Robert Freeman and I were researching my recent acquisition of a rare 1936 BMW R5 when we came across some interesting information. Uncovering the history and provenance of these old BMW’s is detective work. It’s challenging, and you learn something new all the time. We discovered (with the help of the friendly people at BMW historical archives in Munich) that there were three new R5 models on display at the 1936 Berlin Motor Show.
This fascinating data took me on a new path to learn more about the 1936 Berlin “Autoschau.” The auto show took place from February 15th through March 1st, 1936 and was held under the watchful eye of the Nazi party. Hitler had consolidated control of Germany and became Chancellor in January 1933. Three short years later the Third Reich reached its zenith. By 1936, Hitler’s regime was enjoying growing prosperity and a surge of popularity—Hitler was still several years away from his fateful decision to start a disastrous two-front war. In August of 1936, Berlin would take center stage when the city hosted one of the most opulent Summer Olympics in history. Indeed, 1936 was a year when the eyes of the world were focused on Germany.
1936 also marked the 50th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz. In celebration of this milestone, the Nazi government issued special commemorative stamps with pictures of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. Last week I was able to find and purchase an original set of these stamps. March of 1936 was a strange time in the history of the world, but things were especially odd in Berlin. National Socialism had swept over Germany and taken the capital by storm. My father Max was living nearby in the port city of Hamburg. He was barely four years old when the Berlin Auto Show opened on February 15th, 1936.
Lots of new technology was on display in Berlin, and I unearthed a comprehensive primary source that covered the show in March of 1936. The following reprint of Motor Sport magazine gives a unique window into the show itself and the overall motoring scene in Nazi Germany in 1936.
Reprinted Directly From Motor Sport Magazine
Page 7, March 1936
THE BERLIN MOTOR SHOW
The fifth Motor Show held under the Nazi regime, which was opened with impressive ceremonial by Herr Hitler on February 15th, was something of a gala occasion in Germany. To begin with, it followed on the fiftieth anniversary of the first motor cars, constructed in 1886 by Daimler and Benz, whose firms, first diverging, came together in 1923 to form the illustrious Daimler-Benz Company, makers of the Mercedes-Benz cars which have so enhanced the prestige of the German motor industry. A great feature of the Show was a display of veteran cars, starting with a Daimler motor-coach of 1889.
The other and more material reason for rejoicing was the return of prosperity to the German motor trade. In 1932 production had sunk to 44,000 cars per year and if the decline had continued on the same curve, would by now have been almost negligible. As it is the figures for 1935 have soared up to 215,000. Improvements in roads have had some bearing on the advance, but the most important factor is undoubtedly that since 1932 there has been no road tax on new cars. Vehicles bought after that time are immune from tax as long as they are used, even though they pass to new owners. Fuel is taxed to a certain extent, but the amount was not increased when the road licence on vehicles was abolished.
Sports Cars Not Prominent
Remembering the tremendous popularity of motor-racing in Germany at the present time (60,000 spectators at the Freiburg Hill-Climb, 120,000 at the Nurburg Ring and no less than 200,000 at the Avus Track), one might have expected to see a wide variety of sports cars at the Motor Show. This, however, was not the case. The very rapid 5-litre Mercedes-Benz and the new supercharged Wanderer were almost the only cars which laid claim to that title. On the other hand, there were a number of powerful cars such as the Horch, medium-powered vehicles such as the B.M.W., with a high power-weight ratio and an equally sporting performance, and also smaller types such as the Adler and the Hansa, which justify inclusion in the list given below. The German motorist demands a car on which he can keep his foot hard down for mile after mile on long, straight roads and rough surfaces, and so there is not much call for light sports cars such as England produces. There is, however, a widespread respect for our engine designers, who perform prodigies with such meagre capacity engines. Coachwork on sports cars was generally either an open two-seater, with hood dropping into a well, or a fourseater cabriolet with winding glass windows and all-weather sliding or fold ing roofs. Except • for the special 5.4litre Mercedes cars used by the Fiihrer, we saw no open four-seaters. The saloons were nearly all sober-looking and rather heavy in character. The sports saloon seems almost unknown, and the finish of the custom-built bodies does not reach the high standard achieved by the leading English coach builders. The practically-minded German does not see the point of paying large sums for paint and varnish when the standard factory-built cabriolets are perfectly satisfactory, and if there were more smart-looking convertible bodies available in this country, the same might be the case over here.
Seventeen makes of cars were exhibited in the Show, and of these three were foreign. Austin was the sole English representative, Sir Herbert Austin being on the stand to greet Herr Hitler on his tour of inspection. France and Italy were represented by Renault and Fiat. Fords are now built in a factory at Cologne.
