THE ELUSIVE WINDSPIEL
At the 1937 Berlin Automobilaustellung (Exhibition) the firm of Hansa, since 1931 under the control of industrialist Carl FW Borgward, showed a stunningly revolutionary car called the Windspiel. A 1500cc four-door sedan, it was included in the company’s catalogue as part of the model range, joining the Hansa 1100, 1700, 2000 and 3500. It was, however, never put into production, and quietly disappeared. It was part of a wave of aerodynamic cars that appeared in Germany at this time, and is little known or understood outside of Europe. It is interesting to look at the historical background of these cars, as well as the Windspiel itself.
In the late 1930s, Germany was set to again take the lead in automotive design. The automobile had been invented in Germany in 1886, but then, in the late nineteenth century, France took the lead in automotive development – until Daimler released the Mercedes in 1901. The Mercedes set the pattern for automobiles for decades to come. After World War I, Germany fell into a recession, and America took the lead in volume production methods, if not in engineering sophistication. American ideas were to continue to dominate the world’s automotive industry until the nineteen sixties – albeit often banal ideas, like tail-fins and excessive chrome trim – until the NSU Ro80 in 1968, and the aerodynamic Audi 100 of 1982, re-established Germany as the world leader in automobile design, which it still is today. As noted, Germany almost reached world leadership in automotive design in the late nineteen thirties, but the political situation of the time and the impending war would stop this early German resurgence.
Massive reparation payments, world depression, and low-priced American imports had all combined to virtually destroy the German economy, and the motor industry, by 1932. Such respected makes as N.A.G., Dürkopp, Protos, Simson and Röhr had disappeared, and many surviving firms were near the end. For instance, Hansa-Lloyd had been taken over by small competitor Goliath, and under Carl Borgward’s clever management was surviving even under the trying conditions of the time. However, while the commercials and Goliath passenger vehicles were selling satisfactorily, only 111 Hansa passenger cars could be sold in 1932 and 43(!) in 1933! (1)
What ever other criticisms may be levelled at it, it must be admitted that the new Government that came to power in Germany in 1933 quickly revived the German economy. The automotive industry was an important tool in this revival. By building Autobahnen, and by making motor racing a national sport, the Government encouraged very rapid design development. This made the German industry competitive against imports, and also on the world’s export markets, at least where there were no trade embargoes against them. The Autobahnen brought out the weaknesses of all existing designs, and manufacturers quickly oriented themselves to making cars autobahnfest – able to withstand long, high-speed journeys. Major developments were also made in aerodynamics, thus increasing speed and reducing fuel consumption. Buses were designed to the same criteria, resulting in some startling and beautiful vehicles. The emphasis on aerodynamics was a natural development of the work of pioneers such as Vienna-born Paul Jaray, who began experimenting during World War 1, Edmund Rumpler, whose astonishing Tropfenwagen appeared in 1921, or Freiherr (Baron) Reinhard Koenig-Fachsenfeld (1899-1992), whose experiments and publications enormously influenced the development and acceptance of aerodynamic design. (6)
A wave of brilliant new automotive designs electrified Germany. Stoewer and Mercedes built conventionally styled cars of superb engineering; the Mercedes was built as the 170S right up until 1954. Horch built a few breath-taking 930 S sedans, and Adler the stunning “Autobahn Adler” 2.5 Liter. Steyr in Austria built a range of smooth lined fastbacks under the model names Typ 100, 200 and 120, and a very aerodynamic small car, the Typ 50. The BMW cars of this time are among the few 1930s German cars that are known in the English-speaking world, and are held to be classics of automotive design. DKW and KdF (Kraft durch Freude, later renamed Volkswagen) both had brilliant aerodynamic designs that were only put into production after the war, but proved their superiority by remaining in production up to 1965 and 2003, respectively. Hanomag built an outstanding aerodynamic design, the Typ 13 1.3 litre, while Hansa built the already mentioned Windspiel that was then withdrawn. The name means greyhound, but since Wind means wind and Spiel means play or game, it was also in the sum of its parts a clever name for an aerodynamic car.
