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July 15, 2005, by Bill Cawthon
It's been a while since we checked what's going on at Oddball's Autos and the inventory has grown substantially since our last visit. In fact, it's grown so much, I think I may have to build a new lot.
Among the more recent arrivals are some tiny vehicles from Germany's microcar era. How tiny? The four-passenger Glas Goggomobil is just 400 millimeters (about fifteen inches) longer than a two-passenger Smart Fortwo, but it is actually over 235 millimeters (nine and a quarter inches) narrower and weighs 315 kilograms (693 pounds) pounds less. It's smaller than the original Rover Mini and dwarfed by the new BMW version.
The Goggomobil may be physically small, but it was a giant success. From the time it was introduced in 1954 to the end of production on June 25, 1969, more than 214,000 of the little cars left the Glas factory in Dingolfing, Germany.
Goggomobil traces its roots back to 1883, when Maurus Glas opened an agricultural machinery repair shop in Dingolfing, a municipality in the Isar River region of Lower Bavaria. Seven years later, Hans Glas, one of Maurus' many grandchildren (Hans had 17 brothers and sisters), was born. When Hans grew up, he went to work for Massey Ferguson in Berlin instead of joining the rest of the family at Isaria Maschinenfabrik.
Massey Ferguson sent young Hans to Toronto, Canada, in 1910 and from there he went to the United States to seek his fortune at almost the worst possible time. As a German national in the U.S. during the First World War, Glas had a tough time getting any work at all and was almost destitute for most of the time. It wasn't until the War ended that he was able to find decent employment as a production manager with Harley-Davidson.
In 1924, Hans Glas returned to Germany. The family business had fallen on hard times and Hans took it over, renamed it "Hans Glas GmbH Isaria Maschinenfabrik" and rebuilt it into Germany's largest manufacturer of seeding equipment.
In the late 1930s, Hans was grooming his son Andreas for leadership of the business, but another war changed the company's future.
During World War II, Hans Glas was a member of the SS and, though he was never accused of any war crimes, was later fined for his wartime activities. Andreas Glas served with the Luftwaffe, where he met Karl Dompert, who would later become chief engineer at Glas.
After the war ended, demand for farm equipment went into a steep decline. Andreas visited an agricultural machinery show in Modena, Italy where he was exposed to the wildly successful Vespa motor scooter. Seeing a new business opportunity, Andreas persuaded his father to invest in the production of a similar machine.
In 1951, the first Glas scooter left the Dingolfing works. It was powered by a 125 cc, two-stroke engine and had a three-speed transmission. Andreas named the new Glas scooter was for his youngest son, Hans, whose nickname was Goggo. It is said that Hans Glas, Senior, also liked the name as Goggo was his favorite grandson.
Germans were starved for any kind of cheap motorized transportation and the new Goggo Roller, though it was not as pretty as the Vespa, was very successful. Sales were strong enough that Andreas Glas was able to begin development of a new car.
The German microcars came in many shapes, from the tiny Kleinschnittger and aircraft-inspired Messerschmitt to BMW's Italian transplant, the Isetta Rolling Egg. Andreas realized his best bet was to build a small car that retained the three-box form of a typical family sedan. However, even with that basis, there were a few false starts, including a version with a front-opening door like that on the Isetta. In the end, what appeared was a very small, but very conventional, automobile.
The new car took its first bows at the 1954 IFMA, the international bicycle and motorcycle show. Production began and the first of 174,548 Goggomobil T250s left the assembly line in April 1955, a month ahead of the first BMW Isetta.
The Goggomobil T250 had a two-stroke, two-cylinder 247cc engine designed by Felix Dozekal, formerly the engine designer at Adler motorcycles. The engine's 13.8 horsepower were delivered to the rear wheels by a four-speed transmission. The first T250 came with two rear-hinged "suicide" doors with sliding glass windows and four seats. There was no hood, so the spare tire and any luggage had to be accessed from inside the car. Additional luggage could be accommodated by an optional rack on the cover for the rear-mounted engine and small items could be stowed in part of the engine compartment itself.
The Goggomobil was an ingenious design. A pressed-steel chassis with stiffening ribs reduced body flexing and the independent suspension and high-revving engine received good reviews. The car also had a low center of gravity and drivers enjoyed flinging the little car around. It's a good thing the Goggomobil had good handling; the car was definitely not going to win any pink-slip derbies. Zero-to-sixty times didn't apply as the Goggo's top speed was about 45 miles an hour. Best of all, it had a price equivalent to about US$775.00 and only required 4.4 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers (better than 53 miles per gallon). There was an added benefit for many Germans in that the Goggomobil could be legally operated with a motorcycle license.
