Maybach – a legend lives on.
Personal initiative and outstanding commitment.
Wearing blue jeans, a white shirt and a tie sporting the golden Maybach logo, Helmut Hofmann’s passion for the Maybach brand is clear for all to see. He and his wife Anna are the owners and curators of the Museum of Historical Maybach Vehicles in Neumarkt, in Bavaria’s Upper Palatinate region. Ten percent of the Maybach vehicles still in existence today are housed here at the museum. In all, a total of 1,800 of these majestic automobiles were manufactured between 1920 and 1941.
Today we are being given an exclusive tour of the museum by the Hofmanns, on whose initiative it was built and whose personal commitment keeps it running.
“A Maybach is like a member of the family.”
As we stroll through the modern lines of the inner courtyard, we ask the Hofmanns where their passion for the Maybach brand originally came from. Helmut Hofmann, an orthodontist by profession, replies without having to reflect: “It really all started with a friend of mine. He knew an elderly lady who owned a Maybach and he was desperate to buy it off her. But he wasn’t sure he’d be able to persuade her to sell it. A Maybach is like a member of the family, he said, you can’t just give them away.”
“He got the car in the end, though. And as soon as I saw his red Maybach, a beautiful convertible with a Gläser body, I was hooked as well.”
“We want our visitors to feel comfortable.”
“I found my first Maybach in Canada. It was the foundation stone of our collection – over time it was joined by more and more vehicles,” says Helmut Hofmann. His wife adds, “At some point we had the idea of making the vehicles accessible to the public.” In March 2009, the big day arrived. On an old factory site, the Museum of Historical Maybach Vehicles opened its smart steel gates with the unmistakable Maybach logo. In the brightly lit hall of the museum, the historical old building and modern architecture stylishly merge into one to showcase the opulent automobile designs of the 1920s and 1930s. “We felt it was important for visitors to feel comfortable here so that they would want to take their time looking at the vehicles,” the owners explain. It works: every corner reveals a new perspective on the display, with another Maybach model waiting to be discovered. There are between eighteen and twenty exhibits on show at any time, depending on whether any vehicles are currently undergoing maintenance or restoration work. Each and every one is an extremely rare item.
Of Bishops, Counts and Princesses...
In the entrance of the display area we spot one of the collection’s biggest stars: a white Maybach DS 8 Zeppelin from 1930. With a 12-cylinder, 8-litre engine, the Zeppelin had a maximum speed of 150 to 170 km/h – making it a high flyer at the time, and still quite impressive even by today’s standards. The Maybach Museum has much more to offer than plain facts and figures, however. Each model is accompanied by a detailed history of its previous owners and background.
The texts have all been researched and written by Anna Hofmann. She describes herself as the “worker” of the curator team, while her husband is the collector. “It isn’t enough to simply put up a card showing the date of manufacture and the engine,” says Anna by way of explanation. “People want to know about their history, especially with these fantastic historical cars. Some of our exhibits even have names: we’ve got a Bishop, a Prince, a Count and even a Princess in our collection.”
We continue on our journey and come across another Maybach DS 8 Zeppelin: this one is a 1939 model. It is quite different from the other exhibits. A spotlight illuminates the vehicle with a yellow beam and in the background there is a photograph of a bombed city. The black bodywork is marred by rust and countless dents, giving an almost ghostly impression. This Zeppelin has clearly had an extremely tough life. The display text confirms that this was indeed so. At the end of Second World War, the luxury saloon was converted by the Red Army for use as a bus. The vehicle remained in service in Ukraine until 1991, faulty parts being unceremoniously replaced with Russian ones. “It’s still a Maybach, but it definitely had to work harder than any of the others. Unfortunately the vehicle sustained a large amount of body damage during its final period of use and somewhere along the line the piece of the frame with its chassis number was removed, so we hardly know anything about its first owner,” says Helmut Hofmann. The Zeppelin finally made it to the Hofmann’s collection via a specialist Maybach dealer.
Driving a Maybach: a feast for the senses.
In order to prevent the vehicles from damage through lack of use, the Hofmanns regularly take them out for a run. What does it feel like to go out in a Maybach? Helmut Hofmann is overtaken by enthusiasm. “When you step into a Maybach, it’s like entering another world. There are no meetings. Usually it’s a day off, time to enjoy. Your heart rate slows down, your blood pressure drops – it’s a very pleasant experience. We usually take the family, bring a picnic basket and stop off somewhere to take a break and just enjoy life. Driving a Maybach is pure enjoyment.” His wife laughs, and adds with a grin: “You experience all sorts of things on the road. Once we stopped at a hotel where we wanted to stay the night, but unfortunately they didn’t have any room left in the garage, and you can’t just leave a car like that out in the open. So we slept in the Maybach. When we woke up next morning there were people all around the car taking photos.”
Can a car be art?
Helmut Hofmann leads us purposefully in the direction of a 1937 Maybach SW 38 Pullman Cabriolet. He lets us sit in the driver’s seat. The car’s sturdy door shuts firmly and we suddenly feel transported into another era. The streamlined body appears to continue seamlessly into the interior. Our eyes behold the sight of the beautiful chrome-ringed instruments which frame the large steering wheel. Complementing these are red leather door panels, gleaming painted surfaces and real wood inlays, all melding into a single harmonious entity: not a car but a work of art. Even Helmut Hofmann’s eyes light up as he takes a seat next to us. “Wilhelm Maybach, the founder of the company, knew exactly how to build an automobile of the highest class. The engine, gearbox, axles and body all become as one. In doing so, he made an important contribution to the development of the automobile.”
At the end of our tour we ask the collector and curator what he thinks Maybach would have thought of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class of today. Again, the Maybach enthusiast is ready with an answer: “Well, I’m sure he’d say, ‘Well done, you made a good job of that!’”