While Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen are now among the world’s most well-known brands, German automakers didn’t always rate highly among American consumers. They fared particularly badly, in fact, when they first appeared on U.S. shores in the mid-1950s; the microcars, subcompacts, and compacts the German marques offered were simply too small in the eyes of American consumers. In addition, many German manufacturers offered horizontally-opposed two-cylinder, two-stroke engines. At a time when stateside consumers preferred full-size cars packing powerful, overhead-valve V-8s, these unorthodox imports seemed barely more than glorified lawnmowers.
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The NSU Prinz TT/TTS rear engine series deserves a special mention. They had air-cooled OHC fours ranging, over the years, from 1000 to 1200 cc. They were absolute rockets in their race classes and looked and sounded wild, typically bright orange, with wide tires, flared fenders, and the rear lid kept slightly open to improve air flow. They were famous for ripping around corners on three wheels. And Friedel Muench built the Muench Mammut (Mammoth) TTS motorcycle using 1200cc TTS engines. Good times! 🐵
NSU would have had a hit on their hands with the Prinz were it not for the cars propensity to catch on fire. DKW liked to tell people that their name stood for "Das Kline Wunder" - the little wonder - but I suspect your version is the truth. And I can still remember the Borgward I drove past everyday on the way to high school - nice car.
In 1962, a college friend at ND State University had a Goggomobil at the same time I had an Isetta 300. One night we drove them on a dozen or so laps around the quad. The campus cops were frustrated because their sedans were too big to fit and couldn't chase us. It was easy enough to find us, and we were properly lectured the next morning.
In 1968, I had a Goliath. It was a 1960's model that had a pancake 4. It looked like a VW air cooled engine, however, it had water cooled cylinders, a radiator and the water pump was mounted on the back of the generator. It had a 4 speed column mounted shifter, front wheel drive. It went great in the snow, but didn't stop and better than the cars of the day. Wish I still had that car, as it was unique, and looked much better with a different grille treatment than the picture shows.
My first car was a Borgward Isabella. It was quite a nice package with surprising performance for its market segment. Borgward had quite a racing history and even built a 5-liter, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve, direct-injected, dual-ignition engine that enabled Cooper to win the International Cup for F1 Manufacturers in 1959. If the company’s autocratic owner had been less stubborn and more politically adroit, it is quite possible Borgward could have grown into a manufacturer similar to BMW today.
My brother has a 1967 Glas 1700 in Pipestone Minnesota (he bought it in California several years ago). The engine has a belt driven overhead cam engine and I believe that is why BMW bought the Glas company for the patent