Strict Tempo – Part 2. The Unassailable Matador


Bostelbek’s resourceful and determined Kleinlaster manufacturer reached the mid-1950s in a state of existential crisis, with their promising Matador range in desperate need of a suitably powerful, efficient, and dependable engine. The smaller Wiking truck was selling satisfactorily, but the Land Rover joint venture had no future, and the once-staple Hanseat Dreirad was a vehicle type soon to be consigned to history, at least in Europe. There was some short-term stability through a one-year contract to manufacture bodywork for Heinkel’s Kabine bubble car through 1956.

In 1956, Oscar Vidal found the partner his company desperately needed, when 50% of the business was bought by Hanomag, itself part of the Rheinstahl steel, mining and manufacturing conglomerate.

Changes were to follow rapidly. Three wheeler production ended in 1956, and by 1957, Tempo had two new engine suppliers. One was Hanomag itself, with the Borgward-designed 1.8 litre D301 diesel, and the other was the British Motor Corporation, sending their A and B series engines across the North Sea to power the Wiking and Matador. To mark the changes, the vans were given a styling facelift.

The new power units transformed Tempo’s fortunes. Two-strokes were rapidly falling out of favour, and the three new engines, although relatively modern, were well-proven and straightforward in their design. Furthermore, the large multi-national BMC was remote from the power games being played within the fragmented and fractious German automotive sector, therefore supplies were assured. The availability of a diesel engine gave Tempo an advantage over Ford and Volkswagen, who did not offer anything comparable until decades later.

In 1958 Tempo and the Bachraj Trading Company announced the creation of an Indian joint venture,  Bajaj Tempo Motors, with the German company taking a 26% holding in the business, whose first venture was  production of the Hanseat three –wheeler at  Goregaon, Mumbai.

Also in 1958, Jensen Motors Ltd commenced licensed production of the Matador for sale in the UK and some British Commonwealth markets. The West Bromwich firm, whose core business was the manufacture of car and commercial vehicle bodywork, recognised the suitability of the versatile front wheel drive Matador chassis for specialist applications, and promoted this aspect vigorously.  However their vehicles were expensive compared with domestic competitors, sales fell short of expectations, and the arrangement with Tempo ended in 1963.

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Tempo thrived in the later Wirtschaftwunder years, but seem limited in their ambitions compared with other automotive enterprises, particularly Bremen’s fast growing and wide-ranging Borgward. It is easy to make comparisons between Borgward and Tempo; both based in Hanseatic port cities, established around the same time, and making superficially similar vehicle types. However Tempo was far smaller, probably producing fewer than 20,000 vehicles in a good year, and never built their own engines.

Borgward’s vaulting ambitions contributed to their downfall in 1961, Tempo’s more evolutionary approach underpinned their continuance. Eventually circumstances would link the two companies.

Borgward’s beginnings as a maker of low-powered freight carts was but an early step on the way to passenger car and heavy commercial vehicle production. Despite occasional ambitions, Tempo’s passenger car output was limited to a few Dreirads with Kombi or cabriolet coachwork.

Tempo Microcar prototype. Image: Mr. Scharoo’s Weird Car Museum

An attractive Heinkel-engined microcar was developed to an advanced prototype stage between 1950 and 1954, but Tempo management decided against production on grounds of insufficient factory space, although the Matador engine supply problems were also weighing heavily on liquidity at the time.

In 1963 the Wiking series was discontinued [1], and the Matador E was introduced. Light restyling gave no hint of the major mechanical changes below; a ladder-frame chassis replaced the original triangular design, with torsion bars adopted as the springing medium in place of the front transverse leaf spring and rear coil springs. The powertrain was turned round with the engine now ahead of the front axle line and the transaxle behind. Power was still by the Hanomag 1.8 litre diesel or the BMC B series petrol engine. [2]

1966 Tempo Matador E Image: Autovia-Media

In 1966 Hanomag bought Vidal & Sohn’s remaining shares in Tempo-Werke. For Europe, this meant the end for the Tempo brand, with Matadors re-badged as Hanomags even before a 1967 facelift which introduced a horizontal radiator grille flanked by rectangular headlights, and the discontinuation of the Matador name .

