Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Josef Ganz

Josef Ganz, 1946

Dipl.-Ing. Josef Ganz (July 1, 1898 - July 26, 1967) was a German-Hungarian car designer, born in Budapest, Hungary.

Early years

Josef Ganz was born in a Jewish family with a Hungarian mother and a German father in Budapest, the then second-largest city within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on July 1, 1898. His father, Dr. Hugo Markus Ganz (1862-1922), was from Mainz in Germany and worked as a political and literary writer and journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung. At an early age, Josef Ganz was fascinated by technology. After moving from Budapest to Vienna, the family moved to Frankfurt am Main in Germany in 1916 and took on German nationality. In July, 1916, Ganz voluntarily enlisted in the German army and fought in the German navy during the First World War. After the war, in 1918, Josef Ganz resumed his mechanical engineering studies. During this period, he became inspired with the idea of building a small car for the price of a motorcycle.

Josef Ganz in the Ardie-Ganz prototype, 1930

Josef Ganz in the Maikäfer prototype, 1931

The Auto design

Josef Ganz made his first auto sketches in 1923, designing an innovative small lightweight car with a mid-mounted engine, independent wheel suspension and an aerodynamic body, but lacked the money to build a prototype. Therefore, he passionately started publishing articles on progressive car design in various magazines and, shortly after his graduation in 1927, he was assigned as the new editor-in-chief of Klein-Motor-Sport. Josef Ganz used this magazine as a platform to criticize heavy, unsafe and old-fashioned cars and promote innovative design. The magazine quickly gained in reputation and influence and, in January 1929, was renamed into the more appropriate title Motor-Kritik.

‘With the ardent conviction of a missionary’, so post-war Volkswagen director Heinrich Nordhoff would later say, ‘Josef Ganz in Motor-Kritik attacked the old and well-established auto companies with biting irony.’ These companies fought against Motor-Kritik with law-suits, slander campaigns and an advertising boycott. However, every new attempt for destruction only increased the publicity for the magazine and Josef Ganz firmly established himself as the leading independent automotive innovator in Germany.

In 1929, Josef Ganz started contacting German motorcycle manufacturers for collaboration to build a autoprototype. This resulted in a first prototype, the Ardie-Ganz, built at Ardie in 1930 and a second one completed at Adler in May 1931, which was nicknamed the Maikäfer (‘May-Beetle’). News about these amazing constructions quickly spread through the industry. Besides at Adler, Josef Ganz was assigned as a consultant engineer at Daimler-Benz and BMW where he was involved in the development of the first models with independent wheel suspension: the highly successful Mercedes-Benz 170 and BMW AM1 (Automobilkonstruktion München 1).

The first company to build a car according to the many patents of Josef Ganz was the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik, which introduced its Standard Superior model at the IAMA (Internationale Auto- und Motorradausstellung) in Berlin in February 1933. Here the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler expressed great interest in its revolutionary design and low selling price of 1,590 Reichsmark. Under the new anti-Semitic government, however, Josef Ganz was an easy target for his old enemies.

Ironically, while German car manufacturers one by one took over the progressive ideas that had been published in Motor-Kritik since the 1920s, Josef Ganz himself was arrested by the Gestapo in May 1933 based on falsified charges of blackmail of the automotive industry. He was eventually released, but his career was systematically destroyed and his life endangered. This led to his escape from Germany in June 1934 – the very month Adolf Hitler assigned Ferdinand Porsche to realize the prophecy of Josef Ganz: designing a mass-producible auto for a consumer price of 1,000 Reichsmark.

After a short period in Liechtenstein, Josef Ganz settled in Switzerland where with government support he started a Swiss auto project, while back in Germany production of the Standard Superior as well as the Bungartz Butz according to his design was stopped. The first prototypes of the Swiss auto were constructed in 1937 and 1938 and plans were formed for mass-production inside a new factory. After the start of World War II , however, Josef Ganz was again under serious threat from the Gestapo and corrupt Swiss government officials who tried to claim the Swiss auto project as their own. After the war, a small number of Swiss auto were built by the Rapid car company, while Josef Ganz in a desperate attempt for justice took his Swiss enemies to court.

Numb from five years of highly complex court battles, Josef Ganz left Switzerland in 1949and settled in France. Here he worked on a new small car, but could no longer compete with the Volkswagen – his own vision – which was now conquering the world in its hundreds of thousands. In 1951 Josef Ganz decided to leave the old world behind and boarded an ocean liner to Australia. For some years he worked there for General Motors – Holden, but became almost bedridden after a series of heart attacks in the early 1960s. Despite some attempts to restore his name, it was too little too late. Josef Ganz died in obscurity in Australia in 1967, his legacy known and admired by all but his name forgotten.

Source: Wikipedia

Standard Superior

Standard Superior was an automobile marque, used from 1933-1935 by Standard Fahrzeugfabrik of Germany, founded by Wilhelm Gutbrod. These small cars were designed according to the patents by Josef Ganz and featured rear-mounted two-stroke engines.

After World War II, the same company made Gutbrod cars and introduced the model Gutbrod Superior.

First model of the Standard Superior, as introduced at the IAMA in Berlin in 1933

Standard Superior, 1934 model

Brochure for the Standard Superior, 1934


In the first half of 1932, Wilhelm Gutbrod, the President of the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik, came into contact with German engineer Josef Ganz. Ganz had been working on a small Volkswagen car design since the early 1920s and had so far built two prototypes, one for Ardie in 1930 and one for Adler in 1931, called the Maikäfer (May Beetle). After a demonstration with the Maikäfer by Ganz, Gutbrod was most interested to build a small car according to this design. The Standard Fahrzeugfabrik then purchased a license from Ganz to develop and build a small car according to his design. The prototype of this new model, which was to be called Standard Superior, was finished in 1932. It featured a tubular chassis, a mid-mounted engine, and independent wheel suspension with swing-axles at the rear.


The first production model of the Standard Superior was introduced at the IAMA (Internationale Automobil- und Motorradausstellung) in Berlin in February 1933. Because of some criticism to the body design, not in the least by Josef Ganz in Motor-Kritik, it was followed in April 1933 by a slightly altered model.

In November 1933 the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik introduced yet another new and improved model for 1934, which was slightly longer with one additional window on each side and had a small seat for children or as luggage space in the back. This car was advertised as the German Volkswagen.

The Volkswagen Beetle connection

With the Ardie-Ganz, Adler Maikäfer and Standard Superior cars, as well as his progressive writings and promotion of the concept of a Volkswagen in Motor-Kritik magazine since the 1920s, Josef Ganz is claimed by some to be the inspiration behind the Volkswagen Beetle. These cars had all the then novel features of the later Volkswagen Beetle, such as the tubular chassis, rear-mounted engine and independent wheel suspension with swing axles.

According to the report, as a Jew, Ganz was deprived of his patent rights, which were later illegally passed to Tatra, whose management had impeccable Gestapo connections. Ganz himself, after an odyssey of escaping through numerous European countries, had landed in Australia. The name Volkswagen was stolen by Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring who saw Ganz's VW prototype at an exhibition.

New investigation

While the Volkswagen Beetle was produced in its millions after World War Two, the name of Josef Ganz was largely forgotten. In 2004, Dutch journalist Paul Schilperoord started researching the life and work of Josef Ganz. He has unearthed many new facts and is currently working on a new book and documentary.

Source: Wikipedia