A Diesel Private Car
One of the sensations of the show was the Diesel-engined private car introduced by Mercedes-Benz. The engine is a 4-cylinder 2.6-litre engine which develops 45 h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m., the minimum engine speed being 350 r.p.m. The fuel is sprayed into anti chambers, ensuring a clean and odourless exhaust, and the fuel consumption works out at 30 m.p.g. The engine, which weighs 600 lb., is installed in the 2-litre chassis which has independent suspension, overdrive gearbox and other items of Mercedes specification. The car costs 7,800 marks as against 5,700 for the 2-litre petrol-driven car and does 60 m.p.h. There is a trace of. roughness at low speeds on top gear, but above 20 m.p.h. the Diesel Motor is ‘ indistinguishable from an engine of orthodox pattern. Hanomag showed a 2:5-litre Diesel engine developing 35 h.p. and suitable for boats and motor car, but no complete car so fitted is available.
Round the Galleries
‘Accessory stands are much the same at every show, and there were few novelties at Berlin. One of the most interesting was Sigla safety glass, laminated, of course, but with an elastic centre • layer called Plexigurn, which remains clear under prolonged. exposure to sunlight. It can be cut or bent after manufacture, and the Plexiguin can al be had in rigid thick sheets for goggles and aero screens.
Another notable exhibit was the new Bosch Weitstrahler lamp, which gives a narrow beam over half-a-mile long ; this is intended to be used on the new motor roads, in conjunction with dipped headlight. The long beam shows up the fringe of the road without inconveniencing oncoming traflic. Another new lamp gives a fan-shaped beam over an angle of 160 degrees, and the reflector can be dipped in case of thick fog.
Rubber From Gas
German industrial chemists are justly famous for their skill in producing new synthetic materials and their latest achievement is the production of artificial rubber. The process is a secret one, but the principal ingredient is acetylene gas, which is combined with other substances under pressure to make Butadein. This, when cooled, solidifies into a substance similar to crepe rubber. The cost is at present three times that of natural rubber, but it makes the country independent of outside supplies in case of blockade. Tyres made from the new Buna rubber wear 30 per cent. longer than those made from the natural substance, and as it shows a marked resistance to steam, acids and other disintegrating agents, should have a considerable application in industry.
The ” Volkswagen ”
In his speech at the opening of the show, Hitler made a renewed plea for the building of a Volkswagen, that is, a car which can be sold at a price which the working man can pay. It is estimated that there are five million families with an income of £4 10s. or more who would buy a low-priced car, and the aim is to obtain in the next two or three years four million motorists or the roads. The number is at present just over one million. The car to be acceptable would have to sell at about £60, and have a speed of 60 m.p.h. Dr. Porsche and other German designers arc hard at work on the problem.
A Many-sided Show
Besides cars and accessories, the Berlin exhibition included motor-cycles and commercial vehicles. The motorcycles were mostly small two-strokes, but the most advanced types, the flattwin shaft-drive B.M.W.s, the Zundapp, a four-cylinder machine, and the twocylinder, two-stroke D.K.W. were decidedly advanced. The heavy vehicles were magnificent in size and conception, two particularly interesting ones being the eight-wheel Mercedes-Benz with eight-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, and the Henschel, which had a twelve-cylinder Diesel engine developing 300 h.p. The cylinder blocks are horizontal on either side of a central crankcase, and the enginefits in under the floor of truck or omnibus.
SPORTS CAR EXHIBITS
The two Adler sports models, Trumpf Junior, which has a capacity of 1 litre, and the Trumpf, which has a capacity of 1.7 litres, are little altered from last y(,•ar in respect of chassis specification. The smaller car has side-by-side valves, front-wheel drive, and front springing by means of two transverse laminated springs. The chassis is of box section, forming an integral unit of the body. The wheels are suspended on oscillating arms with torsion bar springing.
The Adler Trumpf has a similar specification with cantilever springing at the rear. The track has been increased by two inches.
An interesting newcomer is the Autobalm model, which follows the lines of he all-enclosed saloon which secured nine international class records at the beginning of the year. This car is fitted with a 1.7-litre Trumpf engine and it is claimed to be capable of 93 m.p.h., without detracting from its flexibility at low speeds. The body is built on a steeltube frame panelled with aluminium, and the overall height is only 4 ft. 7 in. The price in Germany is 9,560 Marks.
The most interesting car of the AutoUnion range is the new 2-litre, 6-cylinder Wanderer. The engine is fitted with a Roots-type supercharger and develops 85 h.p. Overhead valves are used in an alloy head with bronze valve insets. Third and top ;’gear m have synchro-mesh and top gear is 3,6 With the open coachwork. The chassis haS, two perfectly straight box-section , side.4nembers:”’. and four electrically-Welded ‘cross-themhOos. The front wheels are independently sprung, with wishbone links on top and; a transverse leaf-spring underneath. The back axle is rigid with a superimposed trans\ rsespring. The wheelbase is 8 ft. 8 in., and the weight of the complete car is ‘just over a ton. The speed is given as about 95 m.p.h. and the price 6,800 Marks.
