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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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