Image: Hanomag

With the arrival of the refreshed Harburger Transporter, now unromantically entitled F20, F25, F30, and F35,  Hanomag also ended production of their similar-sized Kurier range,  on sale since 1958.

Despite investment in new and refreshed products, mostly in the heavier-duty Henschel division, Rheinstahl’s vehicle manufacturing division was not the profit engine they had hoped for. In a rapid series of events, the troubled conglomerate merged their Hanomag and Henschel commercial vehicle manufacturing divisions on April 1 1969, to form Hanomag Henschel Fahrzeugwerke GmbH (HHF), with Daimler Benz taking a 51% holding in the new company. At the end of 1970, Daimler-Benz bought the remaining stock to take full ownership of the business.

Returning to my discovery in August 2019, after some easy research I located the Bostelbek site. Exactly north of the apartment where I was staying, I had walked past its car park several times without realising the significance of the location. In the Tempo days it had its own railway station, Bahnhof Tempowerk, of which only the pedestrian underpass remains.

The site has now been redeveloped and expanded as Daimler Hamburg, employing 2500 people to produce drivetrain and steering components. The characterful Tempo buildings have mostly gone, replaced by anonymous and efficient production sheds, but the office block on Am Radeland at the south-east corner of the site is still in place, largely unaltered.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The former Hanomag-Henschel production sites turned out to be of great value to the Stuttgart company. The Bremen factory, established by Borgward and under-utilised by Henschel, was in a city with a long history of engineering and manufacturing, an established automotive workforce, and ready access to the North Sea port of Bremerhaven. From 1969 Harburger-Transporter production was gradually transferred to Bremen, with the first Hanomag-Henschel badged van coming off the Sebaldsbrück line on 1 September of that year.

Image: Daimler-Benz

The erstwhile Matador outlived the company which created it by 33 years [3], and went through a series of identity changes in in its final ten years in Europe.

Following the full takeover by Hanomag in 1966 and the retiral of the Tempo brand, Matadors were badged as Hanomags. From 1970 onwards, the Harburger-Transporter carried dual identities, as the Hanomag-Henschel F20-F35 and the Mercedes-Benz L206D / L207 / L306D / L307. The Hanomag-Henschel brand was dropped in 1974.

Other than badgework, the appearance of the van in its Mercedes-Benz guise was visually scarcely changed from the 1967 Hanomag facelift which introduced a horizontal radiator grille flanked by rectangular headlights.

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Mercedes-Benz made their own engineering alterations, broadening the ladder frame chassis rearwards of the cab to accommodate a dead beam axle suspended on longitudinal leaf springs. The Hanomag diesel engine was replaced by the Stuttgart company’s own OM615 unit in 2.0 and 2.2 litre displacements.[4] However, the small demand for petrol engines continued to be met with the B-series, in 1.6 and 1.8 litre capacities – probably the only instance of a Mercedes-Benz product powered by engines made by British Leyland.

Despite the van’s ancient origins, Daimler-Benz seem to have had a fondness [5] for the Harburger-Transporter, as it gave them a competitor for the Volkswagen Transporter and Ford Transit for very little investment in money or design resources. Over 175,000 of the series were sold under the Mercedes-Benz brand, and a further 165,000 as Hanomag-Henschels.

The future – in 1972! Image: Daimler-Benz

In 1977 production of the TN series, the replacement for the venerable LCV commenced at Bremen. The new 207/307 was a more conventional rear wheel drive range of vans, accorded the informal name of the Bremen Transporter. In the same year, passenger car manufacturing began at the factory with S123, the estate car version of the hugely successful W123 series.