The T250 was followed quickly by the T300 with a 297cc engine boasting almost fifteen horsepower that allowed the car to reach the dizzying top speed of 61 mph. There was also a T400 with a 392cc, 20 horsepower engine, but that was only good for a couple more miles per hour. However, most of the Goggomobils sold in the United States were built with the big engine which still got 47 miles per gallon.
The new Goggomobil was a hit. By June 1956, Glas had sold 25,000 cars and was building them at the rate of 170 per day. Shipping Goggos was easy: they were so small, they could be parked sideways on conventional flatcars.
In the fall of 1956, the Goggomobil received some major changes. The sliding side windows were replaced with more conventional ones that raised and lowered with a crank mechanism. A second windshield wiper was added, as were external taillights.
By this time, the little Glas car was being sold or produced under license in thirty-six countries around the world.
Also new for 1956 was a 2+2 coupe and a sort-of-automatic transmission. The stylish little coupe had a decorative horse-collar grille that today is somewhat reminiscent of the Edsel, which actually debuted a year later. The coupe was a premium model, with prices that ran from $900 to $1,000 in Germany. Of course, prices in the U.S. were higher. A 1959 TS400 coupe sold by a Denver, Colorado Plymouth dealer went for about $1,750.00.
Andreas Glas expanded the line beyond cars to include a small delivery van and a pickup. The van, which was introduced in 1957, was developed in response to interest from the German postal service, which ultimately bought over 2,000 of the 3,665 that were produced. The pickup version, which debuted in 1959, was popular with municipalities which used them for streetsweepers and light snow removal.
The Goggomobil was far and away the most successful of the German microcars. On March 28, 1958, the 100,000th Goggomobil left the assembly line and about 280,000 were built during the line's total run.
While engines grew to nearly 600cc and there were other mechanical changes, the last major visible alteration came in 1964, when the suicide doors were replaced by front-hinged versions.
But times change and so do buyer's tastes in cars. As the German economic miracle restored prosperity to an increasing number of Germans, the "Working Man's Porsche" wasn't enough. Glas began to develop stylish new cars with many advanced features. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining Goggomobil production and development of the new Glas automobiles was too much. Glas agreed to be acquired by BMW in November 1966. While the Goggomobil remained in production until 1969, the facility was ultimately converted to production of BMW suspension components.
Andreas Glas remained with BMW until the end of Glas production in 1969. Goggo Glas went to work at BMW in 1968, the same year his grandfather, Hans Glas, died at the age of 78. In 2000, Hans "Goggo" Glas was named to head Complex 2, the BMW facility in Dingolfing that includes the former Glas works, completing the circle that began in 1883.
The Goggomobil sedan and coupe were imported into the U.S. for a number of years. Most often, they were T400 and TS400 models with the largest engine, a special reservoir for the two-stroke engine's oil supply and U.S.-spec 7-inch headlights. However, Road & Track magazine road-tested a T300 sedan in November 1957 and a year later, Motor Life heaped praise on the Goggomobil, saying it would be popular with housewives needed a car for short errands.
The van and pickup were never exported to the U.S., although pre-1968 models could be brought in with no problem.
It's not known how many Goggomobils are still around although there are some still dodging the Hummers on American streets. But it is well-known that a nice selection of Goggomobil cars and vans is on display at the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum in Madison, Georgia, about fifty miles east of Atlanta.
Bruce Weiner is the president of Concord Confections, owner of Dubble Bubble chewing gum, which is now a subsidiary of Tootsie Roll Industries. He bought Fleers Confections, including the Dubble Bubble brand, from Marvel Entertainment in 1987. Mr. Weiner is also a longtime fan of microcars, no matter where they are from. Beginning in the early 1990s, he has assembled one of the world's best collections of microcars. According to the Museum website, the display will be open to the public beginning August first.
In the past couple of years, Brekina has begun making 1:87 scale models of the Goggomobil vehicles. The series began with a Goggomobil Transporter model created for Deutsche Post in 2002. The pickup appeared in 2003. This year, the nice folks in Teningen introduced the 1957 Goggomobil sedan (you can tell because it has two windshield wipers and rear-hinged doors). The model is so tiny I grabbed my digital calipers to see if it was accurate 1:87 scale. I can report the Brekina model is less than a scale inch off from the prototype. Perhaps in the next year or so, Brekina will complete the set with the coupe.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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