Small yet mighty.
Those enigmatic words once spoken by Carl Borgward when asked about the enthusiastic, engineering-driven young fellow’s aspirations, when older. Whilst this technically minded and for a good while, financially successful man’s eponymous car building history is well documented, we deal today with yet another post-war side line to his empire; that of the car small in name but mighty in stature – the Goliath.
With his Bremen factories – appointed to the German war effort for various armaments – destroyed by Allied bombing, Borgward rose from those ashes with determination. More so after his two year incarceration by the Americans for assisting the enemy – not that he had much choice in the matter. Assessing that the population had little to no interest in anything ostentatious, he realised the opportunity to produce something small yet technically forward thinking.
The name Goliath originates from a single car, or more correctly a three wheeled kart from the mid 1920’s. And in keeping with his Bremen base, by the early 1930’s Borgward had indeed realised his four wheeled car building ambition with Hansa. With a respectful nod to the once powerful Hanseatic league, a protected trading route encompassing amongst others, Bremen, with ports such as Kings Lynn in Britain, Modern day Tallin, Estonia and many more with European shores.
The Hansa car was tiny; rear engine and drive, again a good early seller that suddenly lost out when the National Socialists gained power, creating openings for more extravagant means of transport. Made from wood and leather, the Hansa 400 could seat four in Spartan comfort. The 500 followed with an extra hundred cubic centimetres.
With his two Bremen based factories hastily rebuilt, and separate registrations in order to receive the same quantities of materials as his much larger (and still struggling) rivals, C.F. Borgward wasted no opportunity in producing cars branded as Goliath. Starting (once more) with hand carts and trikes as the most basic yet much-needed forms soon morphed into car production.
Borgward’s workforce also received a welcome fillip with additional numbers from now Soviet controlled DKW in eastern Germany. Bringing their vital skills, including knowledge of those two stroke engines along with front wheel drive experience, there are no prizes for seeing similarities between the two manufacturers.
Production was very labour intensive; hand welding chassis and seams, hand-finishing all manner of tasks as in-line tools simply were not available in the early years. This meant quality was high, along with the GP 700 winning respectable plaudits from customers and journalists, alike.
The Goliath car got a new name for 1950: GP 700. Unlike its Lloyd sibling, Goliath GP cars were bigger all round utilising all-steel construction with Borgward’s own design two cylinder, 688cc, 25hp engine. Variants offered were saloon, station wagon and a delectable coupé, rather (too?) similar to another German manufacturer from Gmund.
This version sold in very small numbers where we witness once more Borgward’s attempts to diversify coming to naught. The coupé was later offered with the Bosch fuel injection engine; at 29hp and with (again, similar to Porsche) lithe proportions, must have given the lucky few a sporting edge for the time. The cars Pomeroy and Walkerley saw at the 1951 motor show based at Frankfurt were obviously early yet established models.
Small vans and trucks using the cars chassis were also produced to expand Borgward’s transportation horizons. Built from 1951 to ‘53, the GV800 was superseded by the imaginatively named Express. Customers found that although well built and reliable, the name proved somewhat tongue in cheek. Initially good sellers, the spark for such ineffective products fizzled out.
From those early esoteric, rudimentary years, demand for more power pushed Goliath. The GP 900, built for just two years (1955-57) managed 40 horsepower with its fuel injection two stroke. These saloons could be had for around DM 5000 (approximately $1200) A move to four cylinder, water cooled engines along with four speed gearboxes were to be had in the 1100 with the final iteration named Empress, signalling an end not only for the now old fashioned two stroke engine but the eventual demise of the Borgward empire.
With his ever searching eye on the next prize, Borgward’s resources were spread ever thinner. As Germany’s economic miracle took hold, his once in favour small cars (and vans) were no longer required. With Volkswagen, Mercedes and Opel gaining strength, the Borgward bubble burst come 1961. The finger pointed to poor financial planning and massive debts, although after Borgward’s death in 1963 due to heart attack, it was found he had paid all his bills down to the last pfennig.
It is believed that just over 27,000 Goliath saloons were made. Add in some 9,000 convertibles with just over two hundred estates (station wagons) and a mere twenty seven of those svelte coupés totals around 36,500. Few survive but as always, a dedicated and loyal band of followers maintain their examples with as much vigour as the man who brought them to life. And whilst the modern day Borgward stutters and falls with infantile trepidation, his creations of three score years and ten were enough to divert my attention. That’s a legacy one can adhere to.