Towering above the town of Eisenach is one of the best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Germany, a building revered by most as the birthplace of a unified Germany. Here Martin Luther translated the Bible (in 10 short weeks), and laid the foundation for a common German tongue. From here, too, in 1817 came the call from German students for national unity, which resulted in the joining together of the multitude of small Teutonic states.
The Wartburg Palace would go on to be a centre of the arts, a museum and an international conference centre. Even in the communist days, it was supervised by an international trust! Automobile plants which have a vigorous design history tend to become living entities which transcend political changes and regimes.
This was especially so if they formed the industrial basis of a town. The automobile
works of Eisenach were such a place. Wartburg Castle first gave its name to a car in 1899, when the Eisenach Fahrzeugfabrik, established a couple of years earlier as a manufacturor of bicycles, turned to motor car manufacture and produced a single-cylinder, water-cooled machine with a very elegant sliding-pillar front suspension arrangement, and christened it the “Wartburgwagen”.
The Wartburgwagen had a top speed of 36 m.p.h. and is reputed to have won some 22 gold medals in exhibitions and races during its first year. However, the name was not retained for the next production series of models, which instead were given the name Dixi in 1904. In their time these Dixis, too, were very advanced, with chassis frames built from large section tubes, and Hotchkiss drive. The 4-cylinder F-head engines, made in 2·5 and 5-litre capacities, had 3-bearing, balanced crankshafts, and inlet and exhaust
valves were mechanically operated.
Cylinders were cast in pairs, and a single block from the 2·5-litre engine formed the basis of a delightful little 1,250 c.c. twin-cylinder car with a 2-speed gearbox, built into the back axle. Features of the chassis design of the 1,250 c.c. and 2·5-litre models were very wide leaf springs with only four leaves, and torque reaction stays for the live back axles. The 5 litre car used chain drive, and appears to have had cantilever springs and radius rods.
Eisenach quickly gained a name for producing fast cars with high-speed engines. The Dixi series had been preceded, in 1902, by a 4-cylinder racer of 22 nominal horsepower, presumably the predecessor of the 5-litre model which was on sale as the 24/30 in England around 1905. A considerable amount of racing was undertaken at this time, and Max Sailer was a German driver who made his name with Dixis before moving on to become a Mercedes works driver.
In 1928 BMW offered the Type Wartburg,
their version of the Ulster Austin
and the very first BMW sports car...
Ater the 1914-18 Great War, in the straitened economic circumstances of the period, financial control passed to the nearby Gotha Waggonfabrik, and car production was resumed, as only trucks had been built during hostilities. During the early days of Gotha control, aerodynamic
coachwork was given serious consideration, and a streamlined, supercharged, car, perhaps the prototype
of a later 3·5-litre, 6-cylinder car, had some success in national races, notably in the hands of Feuerstein, who beat Carraciola's blown Mercedes in the 1924 Deutsches Reichsfahrt.
The 3·5-litre six was announced, but in a period of devaluation neither this nor any of the other large cars then in production was going to make sales records. An approach was therefore made to Herbert Austin, and licences to manufacture the Austin Seven were arranged. Some kind of stability was coming back to Germany in the late 1920’s, and there was a solid market for small, economical cars like the Dixi, a DKW rear-wheel-drive, 2-stroke twin, and a curious air-cooled
, 4-cylinder machine called the “Phanomen”. Potential buyers of these cars were the fringe customers who could now afford something better than a motorcycle. Just as the German motorcycle market suffered at the hands of small car manufacturers in the mid 1950’s, when the national economy became stable, so the Dixis and their imitators, in 1928, took away trade from the manufacturers of 2-wheelers.
were motorcycle and aero engine manufacturers in Munich at this time and, being affected by this situation, looked around for a suitable small car to build to make up for lost motorcycle business. With little experience of motor car manufacture, they bought the Eisenach works in 1928, and with it the agreement for making Austin Sevens
. Then they re-announced the Dixi 3/15PS, as the Austin design was known, as the BMW-Kleinwagen, although it was still built in Eisenach.
Obviously the basic Austin design could not go on for ever, especially in a country where automobile
design was in the melting-pot and buyers had the choice of well-developed front wheel drive
2-stroke models, rear-engined, air-cooled
fours and sixes, and a wide selection of all-independendy sprung cars. Eisenach's answer was the type 315 BMW, the first of the breed to be given a number. This was a typical Central European design, with a backbone chassis frame, swing-axle rear suspension, independent front springing, of course, and an 800 c.c. 4-cylinder o.h.v. engine driving through a 3-speed gearbox. How much the engine and transmission owed to the Austin is not known, but it was the only valve-in-head unit of that size then available in Germany.
