(first posted 4/8/2017) Hallo, Klassische Kurbseid Freunde, for our final German Deadly Sin – of this “Cycle” anyway. So after BMW’s near-death experience and Borgward’s obliteration and episodic re-births, let’s head back to Bavaria and look at another automaker that dug itself six feet under: Hans Glas GmbH. As with Borgward, it’s impossible to single out one specific model as a Deadly Sin – Glas were really a concentration of DSs, though they made some of the most interesting cars of the ‘60s.
The Glas family started manufacturing farm equipment back in the 1860s. Hans Glas, one of the third generation of this industrious family, went to America in 1910 and ended up working at Ford and Harley-Davidson. Around 1922, he went back to his home town of Dingolfing in Bavaria to settle down and get married. His father eventually handed him the family business.
The company, soon renamed Hans Glas GmbH, continued making farming equipment under the Isaria brand throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s. Hans Glas’ son Andreas (1923-1990) started working at the company after 1945. Hand and Andreas Glas wondered how they could help their business grow – perhaps vehicle production could be an answer. Circa 1950, Andreas Glas came back from a trip to Italy and told his father about the swarms of Vespas he had seen there. The pfennig dropped: nobody was making anything of the sort in Germany…
Hans Glas hired engineer Karl Dompert (1923-2013) to see if a home-grown scooter could be made. The result was the 1951 Goggo-Roller, named after a Glas family member’s nickname. It used a ILO 125cc engine, soon available as 150cc and a Sachs 200cc; its comfortable suspension, quality build and distinctive styling made it an immediate success.
As Germany rebuilt itself and its people started to have more means, Hans and Andreas Glas saw the proliferation of bubble cars and realized that four wheels were perhaps the way to go. The profits from the scooters had been invested into new machine-tools and increased factory space, so now Glas could make their own engines. Dompert designed the chassis, with swing axles front and rear, and Adler engineer Felix Dozekal created a 250cc air-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin that produced 14 hp. The rear-engined Goggomobil was launched in 1955 and was another big hit for Glas. By 1958, they had passed the 100,000 unit mark – few “Rollermobilen” could claim such production numbers.
Soon, 300cc and 400cc versions were introduced, along with a van and a snazzy coupé, usually painted in bright colours, styled by Hans and Andreas Glas themselves. A commercial van and a pick-up were also added to the range by 1957. Glas sold the Goggomobil license to Spain and Australia, where a locally-designed roadster, the Goggomobil Dart, was produced.
By this time, Glas felt the need to grow out of the bubble-car niche and conquer the mini car market. Glas tried to engineer a FWD car, powered by a 4-stroke 600cc flat-twin. A prototype was shown at the 1957 Frankfurt Motor Show, but further testing showed the car’s handling to be awful. Problem: a lot of the engineering had been finalized and the tooling for the unibody was already being delivered. The only solution was to turn the engine and gearbox around and make the “Big Goggomobil” a RWD saloon. This is what Glas launched in the summer of 1958 – with an optional 700cc engine.
The car was renamed Glas Isar T600 / T700 in 1959, dropping the Goggomobil name. In some countries, “Isar” looked weird, so the alternate orthography was “Isard”. Though its panoramic windshield and rear fins seemed a bit over-the-top on such a small vehicle, it was contemporarily styled, but lacked distinction – park the Glas Isar, the DKW Junior, the Trabant P50 and the Lloyd Arabella side by side and most folks would have trouble telling one from the next.
The early cars suffered from weak engines and were lacked structural rigidity, which led to quite a few cracked windshields and expensive warranty repairs. Glas hastily added a couple of box sections to the monocoque, along with a mild restyle, in 1960 – but the Isar’s reputation was tarnished. The first “real” Glas car was a semi-flop: fewer than 90,000 were made in Germany over eight model years (plus about 15,000 built under license in Argentina, where it is more fondly remembered). The Isar was launched too quickly, something that would become the hallmark for new Glas models from then on. It is also the only Glas model whose production was halted by its maker; the last Isar cars left Dingolfing in mid-1965.
