Vier Bleierne Luftballons*

Uncovering some stillborn concepts of German origin, now largely obscured by the mists of time.

Steyr-Puch / BMW AM2, 1981

BMW’s 1999 X5 claim to fame is being the Bavarian car firm’s first SUV, but BMW passed on an opportunity to introduce one almost two decades earlier. In August of 1981 Steyr-Puch unveiled a 1:10 scale model of what was at that time an almost unknown quantity: what we now call a Sport Utility Vehicle. Steyr claimed they had developed a new type of passenger car – a multipurpose family vehicle with four-wheel drive, a car-like body with an elevated roofline, room for five to seven, and a moveable rear bench seat to allow for variable luggage space. Steyr claimed the concept, named AM2 could be production-ready by 1984.

Steyr-Puch designer Arno Grünberger had produced full-size drawings a well as the 1:10 scale model. The Austrian firm signed a cooperation arrangement with BMW in 1978 which was formalized the following year by Austrian Chancellor Dr. Bruno Kreisky. It therefore would not have been inconceivable that the AM2 could have been further developed and eventually produced under this joint venture.

The similarity between the AM2 front end with that of the then current E23 7 series is either a clear hint from Steyr that AM2 could have easily been rebadged and become part of the BMW range, or perhaps BMW itself may have suggested to Steyr to style the exterior in the corporate idiom of the time – what little is known about the AM2 project remains shrouded in mystery so we may never know. BMW AG

What is clear is that Steyr general manager Anton Dolenc tried to get the project subsidised by the Austrian government, but they were not interested. A substantial part of the components for the AM2 were to be purchased from outside suppliers and the estimated total investment was deemed much too high, especially since Steyr’s business case centred around just this one model.

The armoured vehicle production at Steyr to supply the Austrian army was becoming increasingly less profitable, a problem that escalated so severely as the 1980s went on that the decreasing sales of the moped and motorcycle division could no longer be compensated, which eventually led to that part of Steyr-Puch being sold off.

Starting in 1982 the Austrian BMW-Steyr plant would produce several BMW engines, among which the M20 6 cylinder and M21 Turbo Diesel; it is currently wholly owned by BMW AG and a major engine supplier to the Bavarian firm. Steyr-Puch became defunct in 2001 and currently operates under the name Magna Steyr.

Why BMW declined to use the AM2 as a base for a new vehicle to add to their existing lineup is not known, but interesting and practical as it may have been, a car of this kind was still an unproven concept in 1981 so that may have been the reason. Another thought: BMW was perhaps not the right kind of company for such a car at the time – VAG or Opel may have been more receptive to the concept but this of course is also mere speculation.

Messerschmitt P511, 1951 and K106, 1955

Messerschmitt P511.

After World War II ended, Willy Messerschmitt’s aircraft manufacturing company was forced to make an emergency landing in another field of business, since they were no longer permitted to produce airplanes. As the fifties dawned, the Volkswagen’s steadily rising popularity signalled that people were once again longing for a real car and were increasingly able to source the money to realise their goal. Willy Messerschmitt was interested in taking part in this emerging market and through contact with Swiss and Italian investors secured the finances to develop a medium sized car.

In late 1950 the Messerschmitt team under the direction of Wolfgang Degel had readied a functional prototype – an almost 4,5 meter long four door sedan with a modern ponton profile, a one-piece curved windscreen and a Porsche 356-like front end. The monocoque bodied P511 prototype was built by German coachbuilder Spohn.

Powering the car was a rear mounted five cylinder radial engine with a modest displacement of 1000cc; it developed 45 hp at 5400 rpm. Equally unusual was the clutchless hydraulic four speed transmission operated by a small lever on the steering column.

Messerschmitt P511 engine.

Unfortunately, by 1954 the money had almost run out but the P511 was still far from production-ready. Together with his former aeronautic engineer Fritz Fend, the company changed course and introduced the Kabinenroller which met with reasonable success for a few years and kept the company afloat.

Still, Messerschmitt could not let the idea of a more substantial vehicle go and designed a small car intended to compete with the likes of the Glas Goggomobil. Named K106, it had a monocoque body like the P511 but only two doors and a much smaller 200cc Sachs engine in the rear; fuel consumption was claimed to be a frugal for the time 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres. Messerschmitt lacked the finances to build the K106 himself, so he attempted to sell the concept, but to no avail.

Messerschmitt K106.

