedan trends from the automobile industry could also be transferred to motorboats. The first step was for the boat buyers to select a hull and then go to an engine builder of their choice to find the right drive system. The Lürssen shipping company in Vegesack near Bremen,Germany, worked almost exclusively with the engine builders Daimler and Maybach. The most elegant and high-performance boats were equipped with Maybach engines. Those who could afford it went for the top German engine of the time: either the Maybach engine type “S 5” by Karl Maybach or the Mercedes engine type “BM 9456”. Leisure captains ordered a sports sedan, a noble yacht convertible with a lined soft top with a retractable frame, and crank windows, or straight away a sports sedan with an elegant saloon body. A particularly fine example is the sports sedan named Käthi designed by Bruno Engelbrecht in 1927. Its special feature was a tunnel rear end that ensured a shallow draft. The hull was made of galvanized steel, and the superstructure of mahogany. The interior of the salon was very extensive with two sofa beds, wardrobes, cooking area and wash basin. The engine was Karl Maybach Type “S 2”, Germany’s first high-speed boat engine.
Race Boat Fiber – Faster and Faster with Powerful Maybach Engines
After the First World War, numerous British and German aircraft engines were available on the commercial market. Since there was no military need, the engines were sold and were installed in racing vehicles for the road and sea. This explains why numerous of V 12 Maybach high-altitude engines with several hundred horsepower were installed in racing boats. Among these Maybach racing machines was also a European champion. In 1926, the boat of racing pilot Jupp Rüddel was considered the fastest motorboat in Europe and the second fastest in the world, with a measured top speed of 66 mph km/h as well as an average speed of 63 mph. Two of the legendary Maybach high-altitude engines of the type “Mb 4a” with a total of 520 hp were installed.
The fastest boat during this period was US entrepreneur Garfield Wood’s Miss America II; she reached an incredible 80 mph. In order to reach speeds of over 60 mph, it required not only engines with well over 1,000 hp, but also nerves of steel. Jupp Rüddel’s record-breaking boat was bought in the second half of the 1920s by Fritz von Opel (grandson of car pioneer Adam Opel) and won several international motorboat races. Despite her name Opel II, the boat had nothing to do with the Opel car company. After the acquisition, Fritz von Opel christened the then- nameless boat Opel II. The Opel II made its first appearance in a motorboat race in the summer of 1927 at the third International Motorboat Meeting on the Seine. At the “Coupe de France” on July 12, 1927, Fritz von Opel won clearly ahead of the international competition. Only two days later, he won the “Prize of the French Minister of the Navy” with the Opel II. On October 2, 1928, he became the German champion at the ADAC Motorboat Championship on Lake Templin near Potsdam (Germany).
The boat icons Maybach Donnerwetter and Seewal
The two Maybach boats with the names Donnerwetter and Seewal went down in history as the fastest double-plicht boats (boat with two staging areas) in Germany. Unfortunately, none of the boats with the conspicuously large inscriptions exists anymore. Maybach engines of the type “SDS 8” were installed; in the racing boat Donnerwetter even in the performance-enhanced version with 300 hp. Both boats were operated by the company itself, Maybach -Motorenbau GmbH in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance. The advertising photo on Lake Constance from 1931 is one of the extremely rare photographs of the two boats.