Undeterred by this relative setback, Glas crept further up the ladder, now setting their sights on the 1-litre small family car segment with the new Glas 1004 – slap-bang into Volkswagen territory. Ex-BMW engineer Leonhard Ischinger joined the Glas family and developed a small jewel of an engine: a 992cc water-cooled straight-4 with hemi heads and, for the first time on a series production engine, an overhead camshaft driven by a toothed rubber belt. Glas lacked the means to develop an entirely new chassis, so they added 10cm to the Isar’s platform (plus additional box sections) and kept the smaller car’s RWD layout, as well as its rather unrefined leaf-sprung live rear axle.
A pre-production 2+2 coupé was displayed at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show – the production line only started ramping up in the summer of 1962. The new Glas’s styling was another strange in-house effort, and the substantial front and rear overhangs did not help the car’s penchant for pitching when the undersized drum brakes were used. Another point that irked many critics and customers was the “back-to-front” gearchange (1st and 3rd at the bottom), also inherited from the dreaded Isar. At least the gearbox was now fully synchronized.
In early 1963, a 2-door saloon and a convertible were added to the range. Soon after, the 1204 became available as well, with a 1189cc (53 hp DIN) version of the 1004’s engine; by the end of the year, the 1004/1204 (a.k.a the “04s”) were available in a twin-carb “TS” version with a revised suspension and front disc brakes as standard. This transformed the car into the proverbial pocket rocket: armed with 70 hp (DIN), the Glas 1204 TS was capable of reaching 160 kph (100 mph). All this for a price of DM6980! Though one segment above the Glas, BMW’s 1600 Neue Klasse was slower by 10 kph and more expensive by DM3000. Munich started to take notice of its small neighbour. In mid-1965, the 1204 was replaced by the 1304, with a 1290cc (60 hp DIN); the 1304 TS was initially rated at 75 hp.
It seems that Hans and Andreas Glas, by this point, recognized their limitations as car stylists and enlisted the help of Pietro Frua. Frua was by this time an independent car stylist, after having worked for other Italian houses as well as his own carrozzeria in the ’40s and ‘50s. The new Glas coupé was aimed at the likes of Alfa Romeo and Lancia, so employing a transalpine designer made quite a bit of sense – plus Glas’s production capacity was starting to get outpaced by its ambition.
The Frua-styled coupé was launched at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show with its the 75 hp (DIN) 1304 TS engine and 170 kph top speed (rising to 85 hp and 178 kph in 1965). A convertible version was soon proposed alongside the coupé, though it proved far less popular.
Production started in earnest in the spring of 1964, but the quality of the Italian-made body (subcontracted by Frua, who only had a design bureau, to one or more small Italian firms) was below par, compared to Bavarian standards. It did not matter too much: the 1300 GT was something of a halo car, and at DM11,600 a pop, Glas did not expect to sell them in massive numbers. The Frua connection was worth having, because Hans and Andreas Glas did not want to stop their car range’s irresistible rise.
When Borgward went belly up and all their assets were sold off in 1962, Hans and Andreas Glas travelled north to have a look. They happened upon the Hansa 1300 prototype, styled by Frua in 1960. Here was a virtually production-ready 4-door saloon with crisp styling and lots of potential, available for a song. The Hansa prototype went down to Dingolfing and Glas contacted Pietro Frua – the 1300 GT was a by-product of this initial discussion.
Fura modified the Hansa prototype somewhat: the grille, the tail and the rear doors were given a makeover (the latter being given a rather cheeky “Hofmeister kink”), but the overall shape remained pretty much as was. Meantime, Glas had to develop a drivetrain and an engine for the new car. Eyeing the defunct Borgward Isabella and the very much alive BMW Neue Klasse, Glas went for a 1.5 litre engine, still based on the 1004’s bloc.
The Glas 1500 saloon was presented alongside the 1300 GT coupé at the 1963 motor show, but Glas had jumped the gun once again. The 70 hp engine was too small for a car this size and weight, so a further increase in displacement was inevitable. This delayed production for another year.
Finally, the big Glas saloon was ready for prime-time at the ’64 Frankfurt Motor Show. Now called the Glas 1700, it sported a 1688cc plant capable of 80 hp (DIN) – enough to reach 150 kph and not be ridiculed by other mid-segment cars. The engine gained an extra 5 hp by 1965, but the one everybody was waiting for was the TS twin-carb, which also came out that year and promised 100 hp.
Alfa Romeo, BMW, Fiat, Lancia, Peugeot, Rover, Triumph and Volvo were now in Dingolfing’s crosshairs – on the German market, at least. On foreign markets, though the car may have been well-received by automotive journos and car nerds, few people were that aware of Glas. Some did know the Goggomobil, but that hardly helped matters. Glas cars were still subject to tariffs, even though the Common Market was bringing those down gradually in the six-country European Community of the ’60s. In the French 1965 advert above for instance, prices do not include the 33% luxury tax normally paid by most customers, making the Glas 1700 saloon about 40% dearer than its natural rival, the Peugeot 404, in France.
The Frua coupé / cabriolet was soon given the more powerful 1.7 litre engine, becoming the 1700 GT. This version was naturally faster and more desirable, though the 1300 version continued to have its clientele. But things were about to go up yet another notch…
As 1965 came to a close, the Frankfurt Motor Show was yet again the stage for a new Glas bombshell – this time, a bona fide grand tourer. The Glas father and son team and their engineers finally outdid virtually all their rivals and presented the Glas 2600 V8 coupé. The automotive press was awestruck, first by the audacity of the small family firm’s move, then by the product itself – yet another Frua masterpiece, and with an all-new V8, no less.
Based on the 1700 saloon’s platform, the car’s all-steel monocoque body sat on a double wishbone and coils front suspension and a de Dion axle with leaf springs and a Panhard rod at the rear, which also featured – for the first time on a German car – self-levelling Boge-Hydromat struts.
The engine was again based on existing Glas technology, being essentially two OHC 1300 4-cyl. plants joined at the hip. This was deemed to be a cheaper solution than developing a straight-6. The 2580cc V8 produced 150 hp (DIN), which propelled the heavy 4-seater coupé to 195 kph (121 mph) – frustratingly short of the magic 200 number, blamed at the time on the Solex triple-barrel carbs. This led Glas to develop a 3-litre and a 3.2 litre version by early 1966.
As was now almost expected, Glas had presented the car before they had worked out how to produce it. Deliveries were delayed until the summer of 1966, by which time the asking price had gone up a bit to DM19,400. This was still a very reasonable sum for this kind of car.
The other new model – not ready in time to feature in Glas’ now very full 1966 Programm – was a practical 04 hatchback wagon launched in August 1966. Looking at the whole Glas range, so beautifully and completely described in the document above, leaves one wondering how a two-bit family-owned farming equipment firm that had produced nothing but scooters and 250cc bubble-cars ten years prior could have created such a broad range of cars. Many contemporary observers wondered the same thing, and in late 1966, they found out.
Simply put, Glas were subsidizing their car range thanks to the ever-profitable Goggomobil and Isaria farming implements. Most (if not all) of the cars that had followed the Goggomobil had cost the firm. The Isar had been a financial sinkhole, the 04 range had barely broken even and the other models were so far losing money because Glas could not build enough of them. The Dingolfing factory’s production capacity was 30,000 automobiles per year. The more models came out, the fewer of each could be built. Hans Glas was adamant that the company should avoid debt like the plague, which meant Glas never had enough money to invest in new production facilities.
Hans Glas began to feel the weight of his 76 years. His health was failing, as was his beloved firm. The 1700 saloon and the V8 coupé were not the kind of cars Glas dealers were used to selling – and Glas cars still lacked recognition abroad. Glas could not produce enough to become bigger, nor could it sell what it produced quickly enough. The company’s financial situation was untenable. Glas went to the Bavarian State for a bridge loan to carry the company’s operations through to 1967. The State authorities agreed to issue a DM50m loan, but attached a substantial string along with that money: Glas would have to merge with BMW. There was no option but to agree. In November 1966, Glas and BMW became one.
The Munich boys were over the moon: Glas had been a thorn in their side for years now. Plus, the company had a few interesting cars, engines and a relatively large factory with 4000 fully-trained workers. Glas cars continued to be made in 1967, but BMW roundels started to appear here and there on most models, one after the other. The first to be nixed was the 04 range, which was stopped for good in late 1967, except the 1304 CL, which lasted a few months longer and (allegedly) inspired the BMW 02 Touring hatchbacks.
In September 1967, The V8 coupé received the 3-litre V8 that Glas had been working on the previous year, along with six BMW badges (one on the tail, one on the hood and one on each wheel). The BMW-Glas 3000’s larger 160 hp (DIN) V8 finally enabled the “Glaserati” to break the 200 kph barrier. The price also went up quite a bit – to a few Deutschmarks shy of 24,000.
