Historic Car Brands



On February 9, 1846, Wilhelm Maybach was born in Heilbronn, Germany and the family moved to Stuttgart, which later became the German ‘automobile town’. When Wilhelm Maybach was 10 years old, both his parents died, but a charity organisation adopted him. 


Maybach’s Mercedes


At school, Wilhelm Maybach showed extraordinary drawing and technical talents, and in 1865, when the 19-year-old Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler met in a workshop in the small town of Reutlingen, Wilhelm Maybach’s abilities attracted Mr Daimler’s attention. He appointed Wilhelm Maybach as a graphics designer. 

In the following 30 years, Wilhelm Maybach and Daimler researched and developed light, high-speed, internal combustion engines. Wilhelm Maybach invented the irregular heat pipe ignition system, the vertical fixed-cylinder design, the honeycomb radiator, the nozzle carburettor and the first four-cylinder car engine.

Daimler died in 1900, at the same time that Maybach invented the first Mercedes car.  Its light weight, low bonnet, long wheelbase, inclined steering system, front and rear wheels of almost the same size set the pattern for future automotive engineering design.



Wilhelm Maybach was soon crowned ‘the king of design’ and his name became synonymous with technological innovation.

Despite the great success of the Mercedes brand, Wilhelm Maybach was replaced as chief engineer, so he left the DMG Company in 1907. When the Zeppelin LZ4 airship crashed on August 5, 1908 after a windstorm, Wilhelm Maybach promised to build a new and improved airship engine for his friend, Graf Zeppelin.

On March 23, 1909, Wilhelm Maybach established the Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau-GmbH company (Aircraft Engine Building Company), which was the predecessor of the Maybach brand. 

The company developed and manufactured diesel and petrol engines for Zeppelins and rail cars. Its Maybach Mb IVa was used in aircraft and airships during World War I. 1916, the 70-year-old Wilhelm Maybach was awarded the honorary doctorate by the Stuttgart University of Technology. 



His son, Carl, had become a mechanical engineer when he was only 17 years old and joined his father as one of the founders of Maybach. He gradually assumed more responsibility as his father aged and became technical director.

After Germany’s loss in Word War in the Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau-GmbH manufacturing plant was renamed Maybach Motorenbau-GmbH. Aero engine development was halted by the terms of the Versailles Treaty and so Maybach turned to automobile engine production.



The first post-War engine was a side-valve, 5.8-litre, in-line six that was bought initially by Spyker, in Holland. When no other engine customers could be found, Maybach turned to car production.

The Maybach 1920 Spezialrennwagen attracted a great deal of attention for the new venture, being powered by a 23-litre, six-cylinder Zeppelin engine that developed 300hp and gave this racing special a top speed of 160km/h. 



The prototype Maybach W1 passenger car was built on a chassis provided by DMG Company, after which Wilhelm and Carl built the first all-Maybach cars. The first Maybach W3 automobile was introduced in 1921.

Carl Maybach wanted his luxury Maybachs to be as easy to operate as possible, so the original models had two-speed, pedal-controlled gearboxes. They were the first German-made cars to feature four-wheel braking, as well.



German bodybuilders queued up to clothe Maybach chassis and their names read like a ‘who’s-who’ list of the period: Spohn, Glaser, Armbruster, Erdmann & Rossi and Voll-Ruhrbeck.

In 1926, the W5 sedan received great acclaim, being powered by a seven-litre, in-line, overhead-valve, six-cylinder engine that put out 120hp. It was fitted with a two-speed schnellgang (fast-gear) auxiliary transmission that gave it a top speed of 120km/h.



However, the best was yet to come. In 1929, the Maybach DS7 made its debut, powered by a new, seven-litre, 150hp, V12 engine. The car was heavy – around three tonnes with bodywork added – and required drivers to have licence endorsement. 

A five-speed transmission was initially fitted, but some DS7s were fitted with the eight-speed Varlorex manual transmission.


Maybach DS8


Although the driver still needed to use the clutch when starting, two small control levers in the middle of the steering wheel were used to change gears through the four-speed planetary gear transmission without using the clutch. Neutral, first and reverse were operated by the preselected shift handle in the centre of the car. 

This gearbox was fitted to the subsequent eight-litre V12, DS8 model that was released in 1930.

On December 29, 1929, Wilhelm Maybach died in Stuttgart.


Maybach Zeppelin sedan


The DS7 was originally badged ‘Maybach 12’, until the ‘Zeppelin’ badge was applied between the headlight brackets and that badging continued with the DS8.

The DS8 had 200hp on tap and was good for 170km/h.

While the absolute pinnacle of engineering at the time, these Zeppelin models were very large at 5.5 metres overall length and incredibly expensive. The asking price of 36,000 Deutschmarks could buy three city apartments at a the time!

As well, maintenance on their multi-cylinder layout and eight-speed, pre-selector, vacuum-assisted gearboxes wasn’t cheap. Few had the need for such an over-the-top machine and even fewer could afford it. 


Maybach Zeppelin drop head coupe


Maybach’s unique design was recognised by royalty, the rich and famous, and by celebritiesanod politicians. Among Maybach’s customer group were legendary Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso,  world heavyweight boxing champion, Max Schmeling, King Paul of Greece, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, as well as Prince Bernard and Prince Esterhazi, Maharajahs of Jaipur, Portilla and Kohaper, and Ethiopian King Haile Selassie.

In the interests of broadening the customer base, the smaller type SW was introduced in 1935. This was the final model to be released before World War II and was initially available with an in-line, six-cylinder engine of 3.5-litre displacement. It was joined in 1936 by a 3.8-litre version and a 4.2-litre model in 1939. 


Maybach SW-38 roadster – note rear wheel camber


However, while smaller than their Zeppelin siblings, the SW-38 models were still beautifully engineered. Build quality was on a par with the Zeppelins and attention to detail was the same. They were cheaper, but still exclusive and expensive.

The SW models employed swing-axle rear independent suspension.

Between 1936 and 1939, customers bought 520 SW chassis, which was a substantial number in Maybach terms.


1939 Maybach Limousine SW42 – Wilfried Wittowsky


Zeppelin and SW-38 Maybachs were fitted with a wide range of bodywork, including sedans, shooting brakes and sports convertibles. Total Maybach production was around 1800 cars, before Word War II intervened.


Maybach HL 230 Technikmuseum Sinsheim


During the Second World War, Maybach produced the engines for most of Nazi Germany’s tanks, including Panzer I, II, III, IV and V; the Tiger I and II and other heavy tanks. The 600-700hp Maybach 21-litre HL 210 and 23-litre HL 230 engines also  powered half-tracks, including the Sd.Kfz. 251 personnel carrier and the Sd.Kfz. 9 prime mover. 

The Friedrichshafen engine plant was targetted by Allied bombing, so production was moved in 1944 to tunnels at the Leitmeritz concentration camp.

After WW II, the factory performed some repair work, but automotive production was never restarted and, some 20 years later, the company was renamed MTU Friedrichshafen. 


Maybach 62 – Mr Choppers


Daimler-Benz purchased the company in 1960 and the Maybach brand and insignia were applied to special editions of Mercedes cars in the W108 and W116 model range that were virtually hand built. 

In 2002, the Maybach name was re-presented to the world as the high-end Daimler car brand, inheriting the design concept of the founders, Wilhelm and Carl Maybach to produce the world’s top luxury cars.


Maybach Excelero – Simon Davison


Although modern Maybachs are heavyweights, one sports car – the Excelero – was produced in 2004, along the high-performance lines of the pre-War SW models. 


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