Photos courtesy Paul Schilperoord and Lorenz Schmid.
These days it looks more like a child’s drawing of a genericar come to life with its inartful blend of boxy body and round hood, but a pair of Europeans know that under that body lies the chassis of a Standard Superior, one of the direct influences on the Volkswagen, and they’re turning to the public for assistance with the car’s restoration.
Paul Schilperoord of the Netherlands and Lorenz Schmid of Switzerland may be the world’s two foremost experts on not only the Standard Superior but also its designer, Josef Ganz. The two met when Schilperoord, researching his book on Ganz, tracked down Schmid, a descendant of Ganz’s uncle, leading the pair to embark on a quest to track down and restore one of Ganz’s remaining cars in order to spread the word about Ganz.
That’s a quest easier said than done. Ganz, a Hungarian Jew who relocated with his family to Germany in 1916 at the age of 17 and studied mechanical engineering, had plenty of ideas about how automobiles should be built but only found a handful of small carmakers to implement his designs. Which is not to day that his ideas weren’t well-circulated: In 1927, he became the editor-in-chief of Klein-Motor-Sport, which he later renamed Motor-Kritik and in which he agitated for smaller and more affordable automobiles (which he called “Deutschen Volkswagen”) and railed against the large, powerful, and expensive automobiles of the day.
“The cars that came closest to his ideal were the air-cooled Czech Tatras with their backbone frames and independent rear suspensions,” Karl Ludvigsen wrote in his book “Battle for the Beetle.”
Ganz’s antagonism of the German auto industry resulted in plenty of lawsuits, charges of slander, and boycotts, according to Schilperoord and Schmid’s website on Ganz. But it also led many in Germany to consider his ideas more carefully. Zündapp first examined and then passed on Ganz’s designs for a light and inexpensive car in 1929; fellow motorcycle builder Ardie a year later allowed Ganz to build a prototype swing-axle, mid-engine, backbone-chassis, independent-suspension automobile in its shops, the chassis of which appeared on the cover of Motor-Kritik.
While Ardie didn’t pursue the project with Ganz (though, according to Ganz’s account, printed in Terry Shuler’s “The Origin and Evolution of the VW Beetle,” Ardie later on brought in Ferdinand Porsche to develop Ganz’s prototype), Adler hired him on as a technical consultant, charged with building his “Volkswagen” prototype, which he completed in May 1931 and called the Maikäfer. From Adler, Ganz then consulted for Daimler-Benz and BMW before he convinced Standard Fahrzeugfabrik in Ludwigsburg – yet another motorcycle manufacturer – to let him continue to develop his “Volkswagen.”
Unlike the previous two prototypes, barely a step up from cyclecars, the resulting Standard Superior, while still small and inexpensive, had some substance to it. A transverse air-cooled 500cc twin sat ahead of the rear axle centerline. Swing arms and independent suspension controlled the wheels. A price of about 1,500 to 1,600 Reichsmarks undercut the cheapest Opels. And probably more important, the coupe body atop the Standard Superior’s backbone chassis sloped in one uninterrupted line from windshield to tail.
The Superior entered production in 1933, with a pre-production example appearing at that year’s Berlin automobile show, which newly appointed German Chancellor Adolf Hitler attended. As Ganz recalled in “Origin and Evolution,” Hitler stopped to talk to Standard executives “and seemed quite impressed by what they told him of the car’s performance, handling, and price.”
Standard went into modest production with the Superior – according to Ludvigsen, 195 built in 1933, 185 in 1934, and a handful in 1935, spread over two body styles, the Mark I and Mark II – and even advertised the Superior as “the fastest and cheapest German Volkswagen.” Ganz, however, didn’t remain with Superior for long: In May 1933, after Nazi authorities discovered Ganz’s Jewish heritage, the Gestapo jailed him on falsified charges of blackmailing the German auto industry via Motor-Kritik. Though released a month later (and, as Schilperoord and Schmid note, able to prove his innocence), he was forced to resign from both the magazine and from Standard. Nazi decrees forbade his byline as well as any association of his name with any technical design; meanwhile, Nazi officials began to work with Porsche on the design and specifications of what would become the Volkswagen Beetle.
In June 1934, Ganz fled Germany, first for Liechtenstein and then for Switzerland, where he continued to develop his designs for the Swiss government and Rapid Motormäher, which built lawnmowers. Production plans for the so-called “Swiss Volkswagen” – which included licensing production in France to Max Hoffman – fell through thanks to further Gestapo involvement and Hitler’s invasion of France.
Ganz spent the war years in Switzerland suing the Swiss government, then later moved to France and ultimately Australia, where he died in 1967. Of the cars he built, according to Schilperoord and Schmid, the Ardie-Ganz is believed to be destroyed, the Maikäfer resides in a German museum, three of the “Swiss Volkswagens” still exist, and two chassis and two complete cars exist of the Standard Superior production run.
The car that Schilperoord and Schmid intend to restore somehow survived decades of use in East Germany, though at some point had its original Beetle-shaped body replaced with one comprised largely of bits from a Trabant P50 for reasons unknown. The chassis and drivetrain, however, remains original, so Schilperoord and Schmid plan to remove the Trabant-ified body and commission Stellmacherei Thiede in Burgtonna, Germany, to replicate the original Mark I body in leather-covered wood. Once complete, they intend to unveil the Superior at the Louwman Museum in The Netherlands, which has one of the “Swiss Volkswagens” in its permanent collection.
To do so, however, the pair need to raise about €45,000, which they’ve decided to do through crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The campaign is expected to last through June.
For more information, visit JosefGanz.org.