Far From The Mainstream: Wiesmann

The Wiesmann story ended in 2014 with liquidation. It began in 1988 with the launch of the MF30, a rear-wheel drive retro-inspired roadster powered by a 3.0 six-cylinder BMW engine. What occurred in between?

Wiesmann MF30: auto.de

Weisman produced four iterations of their signature theme, variants of the 1950s roadster idea. Idiosyncacy is the name of the game at Dülmen. The bodies stayed much the same while names and engines changed as time went by.  The second car, the 1993 MF-3 (confusingly, a smaller number than the predecessor) had a different BMW engine, a BMW M54 with 3.2 litres capacity.

The first series was the MF, coming in two versions with some lesser variants known as the MF 28 and MF 35, each having a different BMW engine and minor trim variations. In 2003 Wiesmann felt it was a good idea to develop the cars with a new series, starting with a closed-top roadster, the GT. They showed this at Geneva.

2003 Wiesmann GT: pinterest

As you can see, the panel gap topology is somewhat eccentric. The vertical line under the door is not sitting well. The air intakes at the front look jostled. It all could have been aligned with no deleterious effects on performance. The curves on the vent behind the front wheel may have seemed expressive but the car didn’t need such flourishes.

It’s pretty much what a non-designer thinks a sportscar should look like – perhaps they didn’t consider the overall appearance and instead looked at the individual bits which are good enough in isolation but don’t add up.

The later GT cars got a BMW V8 and this unit could hurl the car to about 181 mph. That must have seemed blindingly fast and should the car have crashed, utterly unsurvivable. One is put in mind of TVR – small, light and rather half-baked. I presume each Weismann came with a sheepskin flying jacket and a pair of beige twill trousers.

As if a V8 wasn’t enough, Wiesmann added a BMW V10 of 5.0 litres. That bomb pushed the top speed to 193 miles per hour and knocked half a second off the nought to sixty. While it’s not nothing, it’s not very much either –  like adding 50 g to a 2.2 kilo hamburger. Enough is sometimes enough at a lower point.

GTSpirit ran a review of the M5 in 2010: “At 1395kg, it is only 15kg heavier than the coupé and half a ton less than both BMW supersaloons. The MF5 delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 363bhp/ton. The technical setup is combined with a three-way catalytic converter, petrol injection and stainless steel twin exhaust pipes. Stopping power is achieved by massive 374mm front and 370mm rear carbon-composite brakes.”

About 55 of these cars were made, which is probably about as many as the market could handle. As is usual with these cars, you pay for the engine and the laborious yet never very thorough hand-craft. It’s a peculiarity of the class that you pay three times as much for the car as a similarly engined BMW but get an awful lot less in terms of quality.

The idea is that the flamboyant bodywork is enough to make up for the detail inadequacies. What would have saved this car’s bacon is the use of a seasoned industrial designer – perhaps a chap in his 50s who has either tired of a large studio or has been edged sideways by the inevitable upward pressure from younger guns.

The thing with these small companies, as has been shown in all these ‘Far From The Mainstream’ articles, is that proprietors forget to properly style the cars. I suppose they assume that the kind of designer who has worked on mass production will only produce another Mondeo or Astra-type of design. Not necessarily.

They would in all likelihood know how far to push the boat out but not end up with the naïve shapes that critically undermine such flights of fancy. This is where TVR mostly got it right. While a TVR may have looked wild, most of the last crop of cars were the result of an intelligent balance of means of production and intelligent expressiveness: the hand-milled controls and the unusual exterior details.

2007 Ford Focus – well polished design: Ford Motor Company

The overall lesson of these trips to the land of the boutique manufacturer has been a) there’s a reason why cars like the Focus, Golf and Astra sell so well (people need a car like this more than high speed sea monsters), b) the products don’t evolve much and c) the owners are woefully lacking in the self-awareness of their own idiosyncratic taste: a BMW Z8 is pretty much the same formula as the Wiesmann car but the wildness has been tempered with judgement and taste. Had Wiesmann’s cars being as restained as the Focus, they might even be still with us today.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “Far From The Mainstream: Wiesmann”

  1. “As is usual with these cars, you pay for the engine and the laborious YET NEVER THOROUGH HAND-CRAFT”

    This is so true and never really talked about in the mainstream media. The focus is always on how “totally amazing” these things are. Like the spelling mistake on the David Brown Speedback shown in Geneva this year in which the door sill read “Made in Great Britian”. I know I make speeling mistakes too. But my words are never going to show up on a car door sill.

    1. If other writers did mention the quality problem these little firms would go extinct even faster. Oddly, the future of the traditional car lies with them. Bob Lutz predicts the manually-controlled car will be almost entirely replaced by externally controlled cars. That leaves niche players to make cars for fun. They’ll have to do a better job of it.

  2. Thanks for your reply Richard

    I imagined that the average buyer for these cars are usually quite the connoisseurs who’d hardly be fooled by often very obvious amateurish détails. Would the media not mentionning it make any difference ? Possibly . I guess a lot of their customers are willing to forgive these shortcomings in exchange for the thrills they’re seeking.

    Are they really the future of traditional cars though?
    Admittedly things are rather murky in these transitional times we live in as to what the future of cars will be but so far I get the feeling Porsche, BMW et al understand already that they may have a huge advantage in perpetuating the tradition of the stick and petrol automobile in the near future (as well as selling a more politically correct range of cars in the mould of BMW I, Mercedes EQ, etc….of course).

    How far will they be able to retain the “old” car characteritics with ever more draconian rules and regulations is another matter but if we go by the few thoughts heard lately from (mainly) the German premium gang, they seem to want to be the keepers of these specificities for as long as regulations will allow them to.

    Perhaps It could even become a new marker of what being a Premium automaker is seeing as the recent shift downmarket of the traditional premium brands and the move upmarket witnessed in some of the more mainstream carmakers may have muddied the water in that regard.

  3. Sorry the word “details” wasn’t supposed to be in french, I’am not that pompous. It’s that damn auto correct.

  4. Aren’t a lot of the styling compromises the result of using off the shelf parts and flat glass where possible so as to reduce development and manufacturing costs?

  5. Are they that many off the shelf parts that it would disfigure the whole entreprise ? I mean even the original parts are pretty weird.

  6. In earlier times, “hand made” often equaled “of better quality” than mass production. Not so anymore, for the last thirty years, quality of mass production have improved and levelled out all across the board. There really are no difference in production quality between a Kia made in Korea and a Mercedes made in Germany. And the quality factory seems to be in inverse proportion to scale, the bigger the better. And the worst is those that aren’t mass produced but made n boutique fashion. Thank Toyota and lean production that kicked the entire industry to shape.

  7. No offence, Richard, but Wiesmann didn’t go under because of quality issues, but because of a megalomianiac investor/managing director who dreamt big and wanted a big, impressive factory above all else: http://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/autoindustrie/wie-luxusauto-hersteller-wiesmann-in-die-pleite-fuhr-a-971754.html

    Don’t let the Wiesmann brothers know about your ‘TVR quality’ accusations – you might find a Westfalian assassination squat hot on your heels in no time at all!

    1. I didn’t mean imply Wiesmanns had particularly bad quality so much as the did not reach the standard set by mainstream cars. I am sure they worked more than adequately.

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