Museum Report: Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum, Bavariapark, Munich

The Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum (Transport Section of the German Museum) is the transport history and technology section of the national Deutsches Museum of Science and Technology, itself in central Munich. The Verkehrszentrum is housed the suburb of Theresienhohe, a 15 minutes subway ride from the city centre, so a recent visit to the city for the Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt) seemed like a good time to explore a little further.

The museum itself is in the halls built originally for the Munich Trade Fair and which date from 1908. The halls were permanent structures built for international trade fairs and have been fully restored and gently re-purposed for the museum, whilst retaining the historical feel and design of the original layout. The net result is a very attractive site (and sight), with plenty of space, natural light and atmosphere.

The collection is intended to tell the story of transport in Germany, over the last 100 or so years, rather than dazzle us with superlative examples of coachbuilding and engineering.  So, we get examples of subway trains and trams from Munich and elsewhere, (including the chance to “drive” one, sadly closed when we visited), mainline trains and coaches, a history of shipping and some special racing cars. And a tunnel slide from the first floor. No, I don’t know why either, but it worked quite well.

Let’s take a brief wander through the cars. The cars were mostly laid out in a traffic jam mimicking arrangement – not original or unusual but this one worked pretty well. One consequence of the strategy of telling the history of German motoring is that many of the cars were from what I find the most interesting period of German motoring history – the immediate after-war years of reconstruction, the period of the Wirtshaftswunder or economic miracle.

There is one model that has to appear to any such account or collection, and the Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum does not disappoint. This is a 1949 German market VW Standard Limousine, or saloon, with an 1131cc engine and 25bhp. All 180,000 of this specification produced from 1948 to 1953 were grey or black.

At the beginning of the 1950s, for many life in Germany was still dominated by the basic acts of reconstruction, and something like this 1953 Goliath GD750 would have been kept busy, either keeping daily life going or in that reconstruction. Goliath was a brand of the Borgward Group, and these compact cars and commercials were fitted with a 400 or 500cc two cylinder, two stroke petrol engines, with around 14bhp, driving the rear axle. In theory, these could carry 750kg (1650lb), but you suspect hills and speed could be challenges. Production in all forms ended in 1957.

Also from 1953 is this Fiat 500C. The 500C was the last evolution of the original 1936 Fiat 500 “Topolino”, with revised front styling bringing a more contemporary look. Power came from a 569cc engine driving the rear wheels suspended with semi-elliptic springs, and versions were also built in Heilbronn in Germany under the NSU-Fiat brand.

One name that appears frequently in the immediate pre-war history of the German industry is Hans Ledwinka, for the influence he had on Ferdinand Porsche and the design of the VW Beetle, and here is a clue to what he was doing after the war. It is a 1957 Victoria 250 Spatz (or sparrow) roadster. The original idea was for the suspension to be mounted directly to the glassfibre body, bypassing the need for a chassis, and using only a single rear wheel. This proved to be inadequate and Ledwinka was hired to design a new tube frame chassis and suspension.It may have had the looks, but 10bhp does not a sports car make. In reality, it was an open top competitor for the likes of the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, but ultimately unsuccessful.

This Kabinenroller is a 1953-55 KR175, based on an earlier invalid car design. After the war, the Messerschmitt aircraft company were obviously looking for work and building something like this met that need. The engine was a 173cc single cylinder two stroke air cooled, produced by Findel &Sachs, now part of the ZF group. Steering used a bar, rather than a wheel, and the whole configuration was closer to a motorcycle with a body than a car. An electric starter was an option in initial versions.

Seating for two was in a tandem format, reducing width and frontal area.

One car I was keen to see was this Lloyd LP400, with its transversely mounted two cylinder air cooled two stroke engine. It had 386cc, 13bhp and a three speed gearbox without synchromesh. Early examples had a timber frame with synthetic leather outer panels, which were gradually replaced by steel panels over the first year of production. This car has the synthetic material on the roof only – this was the last panel to be replaced with steel. Production continued to 1957, with over 100,000 copies putting Lloyd in third place behind VW and Opel. Lloyd was another part of the Borgward group, which failed in controversial circumstances in 1961, and Lloyd production ceased.

By the 1960s, things in Germany were looking up. Average purchasing power for working Germans rose by 73% during the 1950s, and it was starting to show.

But, at the budget end of the market, the Goggomobil was still doing some business. This 1964 Goggomobil T250 was typical, being one of nearly 300,000 manufactured up to 1969, though BMW purchased the business for its production capacity in 1966. A 250cc air cooled two stroke engine was later superseded by 300cc and 400cc versions. Coupe and van versions were also offered.

Perhaps the most 1960s car of all from Germany was the VW Karmann Ghia. The museum had this excellent example of the later VW Type 3 based Type 34 Karmann Ghia, with the 1500c engine and styling by Sergio Satorelli. This is the car known as the European Ghia in the US, to distinguish it from the earlier Type 14 Karmann Ghia.

This 1963 BMW 2600L with its 2.6 litre V8 engine was the first German eight cylinder car since the war, being a renamed BMW 502. This particular example was previously the official car of the Mayor of Munich before being sold to a private owner in 1970 and then to the museum in 2010.

This Opel GT, with the retractable headlights rolled to the illumination position, dates from 1968 to 1973, and needs no introduction here.

It was lined up with a (European) Ford Capri; in this case a 2600RS with the 2.6 litre Weslake tuned Ford Cologne V6. Effectively, this variant was a homologation special to qualify the Capri for the European Touring Car Championship, which the car won in 1971 and 1972.

Germany is of course one country now; it was two for many years and the principal volume car produced in the east was the Trabant 601 and its derivatives.

The museum had this example, neatly lined up with an early VW Golf GTi.

Following the Golf on the autobahn could well have been a BMW 525i patrol car like this. There is something especially German and correct about a green and white BMW motorway patrol car, and if I were to be a motorway patrol officer, it could well be one I’d choose to have.

But to do that I’d have to move to Germany. If that involved using this Bussing truck, that I can see a plan coming together.

Two final cars, to show how the 1930s had some contrasts. First, an Auto Union Type C 1936/37 grand prix car, featuring a V16 supercharged 6 litre engine. Wheelspin at 100mph was a common event. The engine was producing something like 520bhp and the team won the equivalent of the Grand Prix championship in 1936, and ran Mercedes close in 1938. This example was restored by Audi in 1980, and is the only remaining example.

Alongside it is this was an Alfa Romeo. In this case, a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport raced and owned by Tazio Nuvolari which was given an aerodynamic body by a German engineer Walter Freund after Nuvolari had finished racing it. Freund simply placed the new body over the existing original body to give the aerodynamic effect he wanted. I guess that’s one way to do it, even if Colin Chapman may have had other suggestions.

Our visit was, as always, time limited – there’s enough here to keep most Curbivores busy for a day and this is just a sample,  and overall, this is an excellent museum in a great city.

Here’s to the next visit!