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Mar 3, 2009
Wilhelm Maybach is the creator of the modern car. The 35 hp Mercedes of 1901 bears many of the design features one still finds today in cars all over the world. He was responsible for many of the innovations that would have a lasting influence on vehicle design, including toothed-gear transmission (1889), the spray nozzle carburettor (1893), the tubular radiator (1897) and subsequently the honeycomb radiator (1900), as well as the first V-engine in 1889 and in 1896 the world’s first truck, in 1897 the Victoria model, and in 1898 the Phoenix racing car. Between 1898 and 1899 he built five new four-cylinder engines with outputs of 6, 10, 12, 16 and 23 hp (4,4, 7,4, 8,8, 12 and 17 kW). Then in 1902 came the 300-hp Maybach-Loutzky marine engine system along with the Mercedes-Simplex, and in 1906 a six-cylinder racing car with overhead camshaft and twin-plug ignition.
Maybach was born in Heilbronn on 9 February 1846. He was schooled at the Bruderhaus in Reutlingen, where in 1865 he met Gottlieb Daimler. Daimler subsequently took Maybach with him wherever his professional activities led him.
The first of these posts was at Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft Karlsruhe in 1869. Then when Daimler joined Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz AG as a director in 1872, Maybach went too. Here Maybach was promoted from simple draughtsman to chief designer and acquired his first experience with the Otto engine. When Daimler departed Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz AG following a dispute in 1882, Maybach left with him and made Cannstatt his new home. Here, he and Daimler developed the small, high-speed internal combustion engine. In 1887 they moved into new production facilities on the slopes of the Seelberg. Shortly after Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) was established in 1890, Maybach left the company. However, from 1892 until 1895 he continued his cooperation with Daimler clandestinely, creating around twelve cars during this time. Daimler also quit DMG in 1893. At the Hotel Hermann, Maybach designed the Phoenix engine, which quickly put the term “Daimler engine” on the lips of people abroad. A group of British industrialists led by Frederick R. Simms made an offer to acquire the licensing rights to build this engine in England. One of the conditions, however, was that Daimler and Maybach return to DMG. Maybach was appointed technical director of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in 1895, a role he occupied until 1903. He left DMG as a result of a dispute in 1907, but immediately began working on plans for a joint venture with his son Karl.
When the Zeppelin LZ 4 was destroyed by strong gusts of wind in 1908 while at anchor for engine repairs, the whole nation rallied round to enable Count Zeppelin to build a new airship. Maybach realised his time had come and presented his son Karl to Zeppelin as a future designer. On 23 March 1909 "Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau-GmbH" Bissingen was established as a subsidiary of "Luftschiffbau Zeppelin". In 1912 the company moved to premises in Friedrichshafen.
Unlike Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach enjoyed a peaceful and richly decorated old age. The King of Württemberg appointed him Royal Chief Engineer of Württemberg, the following year he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. The King of Prussia presented him with the Order of the Red Eagle 4th Class and from the Association of German Engineers he received their highest award, the Grashof Memorial Medal. Before his death on 29 December 1929, he was able to witness the unveiling of his son Karl’s twelve-cylinder Maybach DS. He was posthumously inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, Dearborn in 1996 and in 2004 into the European Automotive Hall of Fame, Geneva.