Mercedes-Benz had higher ambitions for Bremen as a production facility. It was selected for manufacture of the new W201 Baby-Benz, which had been under development since 1974. The exacting strictures set by the city fathers of the Freie Hansestadt Bremen resulted in the expanded factory not being ready for production of the Mercedes-Benz 190 at its launch in December 1982, so the first year’s production came from Sindelfingen.

W201 production at Sebaldsbrück. Image: Daimler

In December 1983, the W201 lines at the former Borgward factory site started work, and after an unfortunate interregnum of 22 years, Sebaldsbrück was once again producing the world’s best compact premium saloon.

[1] The Wiking tooling went to Bajaj Tempo Motors, Tempo’s  joint  venture with  Bachraj Trading Company ,  which had been producing the Hanseat  three –wheeler at  Goregaon, Mumbai since 1958.  Indian production commenced in 1964 and continued until 1973.

[2] BMC supplied the B series in a Tempo-specific 1593cc capacity, achieved with a 75.5mm bore size, reduced from the standard 76.2mm or, Imperially, three inches.

[3] Although Harburger Transporter production ended in Bremen in 1977, Bajaj Tempo continued building Matadors until 2000.

[4] The diesel engine went to a new life in India, where Matador production by Bajaj Tempo Motors began in 1969. It was the key ingredient in the van’s phenomenal success, which led to ‘Tempo’ becoming a generic name in India for any light commercial vehicle, much like ‘Transit’ in the UK.

[5] Mercedes-Benz had less regard for the larger Hanomag-Henschel F-series vehicles, which were unrelated to the Harburger-Transporter. Despite being far newer in origin, and pleasingly styled by French industrial designer Louis Lucien Lepoix, they were discontinued in 1973 after only six years in production.

Versatility?  TEN wheelbases!  Beat that, Transit…

Image: Daimler-Benz AG

23 thoughts on “Strict Tempo – Part 2. The Unassailable Matador”

  1. Thanks, Robertas for disclosing this bit of automotive history. I had no idea about the Tempo-Hanomag-Daimler Benz connection.

    Back in the day our local blacksmith had a grey Hanomag Henschel van. My dad somehow got hold of a Hanomag Henschel shield that he gave me when I was six or seven or there about. It was black with silver letters and about the size of an American license plate. He also gave me a Hanomag Henschel colour brochure. It was an ingenious little book with pages on the right side fully in colour. On the left side were white pages with line drawings, similar in style to the last photo of this article. the vehicles pictured were transparant apart from the windows and wheels. You could place the left page over the right page and then see the vehicle in the colour you chose. The heavy trucks had two line drawings of each model, the difference being the chassis colour: grey or red. I wonder where both shield and brochure have gone.

  2. Tempo was particularly heavily hit by the 1961 Hamburg storm tide when prototypes and some tooling for the Matator E were lost and the factory was damaged, adding to the chronical lack of production capacity.
    Hanomag at that time was the leading farm tractor manufacturer but suffered from Rheinstahl’s lack of interest in the civilian sector – Rheinstal was and still is one of the leading manufacturers of the German armament industry and was quite willing to take the money Hanomag earned but refused to invest, in the end killing Hanomag as well as Tempo. Henschel also was active in the military business and a far better fit for Rheinstahl’s interest.

    In the Seventies we had a BMC-engined Matator E to transport motorcycles and parts. It was exactly the same shade of blue as the one ppictured here but had a maually operated hydraulic hoist to lift stuff onto the load bay. It was far more fun to drive than a VW bus because it at least had proper power but it was incredibly noisy. One day someone manaqged to punch a hole in the top side of the fuel tank, the repair was to drive a wooden wedge into the hole and soak it with fuel…

  3. I’d go to better restyling of the Matador E. From that gawky, sad eyed truck we saw in part one, the picture shows a particular handsome truck, especially with that taut framed load area. As a child, I remember toy shops which had catalogues of foreign and unusual brands of scale models. The cars we had started to know, the Beetle, first Golf’s, etc but the vans and lorries of faraway Europe back in the day always had an attractive curiosity about them that we rarely saw in stuffy ole England in the 1970’s. That we could have such diverse looking and sounding machines today. But, as Robertas has sumptuously explained here, progress steamrollers on, regardless.
    An excellent read, thank you.