The transverse front spring was retained, and the front wheels were still located by radius rods running back to a point underneath the gearbox. This could very well have been the first adaptation of the Austin transverse spring layout to independent suspension. This design was not an entirely happy one.
The car was noisy and did not handle particularly well, so in 1933 it was given what was sonn regarded as the classic BMW chassis. Like its great-grandaddy,the Dixi of 1904, this had large diameter tubular sidemembers and half-elliptic rear springs, the axles being additionally located by radius arms.
However, the independent front suspension was new, with an upper transverse spring, and lower wishbones. Steering was by rack-and-pinion. The engine was enlarged to 900 c.c. to cope with the extra weight, and a 4-speed gearbox was adopted.
At the same time, 1,200 c.c. or 1,500 c.c. 6-cylinder engines were added to the range, installed in chassis of the same general design as that of the smaller car. These were the cars which put BMW on the map as car manufacturers. The 1,500 c.c. type 319/2, with three carburetttors, was an outstanding sporting car, a fact which was brought home to the Aldington brothers the hard way when a team of 319s pipped their Frazer-Nash team for the 1,500 c.c. team prize in the 1934 Alpine Trial. This prompted the Aldingtons to write to BMW, wherupon they obtained the British agency, with great benefit to themselves, for BMW competition activity went from strength to strength, and the BMW became so popular in the UK that a British assembly plant was ready at the outbreak of war.
In case of confusion, it is worth recording that the Isleworth organization re-designated the BMW types 319/1 and 319/2 the Frazer-Nash-BMW types 34 and 40, the figures referring to the engine output in DIN horsepower. In the same way the later 2-litre cars were called the types 45 and 55. However, by the time the BMW 326 came along in 1937, the marque was sufficiently well known and they reverted to the manufacturers type, thus begat the Frazer-Nash-BMW 326 touring model and 328 sports, the former, of course, being the inspiration for the post war Bristol car.
Marshal Zhukov Receives a Eisenach 328
While the Bristol was being developed in post-war England, Eisenach, now in the Russian zone of Germany, were getting the loser's treatmen~ from a not very affectionate foe. During World War 2 a new factory, for aero engine producction, had been built on the outskirts of the town. This was blown up and a nearby underground plant was gutted. Car production in the old plant, which had made motorcycle combinations during the war, was forbidden temmporarily, but resumed in late 1945, thanks, it was said, to Marshal Zhukov in gratitude for the gift of a 328 saloon built from spares by a small group of workmen.
Three EMW streamliner racers upset the composure
of western racing teams when they
appeared at the Avus track in 1950.
Politics and an austerity programme
prevented their development...
This may be propaganda, but it was a fact that manufacture of the type 321 was revived, using the old tooling. Initial prooduction went to Russia, although some cars were exported to other countries who were short of money. In post World War 2 form this model was known variously as the BMW type 340-2 or the EMW type 340-2, the latter name being coined after BMW of Munich obtained an injunction through the Hague court to stop the company using the BMW moniker. The car was based on the pre-war type 326 with a low compression, 55 b.h.p., 6-cylinder engine, and a number of body styles, including a stylish 2-seater cabriolet, was offered.
One More Racing Success for Eisenach
Even a pretty ruthless form of repression could not kill the competitive spirit completely, and one notable racing car was yet to come out of Eisenach. This was the 6-cylinder EMW racer, which swept aside the opposition at Avus in 1950
and brought the prowess of Eddie Barth to the notice of Western promoters. If nothing, it proved that all the design talent had not fled to West Germany. It was unfortunate that the racing programme was curtailed and the cars relegated to a museum.
In 1952 the old works were restored to German ownership, but with the Government as masters, there was a complete rationalization of the East German motor industry. The plan required the uprooting of the old DKW works from Chemnitz (later to be named Karl Marxstadt) and installation of the equipment at Eisenach. A 900 c.c. version of the DKW 3-cylinder, 2-stroke car, called the IFA F9, and a steel-bodied version of the pre-war DKW Meisterklasse with 800 c.c., 3-cylinder engine were then in production. No doubt they were produced on tooling intended by the original DKW management for post-war manufacture.
The Wartburg name was revived in 1956 and given to an updated version of their IFA F9 car which had been in production since 1950. The new car had a more powerful version of the three-cylinder two-stroke engine driving the front wheels and a completely new body. Exports to West Germany started in 1958, and by the early 1960s the car was exported to many other countries, including the United Kingdom and United States. The 311 model was manufactured in a number of variations, including pickup, estate, and two-seater roadster.
The 2-Stroke Principle And Communism
The 2-stroke, front wheel drive
cars were produced alongside EMW 4-stroke cars for a couple of years, until it was decided at high level that the 2-stroke principle and Commmunism had something in common, and that all passenger cars and motorcycles should henceforth have engines workking on that principle. Production of the EMW was therefore abandoned, and the IFA, or AWE as it was sometimes known, was given a restyled body and renamed the Wartburg, but still fitted with the 900 c.c. AWE engine.
The 1,000 c.i. engine was introduced in 1962, and a completely new body was manufactured after 1966. Also in 1966 the gearbox gained synchromesh
on all speeds and was designed to freewheel as an engine protection measure, which had the unfortunate side-effect that the car did not benefit from engine braking. The new car, the 353, was known in some export markets as the Wartburg Knight. It was based on the Polish-designed Warszawa 210 and remained in production for several decades with minor modifications.
Compared to Western automotive producers, the EMW facilities were also less than ideal, however visitors reported during that era that the factory was clean and workman-like, and the job of building cars went on with great seriousness and typical German thoroughness. However, there was a labour problem which, in an indirect way, was to the customer's advantage. In East Gerrmany the post-war population explosion experienced by much of the west did not take place. Beaten and depressed, the population were in no mood to produce lots of children. As a result, there was a considerable dearth of young men to train as engineers and fitters, so most of the workers at Eisenach tended to be old, and experienced.
Although the old buildings signified a lack of capital, modern equipment was used wherever necessary. For example, there were two transfer machines for machining cylinder blocks, a 12-station unit built in the works and a smaller eight-station unit made by an outside supplier, while there were machine tools from both Russia and America alongside some of the old BMW equipment. Except for the electrical gear, the brakes
and the clutch, the whole of the car was built on the spot. Most of the material was East German, but since there was no sheet steel rolling plant in East Gerrmany, all the body steel was imported, much of it from England. In the press shop, one is as much impressed by the size of the preslies as by the lack of safety guards.
In common with other 2-stroke car engines, the crankshaft and big ends ran on roller bearings, an expensive form of construction necessary because of the lack of a pressure oil feed to the crankshaft. The DKW F102 and the Saab GT were the only 2-strokes of the era employing a low pressure oil feed to the crank, on the total loss system.
Engines working on the 2-cycle principle needed the minimum clearance between the crankshaft and crankcase to get good crankcase compression. This made for a compact and very rigid unit, which was further stiffened by the internal partitions which were necessary to divide off the section of the crankcase, beneath each cylinder. There was a downside to the two-stroke design - as it relied on the passage of the petrol mixture (A mixture of special two stroke oil and petrol, at a ratio of 1:40) to lubricate the engine. Without the freewheel device, on long down-hill runs the engine could be starved of lubricant and seize.
On the Wartburg, the edges of the connecting rods were polished to improve gas flow, and particular attention was paid to parallelism between the gudgeon pins and crank pins to ensure free running. Of course, a great deal of know-how was inherited from DKW, but there was also a very active national research unit specializing in 2-stroke development. It had been responsible, among other things, for the very advanced MZ motorcycle engine which gaves a specific output of some 190 b.h.p. per litre, and was the only accidental 2-wheeler to stand up to the Japanese invasion.
Particularly impressive was the amount of handwork on the bodies, no fewer than 26 operations being carried out on the body line before painting. This attention to detail, and the weight of metal used, 20 s.w.g. for the main panels and 18 s.w.g. for the floor, reflected the requirement for a vehicle which, as it turned out, gave more years of service than many expected.
The two-stroke engine was replaced by a 1300 cc four stroke Volkswagen engine in 1988, but otherwise time and technology passed it by. The final nail in its coffin was the introduction of the Deutschmark (DM), as the cost of producing a car reached 20,000 DM. Production ended in 1991, as German reunification spelt its end. The factory was acquired by Opel in 1991.
Recommended Reading: BMW Aero Engine History
| BMW Automotive History
| BMW Motorcycle History
| BMW Post War History
| The 2 Stroke El Supremo - Wartburg (USA Edition)