Everyone has heard of BMW, whether its cars or bikes, but what about EMW? There was a relationship between them and I’ll explain later in the post.
The story starts in 1896 when Heinrich Ehrhardt founded the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach (FFE) to make bicycles and weapons. There must have been similar production processes between these two products as many companies did this – another example was BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) in Britain.
After a few years FFE started to make a car called the Wartburg and was one of only three German manufacturers at the time – the others being Daimler and Benz. The Wartburg was a licensed version of a French car, the Decauville. The name Wartburg came from the castle on the edge of the town which was built in 1067 and has been involved in many of European history’s major events.
In 1903, the Ehrhardt family pulled out and the company was renamed Dixi (Latin for “I have Spoken”). This was long before Audi was created which means “To Hear” in Latin. Dixi continued to produce cars until WW1 when like many companies, they switched to war supplies. In 1919, after war reparations had removed some equipment and tough economic times, the company was merged with Gothaer Waggonfabrik and they started to build Austin 7s under licence.
This is now where BMW comes in. BMW had been formed out of several smaller companies building aero engines, motorcycles and other machines. however they were forced to close down after WW1 because their products were supplied to the military. They switched to making car, truck and other engines and continued with their motorcycles (from Rapp), dropping all the military equipment. During the late 1920s they decided to start building cars and the easiest way was to buy an existing company, so in 1928 they bought Dixi and the licensed Austin 7 became the BMW Dixi which was renamed the 3/15. Interestingly, BMW also used the Wartburg name for a model (a sports car). The facilities were renamed BMW Factory – Eisenach.
The result of WW2 was the almost complete destruction of the factory – yet again it was used to make equipment for the war effort, so became a target for the Allies. Then after the hostilities had finished, the Americans gave a large chunk of Germany to the Soviets forming East Germany. The factory was now under Soviet control and Government owned, restarting to make BMW cars, much to the annoyance of the original company who weren’t producing vehicles due to the aftermath of the war on West Germany. BMW had not only been damaged by the war, they were also subject to war reparations that delayed the restarting of their business.
In 1952, BMW secured control of its name and logo and forced the East German Government to change the name of their company to EMW (Eisenach Motoren Werke) and they even competed in the 1953 German Grand Prix, their only F1 entry.
The EMW name didn’t last long, by 1954 it was changed to VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach and the Wartburg name was recreated yet again for the cars.
The Wartburg models starting with the 311 were sold behind the Iron Curtain for many years until they started to export firstly to West Germany and then other parts of Europe and the US. The first cars used two-stroke engines based on a design from DKW – another manufacturer that found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. VEB developed the engine further whilst DKW continued in West Germany.
During the mid 1960s the 311/312 was replaced by a Polish designed car called the 353. This model used a two-stroke engine that they designed themselves but took them many many years to get it to work efficiently! It was a 1 litre capable of about 50hp. This motor lasted until 1988 when a 4 stroke 1300cc VW was fitted. An interesting fact about this car was that the car was based on a 1930s design and updated with 1960s concepts, had it been built earlier it would have been a very futuristic design.
The 353 is the car that most people in Europe associate with Warburg. They were classed with Skoda as tough, low powered vehicles that were cheap and cheerful.
When the re-unification of Germany happened in the early 1990s and the currency changed to the Deutschmark, the state owned company was closed down and during discussions with other manufacturers, GM’s Adam Opel AG subsidiary bought the factory saving many local jobs. The factory, now called Opel Eisenach, now produces GM cars there, mostly the Opel Corsa and Adam.
An estimated 1.8 million cars were built at the factory between 1896 and 1991 under the Wartburg, Dixi, BMW, and EMW names.