  4. Were Tempo’s British links limited to just BMC, Jensen and Land Rover? Despite significant differences even down to the 3-wheel layout Tempo at least the post-war incarnation brings to mind a German Reliant that produced vans instead of the occasional sportscar.

    Additionally was Hanomag the only company that expressed interest in acquiring Tempo?

    1. Originally Hanomag did not have intentions to buy Tempo. The purpose of their cooperation was to give Tempo the urgently needed additional production capacity and to provide Hamomag with some smaller vans and trucks than their own.
      In the end the economical turmoil caused by Rheinstahl’s mismanagement of Hanomag led Tempo’s absorption and to the formation of HHF that was offloaded to Mercedes-Benz when Rheinstahl had finally lost all interest after having milked enough money from them.
      There’s a fascinating documentation Hanomag’s fate under Rheinstahl (regrettablx it’s German only)

    2. Understand.

      Would have thought the smaller Rapid would have more lasting appeal to have warranted further development then it did let alone been able to remain in production beyond 1963, did Hanomag or Mercedes-Benz contemplate reviving the Rapid to slot below the Matador-based Harburger Transporter.

    3. In Germany the class below the Matador was dominated by VW, there wasn’t too much room for more.
      With the Harburger Transporter Hanomag Henschel was the first truck manufacturer with a full range from one-ton city transporters to long haulage 26 ton trucks inherited from Henschel. They also had the first cab-over-engine AWD dumper trucks and were a real danger for Mercedes-Benz’ truck division.
      Then in the late Sixties came a sudden market consolidation with many truck manufacturers disappearing from the market- names like Krupp, Faun, Kaelble, Büssing, Henschel, Magirus – only Mercedes-Benz and MAN still exist.

    4. Faun hasn’t disappeared completely. My refuse is collected by Faun Zöeller trucks, admittedly on Mercedes chassis, but the superstructure, with some very clever receiving and compacting mechanisms, comes from the former Borgward truck plant site in Osterholz-Scharmbeck.

    5. When your traditional products were heavy haulage trucks with names like ‘Elefant’, ‘Koloss’ or ‘Gigant’ and looked like these:


      then a garbage truck is a sad joke.
      Mercedes Econic with standard Faun Variopress

  5. Thanks to all for the comments, reminiscences, and additional informationon this and Part 1.

    I have to admit the limitations of my knowledge – it’s been a process of discovery for me, and I’ve tried to concentrate on what happened, with only the occasional digression on what might have been.

    I’ve alluded to the Indian afterlife, mainly in the footnotes. Bajaj Tempo Motors – later Force Motors – was a big deal and turned out far more of the Tempo designs than ever came out of Harburg-Bostelbek. They later got the Mercedes Benz TN rights and tooling, still produced as the Force Traveller. Daimler only relinquished its financial stake in Force in 2001.

    As for the Matador, Tempo’s “signature dish” it had a remarkable 51 year production life, going through a characteristically German evolutionary process. Along the way, some of the purity of the original design, with its Y-shaped chassis and all-independent suspension was lost, but not the versatility and functionality which so appealed to Daimler-Benz.

  6. After a stint in Germany in the early 1950s Dad came back with a Schuco clockwork toy — probably a Barcas B1000. Had it been a MB I’d have known, so it wasn’t.
    It was well-made and I’d seen nothing like it in Britain.

    1. Too early for the Barkas, which arrived in 1961. Could it have been a 1953-on Taunus Transit?

      The Barkas is worthy of its own story. It’s on my to-do list, at the risk of becoming typecast as DTW’s LCV specialist.

    2. Since the Barkas carried over Wartburg mechanicals, was it ever the recipient of the Ryman conversion kit for the A-Series engine?

    3. The Barkas was largely unknown outside the GDR where there were no A series engines.
      If a conversion was done at all, it used Skoda or Polski Fiat engines.

    4. While understanding Skoda and Renault/Dacia engines were looked at for both Wartburg and Trabant, not sure if it was the case with Barkas though would not be surprised. Apparently a 1.5 Moskvitch engine from the 412 was also considered for the stillborn Barkas B 1100 project although would have thought a Barkas spin-off would have been developed from the RGW project.

      Was thinking of the proposed BL deal with Wartburg in the early/mid-1970s could have also been applied to Barkas (if not Trabant as well) as an expedient way to replace the aging two-strokes, similar to the later short-lived Volkswagen powered Trabant 1.1, Warburg 1.3 and Barkas B 1000-1. If Wikipedia is to be believed on Belgian importer fitted a 1.8 Ford diesel engine into a Barkas.

    5. Between 1954 and 1958 the Barkas’s engineers designed a two-stroke 1200cc 90 degree V4 with an output of 48-5oPS for their van.

      The substitution of Wartburg 311 engine looks to be a piece of late stage rationalisation or cost-cutting. At least it necessitated a useful 91cc capacity increase – the vans got it first, the passenger cars soon followed.

  7. I should add that Dad also saved up for a Beetle– again made with such high production standards that you had to open a window a bit to get the door to close.

  8. An interesting story, thank you, Robertas. I recall seeing these vans in Mercedes-Benz guise in Germany some years ago and thinking how similar they looked to Volkswagen Type 2 transporters, but had no idea about their colourful history.

  9. That’s an amazing history – thank you. Jensen’s role was surprising and it must have been around the same time that they were producing P1800s for Volvo.

    That green microcar has some charm to it – it’s a pity they didn’t stick an A-Series engine in it.

    1. It would have likely needed a much lighter engine like the Reliant Regal 3/25 and Bond 875, if not the Flat-Twin from the Puch 500.

    2. Hello Bob – yes, that’s true. It looks to be rear-engined, as well.

  10. Surprised to see the article on Tempo aka our Matador F-307 with detailed input. But at the same time felt that if there was extended article on its debut and a untold marathon saga in India. How this van constituted , ruled, played a vital role in the social domain in a vast country like India with various contradictions is beyond anyone’s imagination. Having grown along with F-307, Standard 20 and to Mahindra FJ series , and off course the three wheeled Hanseat Ranger which had a undeniable role in each and every Indian families directly or Indirectly. The mere fact is that during the 60’s, 70’s , 80,s and 90,s may there wouldn’t be a single individual left out in the country without being traveled in a Bajaj Tempo which was not just a van but an airliner in terms of comfort , space and speed. Never in the history after VW camper perhaps if there is a van in parallel in terms of popularity and usage that should be the versatile Bajaj Tempo van. The engineering marvel from Germany which got a overwhelming response since its inception for its superb silky OM 616 engine delivering apt power for hauling goods and passengers in a utter eased manner. Providing livelihood for millions in one or the other way, being a inevitable part of the various Government departments , conquering hostile terrains , bad roads both at urban and rural levels with its unique front wheel drive package unseen in others. Being a darling of the masses, spiritual angel to drivers, tour operators and having played an significant role all sorts of daily events , serving the nation not just for year but nearly for five decades means a no ordinary feat. Matador was retired in the year 2000 but the legacy lives on in the form of new version called Tempo Traveller derivative of the famous Benz T1 .

  11. Thanks for the comments and the additional information on the Matador and Hanseat’s distinguished careers in India.

    The two Tempo articles refer to the Bajaj Tempo Motors venture at various points, and in the footnotes, but the Indian afterlife is certainly worthy of a further chapter.

    Likewise the Standard 20 which you mention. Once Stampro took it over, the Chennai-built version of Standard-Triumph van evolved into a far more useful machine than the quirky and unsuccessful British Atlas, which wasn’t codenamed ‘Zany’ for nothing.

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