In 1956 Messerschmitt was permitted to manufacture aircraft again and sold his Kabinenroller production line and the Regensburg factory it was built in to Fritz Fend, who would continue to build the small bubble cars under the FMR brand until 1964. Messerschmitt merged with Bölkow, becoming Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in 1968; MBB was taken over in 1989 by DASA and is now part of the Airbus corporation.

VW / Porsche typ 700, 1957

VW Porsche Typ700. Netcarshow

Around 1956 Volkswagen enlisted Porsche to develop a compact one-box vehicle, similar to the recently introduced Fiat 600 Multipla. The prototype was built on a standard VW Type 1 floorpan; initially there was mention of a 600cc engine but the eventual prototype was fitted with the well known 1200cc flat four. It remains a mystery what that 600cc engine could have been – perhaps half of the flat four?

VW Porsche Typ 700.

Porsche produced an aerodynamic shape, constructed by coachbuilder Wendler, more carlike than the VW bus as well as lower and more compact. Inside, there were three rows of seats (just like in Fiat’s example) offering places for six occupants. Had it entered production the project, named Typ 700, would have been the first VW with four doors.

The only known photographs of the Typ 700 prototype show an unfinished car; it is unclear if it was ever developed to a functional,
driveable state. In any case, it appears VW decided to drop the Typ 700 for fear of in-house competition with the passenger versions of their own T1 bus.

* Four lead balloons

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

25 thoughts on “Vier Bleierne Luftballons*”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Another interesting selection of the obscure to entertain and educate us, thank you. That Steyr concept puts me in mind of the 1978 Italdesign Megagamma concept, so perhaps Grünberger found his inspiration there?

    Of course, neither Lancia nor BMW brought the concept to market. Instead, Nissan did in 1982 with the Prairie:

    1. Thanks to Bruno for the interesting article about cars that were completely unknown to me.

      Thanks also to Daniel for recalling the Megagamma as the “model” for the Steyr prototype. Fascinating that Giugiaro already had an idea in 77/78 of where the future would lead.
      (I also see something of the first Panda in the Megagamma.)

    2. Yes, yes, yes, just rub salt into my wound of cluelessness.

    3. A shrunk-size Megagamma became reality as Fiat Uno and started the trend for nonsensical ever taller cars.

  2. Good morning, Bruno. All four cars are new to me. The Steyr-Puch /BMW AM2 seems relatively ‘normal’. It reminds me a bit of the Rayton Fissore Magnum. The Messerschmitt P511 is really interesting with the five cylinder radial engine. I’m particularly intrigued by the clutchless gearbox. The K106 seems to fit in with all the other small cars of the time. The VW Porsche Typ 700 has me wondering about the position of the front seat. Judging by the shutlines of the doors the front of the seats is about where the front axle is, not unlike the Bertone Genesis concept.

    Great stuff for a Saturday morning. Thanks for posting it here.

  3. All new and interesting stuff to me too, thanks for sharing.

    As an aside, it’s now almost shocking to be reminded how handsome and well resolved BMW’s saloon designs used to be.

  4. Good morning Bruno.
    As others have posted, thank you for a fascinating insight into some of Germany’s automotive “what might have beens”. A self-confessed Germanophile, humble E39 owner for just 17 years, and all round old car nut, this makes great reading. Please keep on posting to enlighten your British cousins!

  5. Chapeau, by the way, for the header image. It’s taken me all morning to work out why the image of the Steyr prototype was so dark…doh! 😨

    Was that your work, Bruno, or that of our esteemed editor? Very clever in either case.

  6. Thank you all for your kind words; always good to receive feedback!
    Daniel: thank you for your compliment on the header image; it’s something I made myself- the fact that the German flag has one black band posed a bit of a problem in terms of the compromise I had to make between “blackness” and decernability of the image. Glad you liked it!

    1. Yes I really liked it…when I finally worked it out!

  7. Regarding the 1981 Steyr-Puch / BMW AM2, one wonders if this project had any connection to an experimental 150-160 hp (reputedly 3-litre+) 6-cylinder diesel project that was developed by Steyr during that same period (and tested in a Jaguar XJ).

    With the link between the AM2 and E23 in mind, it would appear to suggest the experimental Steyr diesel was possibly derived from the M30 Six in the same way what became the M21 diesel was based on the M20 Six.

    1. The Steyr diesel had nothing to do with anything coming from BMW.
      It was a design completele unique and never replicated by any other engine and was developed in cooperation with the university of Vienna (with lecturers like Eberan von Eberhorst or Ernst Fiala).
      The Steyr engine was a pump-jet design with two engine blocks. The inner block carried the cylinder head and crankshaft but was open at the bottom. The second block was vertically split and reached around the inner block from the bottom until a couple of centimetres below the head. Both blocks were separated by a large rubber seal around the outer block’s upper edge, isolating the outer block (carrying the engine mounts) from the inner block (where the power generation happened). This made it possible to put the engine into an XJ and still have acceptable NVH characteristics.

