With the renewal of the Maybach name as another sub-brand under Daimler-Benz, we thought it would be good to highlight just how important the Maybach name is to the automotive industry. In fact the names Daimler and Maybach have been connected for over a century in one form or another.
Wilhelm Maybach was born in 1846 in a small town in southern Germany, which later became part of the industrial area that made cars and trucks. Looking back, you could imagine this being fertile ground for a young man interested in the technology of the day. His parents moved the family closer to Stuttgart and unfortunately both had passed away by the time Maybach was a teenager. He was taken on as a student by a local institution where his focus on industrial design was not only formulated but seen by others who encouraged him to learn more subjects to broaden his horizons. By his late teens he was working for a workshop manager called Gottlieb Daimler, a man ten years his senior and it was a relationship that lasted until Daimler’s death in 1900.
They were clearly a good team because Daimler took Maybach to work at a heavy locomotive company in 1869 in Karlsruhe, in the heart of the heavy industrial area of Germany. A few years later, Daimler jumped ship to go to Deutz and work with Nikolaus Otto (of the Otto Cycle Engine fame) and Maybach also joined them. Deutz manufactured engines and over the life of this company, many future famous engineers worked on projects honing their skills. It was Deutz who sent Maybach to the US to demonstrate the new engine design that Otto had developed and on his return to Germany spent time evolving the design further to improve efficiencies. Some of Otto’s patents were legally challenged and the resulting argument between Daimler and Otto saw Daimler leave Deutz and set up his own engine company. Naturally, Maybach followed his mentor.
Daimler’s first engine ran on an early form of petrol and proved that the concept would not only work – it would provide power at fairly low revolutions and it was Maybach that suggested that the engine be fitted to a bicycle – making what is now regarded as the world’s first motorcycle. A few iterations were developed and in 1885, they had created what Daimler called the Grandfather Clock Engine, because he thought that was what it looked like. Considering that this engine was developed 135 years ago, there are many features that are still prevalent in today’s internal combustion engines. They fitted their engines into carriages, boats and even an airship – they knew that this was the future and so licensed their designs to other manufacturing companies in other European countries – Peugeot was an early licensee.
With tight cash flow, the partners need some funding and so an injection of cash was provided by some industrialists and the company became Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, the forerunner of today’s Daimler-Benz. Maybach didn’t last long thanks to a dispute with the money men and so he started to develop engines on his own, quietly being financed by Gottlieb Daimler.
During this time, Maybach produced the world’s first four cylinder engine – a concept that has stood the test of time, with every major automotive manufacturing group using this format today. He also took the engine package further by developing the first water radiators.
When Daimler was forced out of his own company, the new backer, a British financier, insisted that Maybach return to help the company’s image recover and it was during this second term that he developed the Daimler-Mercedes engine for Emil Jellinek who not only raced it with great success, but managed to persuade the higher echelons of society to buy vehicles. The company registered the Mercedes name and managed to sell enough cars to stave off another bankruptcy.
In 1907, Maybach left the Daimler company and was contracted by Count von Zeppelin to improve the engines of his airships – this relationship went back several years with Maybach developing the engines in the first place. Maybach and his son Karl created a subsidiary of the Zeppelin company to design and develop more engines and it was called Luftfahrzeug Motoren although it was quickly renamed Maybach Motorenbau. This relationship survived the First World War, however Germany was not allowed to create airships as part of the surrender agreement, so Maybach wanted to sell engines to other manufacturers. That wasn’t possible, so his son persuaded him to create full cars instead!
The cars were at the very high end of the market and were launched in 1921, however Europe was not only recovering from the war, it was about to drop into a major recession – one that was global and saw the rise of nationalism. Being at the high end, the cars were bespoke and they only really built around 2,000 before production ended during the early years of the Second World War. the Maybach company was focused on the engine rather than the vehicle.
Maybach died at the end of 1929, having influenced many engineers along with automotive, aeronautic and naval designers. What is interesting is that many of the companies that he worked for, or founded, are still in existence today in some form: Daimler-Benz is the evolution of the earlier Daimler Gesellschaft, Maybach Motoren was bought by Daimler-Benz and is now called MTU Friedrichshafen, Deutz still makes engines, trucks and tractors, and even Zeppelin is still functioning having had a fifty year break in business – they are up to their old tricks again, developing modern safer airships!
Maybach had three children, the elder being Karl who followed him into engineering and was the inspiration behind the car production, working with European coach-builders to create the ultra luxurious models. Maybach’s second son, Adolf, sadly ended up in a mental institution after a breakdown and was murdered by the Nazis during a purge in 1940, and Maybach also had a daughter, Emma, of which very little is known other than she was born in 1892 and died in 1974.
The world needs to thank engineers like Wilhelm Maybach. Without their attention to detail, conceptual thinking and technical prowess in developing prototypes, the age of the automobile would still be slowly developing rather than heading at light speed to other forms of propulsion.