Another car with a sporting performance is the straight-eight 5-litre Horch. The engine, which has an overhead camshaft and a centrally-disposed doubledown-draught carburetter, develops 100 h.p. and with the handsome sports cabriolet body is capable of 85 m.p.h. The front wheels are independently sprung, each with two leaf springs with links above. At the rear the ” Schwingachsen ” are carried on half-elliptic springs.
The English version of this make, the Frazer-Nash-B.M.W. , is too well-known to need further description and the German cars are similar except for leftband drive.
In addition to the compact 11and 2litre models, a long-chassis model with -a specially tuned 2-litre engine and handsome all-weather coachwork was shown. This car will be put on the market in the autumn.
The most interesting feature of the Hansa sports model is the Y-shaped, pressed-steel chassis. The engine and gear-box unit are carried in the fork of the Y, and at the .rear of the boxsection back-bone there is a smaller fork to accommodate the differential casing. The front wheels are carried on superimposed leaf-springs, with a single transverse leaf-spring and swinging halfaxles at the rear.
The engine is a 1.7-litre six with pushrod operated overhead valves and two carburetters. The power output is 46 h.p., giving a speed of 75 m.p.h. with a sports two-seater body. The price is 4,980 Marks.
Four models are listed by this famous firm, the 6-cylinder cars having a capacity of 3.5, 3.8 and 5.2 litres, while the magnificent ” Zeppelin ” 12-cylinder c ar is just under 8 litres.
The smaller models have box-section frame with unorthodox springing. The front ‘wheels swing on transverse links bcaring on coil springs which are in turn supported on a transverse I eaf • spring, and a similar arrangement is used at the rear with swinging half-axles. Rigid axles are used in the ” Zeppelin ” model, which develops 200 h.p. and incidentally costs 33,000 Marks, exchange rates.
A special feature four-speed gear-box, gears are silent. £1,320 at present of these cars is the in which all the The gear-change is vacuum-operated with controls on the steering-wheel boss.
An imposing series of models -figure on the Mercedes-Benz programme for 1936, from the 8-litre supercharged car, which is the most expensive, car on the German market, to the unorthodox rear-engined model. This latter car is now fitted with a 1.7-litre engine, and with the latest coachwork yields nothing in appearance to front-engined cars.
Another new model is the 1.7-litre Vtype car, which has engine and gearbox in the normal position and is available wth attractive open coachwork. The chassis consists of two oval tubes converging in the cent re to form a cross-shaped frame. The front sus!, nsion is by means of two transverse springs, while the rear half-axles are each supported directly on alargediameter coil spring. A side-valve engine is fitted and gives a sustained speed of 63 m.p.h. The magnificent 5-litre supercharged car remains unaltered. One of the very few sports cars which, can exceed 100 m.p.h. in full touring trim, it is available with rakish two-seater and drop-head coupe bodies, and also with fixed head
loon coachwork and the superstream! ined A utobah nlcurier body. Special features, apart from independent suspension and the overdrive top gear with a ratio of 3 to 1, are the boxsection chassis, the very large diameter hydraulically-operated brakes and the special supercharger, which comes into operation only when the accelerator is fully depressed.
The Adam Opel A.G., which is now a subsidiary company in the General Motors group, have previously specialised.
MARGATE AND DISTRICT C.C.
Fog dominated the Wye Cup Trial on February 15th. The Ashford Special Test involved reversing into bays, S. G. E. Tett (Balilla Fiat) being by far the best performer. He took 26 secs., while A. B. Langley (M.G. Magnette) took the over 1,100 c.c. section with a time of 31.4 secs.
Postman’s Walk was a mass of slippery chalk over which Hutchison and Chappell drove their V8 Fords with impunity. Bursted Woods claimed ten failures, while Great Palmstead Hill stopped 46 cars out of the 54 competing. W. E. C. Greenleaf’s Ford Ten was outstanding.
After lunch a special test of the M.C.C. ” up-and-down ” sort was held, E. S. Limpus (847 M.G.) completing it in 28.4 secs. In the larger class, A. B. Langley and D. H. Hiley (M.G. Magnettes) tied, each recording 31 secs.
So to Stowting, where only two made clean climbs. The heroes of the day were S. L. Chappell with his V8 Ford and A. B. Langley (M.G. Magnette). D. N. Leon broke the back-axle of his 847 c.c. M.G. Midget on this terror.
In family cars of moderate price. This year they have introduced a special sports or rather ” trials ” car on the 2I i tre chassis. Designed specially for ” Geland esport ” (cross-country trials or races) it has a wheelbase of 7 ft. 10 in., and a ground clearance of 12 in. Fitted.
Photos from the 1936 Berlin Motor Show Courtesy of BMW Group Archive: