We recall the extraordinary career of Walter Schätzle, a former Borgward dealer whose dedication to the marque briefly made him West Germany’s smallest carmaker.
The collapse of any large manufacturing business is a traumatic and far-reaching event. Lawyers quibble, accountants audit, suppliers stumble, vultures gather. When the collapse involves an automaker, loyal customers feel that their prized vehicles are like orphans and may find that their only support and solace is the dealer who sold and maintained their cars. Many of those dealers will have moved on to other franchises – they have to make a living – but some remain in the thrall of the defunct marque, with a dedication that far transcends vulgar commerce.
The collapse of Bremen-based Carl F W Borgward GmbH in 1961 shook the assuredness of Wirtschaftswunder West Germany, but the controversial story of that event is beyond the scope of this article. One former Borgward dealer, Walter Schätzle (1928-2021), not only went above and beyond expectations to support owners across Europe, but also built around 140 new Borgward Isabellas between 1963 and 1967 at his premises at Oberhöchstädt, a satellite village of Kronberg, 15km northwest of Frankfurt.
After it became clear that Borgward could not be rescued, Schätzle had taken on Simca and Volvo franchises, but considered the French and Swedish cars to be no more than the trade goods by which he made a living. His passion was for the Bremen marque and many of those who shared it beat a path to Oberhöchstädt, not only from within Germany, but from neighbouring nations such as Switzerland and Luxembourg.
In September 1965, news magazine Der Spiegel – certainly not the favourite publication of the Borgward faithful(1) – carried an article about Schätzle’s work and ambitions, describing him as “Germany’s smallest automobile manufacturer”. The dealer-turned-carmaker is portrayed as a saviour figure for loyal Borgward owners who were unwilling to accept a modern substitute for their crashed, broken-down or worn-out cars.
When repairs were not feasible, Schätzle drew on his stock of spares to build complete cars, using his own system of chassis numbering. The Speigel article provides a useful snapshot of the first two years of the Oberhöchstädt operation: seven mechanics working only on new cars, production rate a modest two cars a month, using bodies and drivetrains supplied by Borgward’s still-extant spare parts operation. 38 cars had been built, and the Schätzle Produktionsstätt had parts in stock for 30 more.
Even in 1965, parts were becoming scarce, and the resourceful Schätzle turned to suppliers in the Hesse region to supply pattern bearings, exhausts, brake drums and driveshafts, both for his own cars and also for general spares supply.
The article reported that the Oberhöchstädt Isabellas were priced at DM7,800 for the 60bhp version and DM8,500 for a 75bhp TS. These were only DM700 more than 1961 factory list prices. Their specification was described as being as planned for introduction at the Frankfurt Internationale Automobil–Ausstellung in autumn 1961, with a simple black mesh radiator grille and round instruments.
Der Spiegel’s ‘cottage industry’ portrayal is rather confounded by the report that Schätzle had secured a 20,000m2 site to expand his operations and was negotiating with Borgward’s bankruptcy trustee to buy tooling from Sebalsdsbrück at a cost of around DM300,000.
In the years which followed, the ‘continuation’ Isabellas relied increasingly on Volvo major components. When complete Borgward engines were no longer available from the factory, the later Oberhöchstädt Isabellas were fitted with the Volvo B18 engine and its associated gearbox with a floor gearchange and the option of overdrive.
The Volvo engine was of a more conventional construction than the Borgward unit, with a cast-iron cylinder head rather than the Isabella’s aluminium casting with integral inlet manifolding in a downdraught arrangement. However, the 300cc larger Swedish engine gave a useful power increase, with up to 115bhp available from a twin carburettor high-compression version. It also benefited from five main bearings, rather than the Borgward’s three.
Schätzle’s prices rose gradually, although never beyond the reach of comfortably affluent ‘friends and admirers’. Possibly the peak of Oberhöchstädt’s achievement was a coupé with the highest performance engine and overdrive, sold for around DM15,000.
As well as the expedient mechanical substitutions, some Oberhöchstädt cars featured styling experimentation. One car was given a Borgward P100-like tail treatment, devoid of fins and looking rather good. Not that Borgward would have contemplated such a thing, since the design of an all-new Isabella was at an advanced stage before the 1961 unpleasantness.
A later saloon (see article header) has a heavily reworked four-headlamp front-end based on Fiat 1500 parts(2). This one-off Isabella is likely to divide opinion, not least for its tiny, rather apologetic diamond badge. Realism was starting to creep in: “You have to know where your limits lie.” said Schätzle in a much later interview in Auto-Bild Klassik when asked if he considered making more examples of the restyled Isabella.
The Borgward continuation operation enjoyed a steady demand from friends and admirers of the Isabella, but production came to an abrupt end in 1967 with a court order for Schätzle to cease manufacturing complete cars to designs for which he had no intellectual property rights.
Walter Schätzle had caught the manufacturing bug, and the enforced cessation of Borgward assembly did not extinguish his ambitions. A few years later he purchased a large quantity of surplus Glas Goggomobil components from BMW, Glas’s parent company, which had ended production of the two-stroke microcar in June 1969(3). A prototype city car, the AWS Shopper, was first revealed in 1970 but production did not begin until 1973.
AWS (Automobilwerk Walter Schätzle) established a factory in Rudow, a southern Berlin suburb divided by the building of the notorious wall. It can reasonably be assumed that the West German government provided substantial grant aid to the project in their drive to attract any sort of manufacturing industry to the western-occupied sectors of the four-power city.
The Shopper design was ingenious, based on a square-section steel tube spaceframe with connecting nodes, and clad with pre-finished flat steel panels. The Goggomobil components were not holy writ to the design – an early prototype was front-wheel-drive, using a Lloyd LP400 powertrain and suspension in a spaceframe constructed from exhaust pipe tubing. The production Shoppers were rear engined, like their Glas progenitor.
Regrettably, the production Shopper took the ‘folded paper’ styling approach to a new extreme. This resulted in an appearance akin to an ad hoc car built by a school technical class, or one of the many well-intentioned but much-maligned ‘developing world’ vehicles which had started to emerge by the early 1970s(4).
Production began in 1973, and the Shopper was soon joined by the more versatile Piccolo, available as a beach-car, pick-up, hunting car, and factory transporter. Schätzle deserves some credit for his ingenuity and determined marketing, but the product was visually unappealing, overweight and underpowered, and at a base price of DM5,700, cost more than a new VW Beetle. Most purchasers were holders of the old Category IV driving licences(5) which limited them to sub-250cc vehicles of a type no longer produced by mainstream German manufacturers.
The West German car market had long since moved on from desiring a latter-day Borgward Blitzkarren or Goliath Pionier, and series construction at the AWS manufacturing operation only lasted from 1972 until 1974, when the business became insolvent after the production of 1,400 Shoppers and 300 Piccolos.
(1) In late 1960, Der Spiegel carried an article which claimed that Borgward was facing imminent bankruptcy. The factual basis of the article and its sources of information, are questioned to this day, but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Bremen carmaker had a number of serious product-related troubles, but when its assets were sold, all creditors were able to be paid in full, demonstrating the falsehood of the magazine article which was seen by many as pushing the company over the edge.
(2) By this time, Schätzle had added Fiat to his franchise portfolio.
(3) The Goggomobil had been in production since 1955, and the final batches all had the 245cc engine to meet demand from Klasse IV driving licence holders. When BMW announced the end of Goggomobil production in spring 1968, Hans Glas considered setting up his own business to buy parts and tooling to continue production. This never proceeded beyond an honourable ambition and the former head of the family business died in December 1969.
(4) Licensing for developing world production was one of Schätzle’s ambitions for the Shopper / Piccolo, as was use as as a lightweight, parachutable vehicle for airborne troops.
(5) The Klasse IV licence was abolished in 1954, but existing holders were still entitled to drive sub-250cc vehicles without passing the more demanding test for larger engined automobiles.
Der Spiegel archive.
24 thoughts on “Walter Schätzle – Resurrection Man”
Good morning, Robertas. What a fascinating read this morning about a man I didn’t know about. Hats off to you and DTW for uncovering this piece of automotive history.
When BMW stopped Goggomobil production existing spares, tools and manufacturing rights to the engines were transferred to Bremen based Lloyd Motorenwerke, a successor to the former Borgward subsidiary Lloyd. Lloyd provided new engines and re-worked spares until the late Seventies. They also made conversion kits for Steinwinter in form of Goggomobil engines to go into NSU Prinz 4 or Fiat 500/126 to provide Klasse 4 compatible cars. The last of these kits were made in 1976 and sold for DM 11,500, more than a new VW Golf.
The only reason Goggomobil and Isetta production lasted until the late Sixties and the AWS Shopper existed at all was that German particularity in driver’s licence regulation that allowed you to drive anything on two, three or four wheels as long as it didn’t have more than 250cc after passing a simple paper-only test with a couple of question and no actual driving test. This type of driving licence was abandoned in 1956 after which you could drive anything on two wheels with no more than 50 cc and (for whatever reason) farming tractors. If you wanted to get a licence for proper cars you had to take driving lessons and pass a driving test, something most owners of the old licence were afraid of.
Around the corner from my parents lived an elderly couple with an Isetta that was meticulously polished every weekend until something like 1975 when it was replaced by an AWS Shopper, the only such car I ever saw in practical use.
And yes, during the Cold War years German government did everything to attract business to Berlin by heavily subsidising them. BMW made their motorcycles in Berlin Spandau because it was tax free.
Even now you get money when you create a business in the failed city of Berlin, no matter how nonsensical your idea is. A couple of years ago a friend and I wrote a business plan and applied for state funding to set up a business making bicycles from used gherkin glass jars and bamboo, just to see how far we could get with such an obvious nonsense. In the end we would have got a sizeable sum of money for creating up to five jobs. We did get no money for the idea of making bicycle frames from used Nespresso capsules glued together.
As far as I can see, in the post-WW2 era, Borgward Group made only a token gesture towards the “Prüfungsangst” market, producing the Lloyd LP250 only from 1956 to 1957, when the LP series got the very advanced 600cc OHC parallel twin, and two-strokes were dropped completely.
German automotive (or mobility in general) landscape changed with breathtaking speed in the Wirtschaftswunder years. In 1948 you were considered rich when you had a bicycle with an attached motor and a Beetle was but a distant dream. In the mid-Fifties the motorcycle boom ended because people bought bubble cars which very quickly morphed into proper small cars like Lloyd (which was anything but a primitive provisional solution) or a Beetle (around 1964 an incredible 43 percent of all cars on German roads were Beetles). This left the Goggomobil and Isetta as the only ‘Prüfungsangst’ cars in the Sixties. After Lloyd Motorenwerke stopped making Goggomobil engines you had Steinwinter conversions of Fiat 500 engines with one piston, conrod and valve gear removed for really shaky NVH characteristics and around 10 PS.
There was a 300 cc Isetta with 13 instead of 12 PS which was mainly for export sales. I’ve never seen a 300 cc Goggomobil but had the opportunity to test drive a 400cc Goggomobil coupé with 20 PS, a unique experience because the thing went into oversteer even at ridiculous speeds, no wonder they later reduced the power to 18.5 PS.
Very nice article Robertas, I very much get enthusiastic about “ordinary” men turning into entrepreneurs and inventors.
I’ve tried to watch the related film “Die Affäre Borgward” but don’t seem to find it in the web or elsewhere. Is there a link to help? Should be interesting to watch.
Not the film you referenced but real TV news from the time
The ‘s in Robertas was a typography self correct action but could well serve as a reference to yesterday’s article!
Good morning Robertas. Another great story unearthed, thank you! I wonder who brought the legal action against Schätzle to prevent him building any more ‘continuation’ Isabellas? I suppose it must gave been BMW, who would have inherited the IP rights to the design. It seems like a mean-spirited thing to do, especially given the tiny numbers of cars that were being produced.
The Isabella really was rather a pleasant looking design, somewhat reminiscent of the Volvo 120 Amazon:
And especially so in coupé form:
How I mourn the death of the affordable coupé.
The Isabella coupé was anyting but affordable. Borgwards in general weren’t cheap cars and the coupé was a luxury product for its time. In good condition they fetch high prices – mobile.de has a coupé in exactly the same colour combination as the car in this picture for more than 50,000 EUR.
At the end of its life the Isabella started to look old fashioned in its ornate opulence. Whitewall tyres, two tone paint finishes and tons of chrome looked outdated compared the ‘bathtub’ 17m P3 or Peugeot 404.
During its development the Isabella didn’t have a name and the development team couldn’t decide on one. They asked C.F.W who replied “I don’t care, if you want, you can write Isabella on it.”