    2. The Steyr engine also had a crankshaft design completely different from anything BMW ever made. It had large circular bearing carriers (like the VM engine) and a tunnel type (inner) crankcase into which the crankshaft was inserted longitudinally with the carriers cross-bolted. It was more like a truck or marine diesel than made for a passenger car.

    3. Willing to concede the Steyr diesel was a complete blank slate design. That said the info on the Steyr diesel was literally found in BMW: The History of Engines by Dr Karlheinz Lange.

    4. Are you sure you’re meaning the Steyr experimental ‘double block’ engine and not something Steyr developed for BMW as contract work?

    5. It seems both engines (assuming they are not one and the same) utilized pump-jet elements, amongst other features. However the book (on page 346/347) does not mention the involvement of the university of Vienna.

      “In advance of its own internal development work on the M78 / M105 (later became the M21) diesel. BMW had assigned two studies (M63 and M87) to external institutes. The aim of both projects was to create a diesel on the basis of an available BMW Otto engine. However neither project was able to demonstrate qualities that would have been appropriate for use in BMW vehicles. The outside studies were halted in 1976 and 1977.

      During the period from 1978 to 1982 BMW worked on a new diesel engine concept in cooperation with the Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG in Steyr, Austria. Intended to be built in both four and six cylinder versions, the engine had a range of technically interesting design features. Particularly noteworthy was its direct injection system using individual pump-jet elements which were operated by the overhead camshaft.

      In order to avoid problems caused by the high cylinder pressure typical of a diesel, the cylinder head designed as a unitized Monobloc with the cylinders, as had been used in BMW’s early aircraft engines. To optimize the engine’s acoustic properties – noise being another diesel disadvantage – its load-bearing crankcase was surrounded by a rubber-mounting housing.

      In the sum of all its technical sub-concepts this engine proved to be very complicated, preventing its volume production from being realized in the short term. As a result BMW dropped this concept and continued solely with the development of its M78 / M105 (aka M21) diesel engine. All BMW’s diesel engine activities, including development and manufacture, were concentrated in its newly-built history at Steyr. This plant later took over the majority of petrol engine production as well.”

  8. I assume that if you put a radial engine in a car, you install it above the transmission, with the crankshaft axis vertical ? I realise Messerschmitt were not the first to try radial engines.

  9. Bruno – thanks once more introducing us to another batch of curiosities which deserve to be better known.

    The Messerschmitt P511 simultaneously intrigues and horrifies me. Why the urge to defy convention at every turn? It’s a consistent German theme of the late ’40s and early ’50s. The unorthodox VW Beetle may have emboldened the designers of the time, but the most successful cars of the P511’s size came from Opel and Hansa / Borgward, with nice straightforward in-line iron-blocked, water-cooled in-line ohv fours. Not so far away, it worked for Austin, Fiat and Renault.

    As Mervyn notes, radial engines in cars were not a new idea. I wonder if there was a link between the P511 and the unrealised 1931-2 Porsche Typ 12 designed for Zundapp, which also featured a rear engined five cylinder radial engine.

    The K106 might have succeeded had there been the will and funds to put it into production. Its appearance is similar to successful German micro-cars were those which closely resembled ‘real’ cars at least in shape and control arrangements; the Glas Goggomobil, Lloyd LP/Alexander, and NSU Prinz. The ‘bubbles’ and ‘fuselages’ soon fell victim to the Wirtschaftswunder.

  10. If I had to guess I would suggest it might have something to do with the social and economic conditions of Germany at that time. When the world as you knew it has been turned upside down and defeated, convention probably feels rather discredited. There was probably a sense too that it wasn’t going to be possible to build a better product than the Americans or British by doing the usual, plus 10 per cent. So why not look for a USP by doing something completely different?
    But readers closer to German culture, such as Fred or Dave, can probably answer this much better than I can!

  11. There doesn’t seem to be much logic in having intake runners pass through the crankcase, but that is where the supercharger would reside on an aircraft engine. If only Messerschmitt were able to leverage more of the advantages the radial design could offer.

  12. The Messerschmitt P511 looks like something you’d encounter in those cringe-inducing boomer “humor”-infested “comics” usually found in crosswords magazines and conservative rags.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: