This toffee-colored Hansa 1500 sedan may look like a highly regarded piece sitting next to sleek new Maseratis in this museum, but time was not particularly sweet to its maker, Borgward. One of the company’s more upscale–but still mainstream–models, it was also one of the best alternatives to more established German makes after World War II.
An overhead valve four cylinder sat underneath that side-hinged hood and drove the independently-sprung rear wheels. Unlike the Opel Olympia and Mercedes 170-series, the car was fresh and up-to-date; it would be a few years before those manufacturers got a true clean-sheet design on the market, and the Hansa was priced competitively to boot.
Other innovations included electric turn signals and an optional fully automatic transmission (called Hansamatic), to name a few. Other efforts making the car palatable to a wide range of owners included a variety of body styles, including a four-door sedan, a three-door combi, a panel van and a custom convertible.
1952 brought a bump in displacement and the car was renamed the Hansa 1800. Its more famous 1954 successor, the unibodied Isabella, suffered rushed development and was deemed to have subpar quality. While it was nevertheless Borgward’s most popular model, the Bremen-based company entered bankruptcy in 1961 and with that, the aspirational compact sedan baton was handed off to the BMW neue klasse lineup . Try to imagine a world in which yuppies in the US brag about their Borgwards instead of their BMWs; doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
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I’ve never read a complete description of the Borgward bankruptcy, but seem to remember that there was a lot questionable about it . . . . . . . starting with whether the company should have gone bankrupt in the first place.
Definitely nice, if somewhat overstuffed, cars and a line that certainly deserved better than it got from history. I’ve seen an Isabella or two over the decades, but comparing this to the BMW neue klasse lineup kinda shows which one would have survived into the 70’s no matter what the situation. There was a time when BMW developed amazing cars. Nowadays, it seems to develop Borgwards.
Ironically perhaps, it was Americans who were a key factor in triggering Borgward’s bankruptcy. In 1960, the US import boom went bust (except for VW), and Borgward’s export sales collapsed, exacerbating a liquidity crisis that was already brewing.
Borgward’s problem is that he was trying to do too much; with three major lines of cars, trucks, buses, etc. He was both overly ambitious and overextended, and was not one to take advice from his board or creditors.
It’s true that the liquidation of Borgward may well have been a bit premature, given that all creditors were paid in full, and there was some money left over. But he refused to work with commercial banks, and the state bank that was his sole line of credit wouldn’t increase it.
Borgward came in for withering criticism in the press starting in 1960 for his rather manic ambitions and inflexible management, and that precipitated the crisis. There has long been a conspiracy theory involving BMW, which sounds good, but doesn’t really hold much water.
It’s unlikely that with his inflexible approach to credit (he used suppliers as his main credit source, delaying payments, not cool in Germany) that Borgward’s management style would have allowed him to succeed in an ever-more competitive and international market. But it’s fun to theorize over the possibilities.
Thanks. You started with what I already knew, and added a few details that I didn’t.
This has been a very good week for learning things new. At a historical site in PA this past weekend, I learned that the “Halls of Montezuma”, while true, was not exactly giving credit where all credit was due.
The 1800 seems pretty cool. I’ve read the Isabella histories but I much prefer the predecessor.
Borgward http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borgward for anyone who wants the thumbnail sketch of their history.
The Isabella TS was definitely a pretty coupe, but these seem to have their own style about them. Some have to fall by the wayside, but it would have been interesting to see what came about if the company had survived.
One footnote to the Borgward story that may be worth mentioning: Subaru acquired their flat-four design from Lloyd / Borgward as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
Admittedly, any Subaru engine from the EA82 series (when timing belts replaced timing gears) onward bears less and less relationship to the Borgward units, but the similarities are very noticeable right through the EA81 engines.
Subaru didn’t “acquire” the boxer from Borgward. Subaru looked closely at several boxers, including the Borgward, VW and the Lancia, and designed their own using features and inspirations from all of them.
A quick look at both engines makes that pretty obvious; similarities in general conception, but the details are all pretty much different. Here’s the Borgward boxer.
This is the Lloyd Arabella motor. If Subaru get the boxer from Borgward, it was the Hansa 1100 motor.
Subaru didn’t “get the boxer from Borgward”. Boxer engines had been around for decades; Subaru took a good look at several of them and then designed their own, incorporating some design elements from them. But there are key differences.
There’s not really anything magical or unique about a boxer four.
And here’s the Subaru boxer:
Paul, I’ll need to check my sources on this to confirm (and I fully admit to working from my sometimes less-than-reliable memory here), but my recollection is that the Borgward / Lloyd flat-four was used by Subaru under at least a technology licensing agreement during the development of Subaru’s flat-fours. Agreed that they shopped around when looking for a design, but the timing on Borgward’s collapse was fortuitous for them in that they were able to access the technology easily and relatively inexpensively.
To clarify one point: perhaps ‘acquired’ wasn’t the correct word for me to have used – my intention wasn’t to say that Subaru made a clone or licence-built copy of the Borgward unit, but rather that they had obtained access to certain patents or designs from Borgward that they later incorporated into their own engines. Gear-driven timing was one of those aspects, and pointed to a common link between the two manufacturers’ approaches.
An attractive car which I’ve never seen.The VW Beetle was the most common German car when I was a kid in 60s Britain.I’ve no doubt a Borgward would have been more expensive than the UK opposition which would limit it’s numbers.There was also a lot of anti German feeling for around 20 years after the war though Dad;s elder brother Uncle Larry who spent much of the war on Arctic convoys surprised us all by buying a Beetle.
The Borgward story has a lot in common with the American independent car makers,priced out or swallowed up by the big boys.
There are quite a few Borgwards still alive in NZ they come up for sale in the classic section on Trademe fairly regularly a friend years ago had a Hansa Kombi it was a troublesome car and didnt last long in going order, could have been his lack of mechanical ability, A teacher of mine in primary school drove a Borgward Arrabella for a time while his oval beetle was being hammered back into shape after a minor crash, the beetle took weeks to repair very few parts available for them at the time Ive never seen another live Arrabella since.
Flat fours were around in several cars back in the 50s Jowett used flat twins and fours Subaru likely looked at those too.
Borgward instead of BMW…if only. They gave their cars NAMES! Maybe we wouldn’t have such universal use of alphanumerics among mass-market luxo makes if even one of the Germans didn’t give their car a second license number instead of a model name.
And we would have been spared 35 years of everyone talking about Beemers. 🙂 Kind of a pleasant thought, actually.
Talking about Borgies instead isn’t much of an improvement 🙂 That sounds like it should be a dog breed or something.
Nice one Perry. Never seen one of these in the flesh, but I saw an Isabella in a garage a few weeks ago. CC effect in a minor key. Very curious grille treatment on this Hansa.
I well remember Borgwards , they were very good solid cars .
Too bad they failed & went away .
The right-side hinged hood seems to be less than optimal for curbside repairs in a country that drives on the right side of the street.
They open from either side like Vauxhalls and Internationals or lift off altogether.
The piece did not say exactly when this car debuted, but its slab sides would have been quite cutting edge. Certainly better looking than the early Kaiser, which is probably the US car most siimilar in style.
sometimes, the more you learn the 1960s,the more depressing it gets.
Looking back, it seems this was the decade that uniformity was defined and the last roil of the dice for variety. This defined uniformity excluded interesting concepts such as this, the work Lancia doing, some of Issigonis’s ideas and SAAB’s ideas for example.
The Flat -Four engine was started with the Femsa -Caproni engine , this goes back well before the Borgy engine.
Fiat looked at it . Lancia engineer Fessia liked the design enough to annoy the companies chief engineer at the time to leave.
The Flavia engine is a great one , except no bloody markings for assembly of cams etc.
A 1800cc Flavia injected early car 1966 will tow a trailer at100mph !
Clearly the idea works!
The Lancia Gamma engine which has belt driven cams was clearly looked at by Subaru , an engineer in GB who repairs cars said some parts are interchangeable.