Daniel – I tried to find out who brought the legal action which stopped Isabella assembly at Oberhöchstädt, but no answer was forthcoming. The issue seems to have been intellectual property rights rather than the Borgward name, suggesting that it was the bankruptcy trustees, rather than the Borgward family.
Then again it could have been Grupo Industrial Ramirez, who were by that time close to starting production of the P100 – as the Borgward 230/230GL – in Monterrey, Mexico. They possibly had Isabella tooling and IP rights from the deal, which also involved Eduardo Barrieros, the Spanish automotive industrialist and entrepreneur.
Ah, I’ve just realised that I was confusing Borgward with Glas. I don’t think that BMW had any involvement with the former after its bankruptcy, so apologies for maligning the Munich company. Thanks for the additional information, Robertas.
The biggest profiteer of the Borgward bankruptcy – and as it turned out later, it was not an insolvency, Borgward serviced all outstanding debts – was Mercedes-Benz. (Maybe I’m biased and that’s not quite right either, who knows…)
And to complete the set, here’s the estate, or Combi:
Daniel – there was plenty of suspicion of BMW playing a – at best passive – part in Borgward’s downfall, through the involvement of Johannes Semler, from 1960 chairman of the supervisory board at BMW, and appointed as a consultant by the Bremen Senate in 1961 in the role of “expert adviser” on the rescue, or otherwise, of the Borgward Group.
As late as 1960, Borgward were among many possible suitors for the struggling BMW business being restructured by Semler. Wilhelm Gieschen, Borgward Engineering Director, was among CFWB’s entourage who travelled to Munich to view the premises. By mid-1961 he had been head-hunted by Herbert Quandt, and was a BMW board member, with numerous others following him on the road south from Bremen to Munich*.
Even 60 years on, Borgwarders are divided in their opinion of BMW. Some express horror at the very mention of the three letters, others say they stand for “Borgward macht weiter” – Borgward continues…
*Others only ventured as far as Wolfsburg, including CFWB’s son Claus, who was a member of VW group’s Board
of Management with responsibility for quality assurance from 1980-1989.
The Isabella is nice – I can see the Amazon similarity, especially after looking at a Škoda Octavia, which it also resembles. I can also see a resemblance to the Peugeot 403, although that’s not as sleek as the Borgward. That badge is huge, though.
One would think with all the SUVs around that there would be room for something a bit different, like an affordable coupé. Perhaps not. That said, ‘coupé’ now seems to equate to ‘sports car’ in manufacturers’ minds, which is a bit limiting.
There had been a revived Borgward from 2010 to this year. According to Wikipedia, it was started bij a scion of the Borgward family with the help of a Chinese manufacturer. Obviously, it churned out… SUVs, and not very inspiring ones at that:
According to Wikipedia again, Borgward seems to be defunct, although the website is still online. It also mentions the Isabella Concept from 2017 (https://www.borgward.com/models/concept-cars/isabella-concept/), which seems to have little to do with the original, either in design or concept.
Thank you Robertas for this article today.
Another school day for me. I knew about the AWS Shopper, but not about the background story and the beginnings of WS.
Currently running on USA television, is an advert for the medicine Entresto. Featured in the ad is a red Borgward convertible. Having owned one of these great cars, I am familiar with them, and sadly I have to report the car was originally a 2-door sedan with the roof removed. Would post a photo, but can’t see how to do so.
Bill: You will find a guide to doing that very thing here…
Here’s the car from the TV ad
It should look like this
And here’s a so called coupe cabrio
Concerning the AWS Shopper / Piccolo along with Hans Glas own unrealised plans to continue Goggomobil production as well as Lloyd Motorenwerke’s conversion kits for Steinwinter to provide Klasse 4 compatible cars. Did anyone have plans to switch from providing two-stroke engines to likely downsleeved four-stroke units for Klasse 4 microcars, or was Honda unique in producing a 250cc version of the Honda Z360?
Unless it was a completely different microcar seem to recall something resembling the AWS making use of Puch engines.
Do like the look of the finless Borgward P100-like tail treatment on that Isabella.
Sulky 50cc microcar was popular in Austria in the late Seventies
Have not heard of the two-stroke Sulky 50cc or Casalini previously.
Was unwittingly thinking of the Valem TA6 prototype, however it claims the Puch engine was a two-stroke rather than the Steyr-Puch flat-twin. The Opperman Stirling prototype and the Invacar being a few that also used the Puch flat-twin engine.