The King of Designers
Wilhelm Maybach was born in Heilbronn on February 9, 1846, where he grew up with his five siblings. He became an orphan at the age of ten. He went to school at the Bruderhaus Reutlingen, a Christian institution founded to give homes and work to the socially disadvantaged, whose founder and head master recognized Maybach’s technical talent at a very early stage and gave him encouragement. In Reutlingen Maybach also made the acquaintance of Gottlieb Daimler in 1865, becoming his collaborator and devoted friend until the latter’s death. From September 1869 Maybach worked together with Daimler in Karlsruhe, then moved to the Deutz gas engine company. There he was inspired to design a lightweight, high-speed internal combustion engine which would be suitable for vehicles on land, on water and in the air. Daimler had left Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz in mid-1882, following differences of opinion with the management. In October 1882 Wilhelm Maybach followed him to Cannstatt to realize the idea of a lightweight, high-speed internal combustion engine. During his extensive research Maybach came across a patent by the Englishman Watson describing an unregulated hot-tube ignition system – an important precondition for higher engine speeds. In 1883 he developed the first experimental horizontal engine which was followed by the so-called Grandfather Clock, an engine with a vertical cylinder which was suitable for installation in a vehicle. In 1885 a wooden Riding Car was equipped with this engine, followed by a coach in the subsequent year. But Maybach was not content merely to build engines for coaches. The invention resulting from these efforts was the steel-wheeled car, and it was with this vehicle that Maybach introduced the gearwheel transmission to automotive engineering. Maybach’s design was first presented to the world public at the 1889 World Fair in Paris. In this respect Maybach was even partly responsible for the creation of the French motor industry.
When Gottlieb Daimler founded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) together with Max Duttenhofer and Wilhelm Lorenz in November 1890, Maybach was appointed Chief Engineer, however he already left the company again in February 1891 owing to the unfavourable terms of his employment contract. For one and a half years Maybach carried out further design work in his own home. In the fall of 1892 he began development work financed by Daimler at the Hermann Hotel in Cannstatt, producing major designs such as the spray-nozzle carburetor and the Phoenix engine, as well as detailed improvements to the belt drive. At the instigation of the English industrialist Frederick Simms, Maybach returned to DMG as Chief Engineer in November 1895. There he initially developed the tubular radiator with a ventilator, and later the honeycomb radiator. As a further technical masterpiece, the King of Designers – as the French called him – designed the first four-cylinder automotive engine. In 1898/99 he also designed a new engine generation with five models from six to 23 hp.
The first Mercedes
Maybach created what is probably his most outstanding design after Daimler’s death in 1900: in March 1901 the first Mercedes caused a sensation at the Nice Week. This car was significantly different from any other vehicle previously designed and built by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, and put an end to the era of the coach in automotive engineering.
In subsequent years Mercedes cars met with great success. Maybach, however, fell victim to several intrigues. He was replaced as Chief Engineer and limited his activities to an Invention Department. In 1907 he left DMG an embittered man.
When Zeppelin LZ 4 was destroyed by a squall on August 5, 1908, Maybach offered to build a new, improved airship engine for Count Zeppelin. On March 23, 1909 'Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau-GmbH Bissingen' was founded as a result. The company’s Chief Engineer was Wilhelm Maybach’s son Karl, who had also designed the new engine. Renamed 'Luftfahrzeug-Motoren-GmbH', the company moved to Friedrichshafen in 1912. Father and son each held a 20 percent shareholding in the venture, however Wilhelm Maybach left the management of the company to his son.
Luxury cars were also produced in Friedrichshafen from 1922. The flagship in the product range was the Maybach 12 DS of 1929. This was the world’s first car with a V12 engine, and like its successor, the Zeppelin, it was seen as the German answer to the Rolls-Royce. Wilhelm Maybach died on December 29, 1929.