Production lasted until May 1968. In total, 418 of the 3-litre V8s had been made; only 300 Glas 2600s had been made in 1966-67. Pietro Frua started a fruitful collaboration with BMW at this point: he designed special bodies on BMW chassis for the next decade. One of the first ones was this BMW-Glas 3000 GT, made in 1967.
The other Glas coupé, the 1300 /1700 GT, suffered a different fate: BMW simply chucked away its Glas engine, gearbox and drivetrain and substituted BMW 1600 elements in their stead. The Glas badge on the grille was replaced by a couple of small BMW “kidneys” and the car was relaunched as the BMW 1600 GT in September 1967, but only lasted one model year. Though the BMW independent rear suspension and 1.6 litre engine were quite appealing, BMW’s bean-counters worked their slide-rules and pushed the sale price over DM15,000, which made the car pretty dear…
Glas had been working on several prototypes when Munich came a-knocking. A Frua-Styled replacement for the 04s was in the works (planned launch date: 1968) and the company was reconsidering a small 800cc car (possibly with FWD) to fill the gap left by the Isar.
These were nixed by BMW, who instead built an interesting prototype using the already-defunct BMW 700 LS, with a restyled nose and tail, and the Glas 1-litre plant in the rear. This BMW 1000 was apparently a lively little thing, but management preferred to keep pushing BMW towards the high-end market and not fight NSU and VW again in the rear-engined mini segment.
The “big” Glas saloon was a special case. BMW were loath to admit it, but they thought the car had merit. The problem was keeping far enough away to ensure it would not compete with BMW’s saloons. The 1700 wore BMW badges for a year in Europe, then disappeared.
It had been sent to South Africa: BMW had signed a contract to produce cars there just before the Glas saloon fell on Munich’s lap. BMW simply started sending batches of Glas 1700 in CKD (albeit with BMW’s own 1800 engine) in mid-1967. About a year later, BMW shipped the entire line down to Rosslyn, near Pretoria.
Thus began the strange life of the BMW 1800 SA, which was also built in Rhodesia for a while as the BMW Cheetah. Munich also sent over some 2-litre engines from 1969 – creating the 2000 SA – and mooted the launch of a South-Africa-only wagon. Pietro Frua even made a prototype of one, but the project did not come through.
Finally, in 1972, BMW asked Frua to give the car a BMW-type snout and E12 rear lights. The range was rechristened BMW 1804 / 2004 SA, but only lasted until mid-1974. The Glas 1700 saloon was built in just over 13,000 units in Dingolfing. The South African BMW version saw roughly 6700 cars made from 1968 to 1974, along with 4000 Rhodesian Cheetahs.
Last but not least, the only Glas never to wear the BMW roundel: the Goggomobil. The invincible little thing had seen its maker rise and fall since 1955. Over 300,000 Goggomobil saloons, vans and coupés had been made (if one adds the foreign-built ones) when the body dies became worn out and production had to be stopped. The last Glas was also the first, and it rolled of the production line on 25 June 1969. Before the end of the year, Hans Glas passed away.
One final tidbit of Glas oddity: there were still a good number of Goggomobil chassis gathering dust in Bavaria after Glas stopped making bodies. In 1970, erstwhile Borgward dealer (and builder of “unofficial” Isabellas in the mid-‘60s) Walter Schätzle bought the lot and designed, perhaps blindfolded, a minicar called the AWS Shopper, which he tried to sell for DM5700 (more than a Beetle!) in 1972-73. About 1400 of the wretched things were made in a small works near Berlin until Schätzle hit the fan and went bankrupt in 1974.
The Deadly Sins that landed Glas into the dustbin of history were ambition on the one hand and an overly conservative approach to industry and financing on the other. Hans Glas could not have both total control and the means to achieve his company’s true potential, but he never understood it until it was too late and the wolf was at the door. Car-wise, the Isar and the V8 coupé could also be termed as Deadly Sins. The former because it destabilized Glas, kicking off the frantic activity that led the automaker to its demise; the latter because it probably was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
That’s it for this Bayern Cycle edition of the German Deadly Sins. I hope to have shown that these three automakers (one still thriving, one in the midst of a re-birth and one pushing up the daisies) were linked in several tangible and subtle ways. Time permitting, another Teutonic trio should be appearing on Curbside Classics next month. Vielen Dank und auf wiedersehen!