Germany does export a lot of goods, including food, clothing, weapons, machines, wines and cuckoo clocks. But, since the 1960s, cars have been the main export product. Everyone wants the ‘Made in Germany’ label on their vehicles.
These are the top 10 of the most remarkable German cars. Meet ‘The Cruise Ship’, ‘The Shoe Box’, ‘The Beauty’ and ‘The Vacuum Cleaner’.
10. The Cruise Ship
In 1964, Opel, a division of General Motors in Germany, started building a huge American cruiser called Diplomat. The Opel Diplomat B (photo) replaced the A model in 1969. In both cases, the most expensive version was propelled by a proper V8 engine with the right kind of sound and power reserves. Sure, one kick-down would basically get rid of half the gasoline in the vehicle’s tank, but nobody gave a damn. This applied until 1973, when the oil crisis hit. In 1977, the Diplomat was dumped.
9. The Shoe Box
You want to build a van? Take a Volkswagen Beetle and replace its body with a shoe box. The Volkswagen T1 was a sensation that already came in many versions. It served as a transporter, with an open or closed cargo area, as a camper or a 9-seater bus, but lacked one thing, namely power. The T2 (photo above) was improved to some extent, but the author had to switch back into 2nd gear in order to be able to climb harmless hills in the 1980s. Nowadays, the latest versions have 210 Diesel-HP. Anyway: The Volkswagen Bus gave people the freedom to paint flowers on their vehicle in Woodstock, while listening to Janis Joplin.
8. The Legend
No version of the Porsche 911 represents this model better than the G-Model (photo) which was built from 1973 to 1989. It came in many versions, including the Carrera, the Targa (a semi-convertible with a hard top) and the crazy Porsche 911 Turbo with 300 hp. Back then, this kind of power still impressed people. Of course the 911 is related to the Volkswagen Beetle. But the siblings took very different paths. Until today, the Porsche 911 is the ultimate non-Italian sports vehicle.
7. The Surprise
Audi was doing well in the automotive middle class in the mid-1980s. They had the Audi 80 and the larger 100. At one point, they added more power to the 100 and called it the 200. Then, in 1988, Audi was tired of trailing behind BMW and Mercedes. Those competitors dominated the upper class vehicle market with the 7-Series and the S-Class. So Audi took a 100/200 body, gave it a more potent front look and squeezed a new V8 engine into its hood. The outcome may not have been the final answer to the competition yet, but the Audi V8, the predecessor to the A8, was a stunning car. The author of these lines tested one of the first Audi V8s ever built in 1988, for a radio station in southern Germany, and did not want to get out of the car anymore. That is how comfty it was.
6. The Turtle
Maybe they should have called it Turtle, but it actually is the Volkswagen Beetle. It was built from 1938 to 2003. Let’s get the terrible part out of the way: Adolf Hitler, Germany’s fascist dictator, ordered a car people could afford, the ‘KdF Wagen’ which later turned into the Beetle. But the project took off after WWII. Beetles were built and driven everywhere. In Germany, they were affordable and reliable family vehicles, in Mexico City they were taxis. Beetles crossed the Sahara desert and raced down icy roads in Norway. With 21.5 million items sold, the Volkswagen Beetle was the world’s bestseller until it was overtaken, literally, by the Golf in 2002.
5. The Statement
In 1972, people could not believe their eyes. That year, Mercedes came up with something the automotive press would quickly call “the best car in the world”. Just before the oil crisis hit, the S-Class became a shiny example of how to build an elegant, powerful and safe luxury car. Even the way Mercedes did the paneling of the doors from the inside was stunning. The top model was the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 which also became the first choice for high-ranking politicians and CEOs of large companies. Driving an S-Class became a statement, and still is.
4. The Fish Can
Anyone who was interested in seeing items get rusty within 5 minutes and fall apart due to corrosion in 10 had a good opportunity in 1977. They just needed to look at a Volkswagen Derby, the reincarnation of the fish can. The Derby was actually a Polo with an ugly trunk. Volkswagen probably asked an intern to design the vehicle: “Hey, Frank, we need a new car. Design one. You have 5 minutes.”
3. The Vacuum Cleaner
During WWII, BMW had mainly built motorbikes and aircraft engines. In 1955, they tried to build a car. The outcome, called Isetta, was basically a mixture between a motorbike, an aircraft engine, a Bavarian cupcake and a vacuum cleaner. The only entry door was in front. How was anyone going to get out of the car after a fender-bender? Today, the BMW Isetta is a legend and collector’s item.
2. The Racer
From 1958 to 1973, the former automaker NSU offered the Prinz. Motivated by the success of the Volkswagen Beetle, they created an ugly body and shoved a 20 HP engine up its rear. In the version on the photo (Prinz 4), this rather weird vehicle already had 30 HP. Hold on to your hats! That engine, a stunning example of German engineering, propelled this vehicle to 116 km/h (72 MPH), but not against the wind.
1. The Beauty
“Enough is enough!” This is probably what BMW‘s managers said in 1976 when the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was the undisputed king of the road. The Bavarians needed to do something quickly. The answer they came up with was the 7-series. In 1977, they threw the first version on the market. The second version (photo) followed in 1986. Its most expensive version, the 750 and 760, even had a 12-cylinder engine that outperformed Mercedes’ top S-Class for a while and gave the competition pretty bad headaches. The first three 7-series versions (E23, E32 and E38) were the most beautiful cars Germany ever designed and built. Amen.
Of course there are more remarkable German cars built since the 1960s, including the Porsche 928, the Messerschmidt Kabinenroller, the ‘Ro80’, the latest Maybachs and the Golf. Those will be included next time.
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