The Windspiel was an extremely aerodynamic car with tapered nose and tail and flush, almost fenderless sides. Its windscreen was made of four flat panes, giving a form similar to the wraparound screens that would come in the nineteen-fifties when curved glass could be made cheaply in commercial quantities.. Its almost flush-sided styling (it had slightly 'suggested' rear fenders) was very advanced, pre-dating the similar (but less aerodynamic) designs from other countries by at least nine years. Typical of Borgward designs of the time, it had a central tube chassis and fully independent swing-axle suspension with transverse leaf springs, and an ohv motor. A book by Peter Kurze shows two of them, one with the headlights mounted in streamlined pods, and one with them fully faired into the body. (2) Herr Kurze advised by E-mail that, to the best of his knowledge, the Windspiel was not put into volume production (despite having been included in the contemporary brochures), and it is extremely unlikely that any of the prototypes has survived. Gerhard Würnschimmel, historian and collector in Wien (Vienna) suggested that the response of Exhibition visitors to the new design may have been negative, and the reason for the car’s not going into production. This is a very plausible theory; the beautiful but radically different Adler 2.5 did not sell well in 1937, and the Windspiel, which looked even more radical, would have probably had an even cooler reception. Car-buyers are often very conservative in accepting advanced designs . Herr Würnschimmel notes that a photo exists showing three Windspiels, so at least that many were built. The East German automotive historians Gränz and Kirchberg also suggest that the design was an experiment that disappeared because of its appearance. (4)
Another possible reason why the Windspiel did not go into production was the Schell plan, or Typenbegrenzung, of late 1938, by which the Government sought to improve the efficiency of the motor industry by limiting the number of models produced. Borgward's passenger vehicles were to be only between 2 and 3 liters, which was well above the 1500 cc of the Windspiel. It is interesting to note that the Windspiel was not completely abandonned. It nearly reached production years later.
According to Peter Kurze’s book, Borgward’s staff began developing the Windspiel for production after the War, but when Carl F.W. Borgward returned from American internment, he had already designed a differnet, altered car, the Hansa 1500. It had the flush sides and much of the roofline of the Windspiel, but also the squared-off front and tail that was a feature of the new „three box“ design school, which originated in America and quickly spread around the world, also being picked up by firms such as Singer and Standard in Great Britain. L.J. Harnett in Australia tried to use a similar design for the first Holden, but GM imposed an old, rejected American compact design (for the planned Chevrolet Cadet) instead. (5)
It is often assumed that Borgward copied the American Kaiser-Frazer line of cars, but an examination of the Kaisers and Hansas shows that this probably was not the case; in fact in some ways the Hansa was the more modern car. Whereas the Kaiser/Frazer designs still had high bonnets with a pronounced dip between the bonnet and mudguards, the Hansa had a low, rounded front rather like modern cars. It had a 'long bonnet / short boot' appearance like the Windspiel, while the Kaiser cars had the cabin placed much more centrally. The Hansa had thin pillars, unlike the thick pillars of the Kaisers. It did have flush sides like the Kaisers, but then, so did the Windspiel, which had been displayed years earlier. In fairness, it must be said that other flush-sided designs had been around before the Windspiel, such as the Spohn-bodied Maybach Zeppelin of 1934-5, the Imperia prototype of 1934, or even the curious Hanomag „Kommissbrot“ of 1925-8. (1) What had probably happened is that Borgward saw pictures of the Kaiser Frazer cars and recognised the new trend, and modified the Windspiel to up-date and Americanise the styling, thereby creating the Hansa 1500.
Building the Hansa 1500 instead of the Windspiel was probably the right decision. Germany was at the lowest ebb in its history, and not in a position to start any new world styling trends. The Volkswagen and the DKW, with their beautiful pre-war aerodynamic styling, were considered to be eccentric cars for individualists. The Borgward Hansa 1500, on the other hand, was much admired as the car that brought the new world design trend to Europe. Carl Borgward had assessed the situation correctly once again. The Australian brochure for the Hansa 1500 listed its „American styling“ as one of its advanced features . (3)
It’s a shame that more of the revolutionary designs of the nineteen-thirties, such as the Windspiel and its contemporaries, did not see volume production. I can’t help but wonder how many billion litres of fuel would have been saved if the German aerodynamic look had prevailed in 1939 or 1949, instead of 1982.
Acknowledgements: Sincere thanks to Udo Wiskow, Peter Kurze and Gerhard Würnschimmel for their help in preparing this article.
1. Oswald, Werner: „Deutsche Autos, Band 2, 1920 – 1945, Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 2001.
2. Kurze, Peter: „Carl F. W. Borgward Automobilwerke: Wirtschaftwunder in Großformat“, Verlag Peter Kurze, Bremen, 2001.
3. Sales Brochure Hansa 1500, Collection Anthony Ramadge, reprinted in Borgward Car Club of Australia Newsletter, Summer 2003.
4. Gränz, Paul, & Kirchberg, Dr. Peter: „Sie machten Geschichte“, in Motor-Jahr 1979, VEB Verlag für Verkehrswesen, Berlin 1979, reprinted in Der Rhombus, 2/82.
5. Harnett L.J., „Big Wheels and Little Wheels“ Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1964 (page 119).
6. Günther, Peer, “Herr über Wind und Schatten”, in Markt magazine, Mai 1992.
Written by Marius Venz Copyright © 2010 Borgward Car Club of Australia Inc. May be printed by other not-for-profit car clubs provided full credit is given.