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Wilhelm Maybach – ‘the King of Designers 175 Years On


The Maybach legend turns a hundred and seventy-five years old today. We look back at that special history

On 9 February 1846, i.e. 175 years ago, Wilhelm Maybach was born in Heilbronn, Germany. The second-eldest son of a carpenter would go on to influence the development of the car.

A Gottlieb Daimler’s associate until he passed away in 1900, Maybach was gifted with outstanding technical talents. His inventions formed a crucial contribution to making Daimler’s visionary concepts for mobility into a reality. So influential was he, that the Maybach  name lives on as the premium Mercedes-Maybach brand.

Augustus Wilhelm Maybach was Heilbronn carpenter Carl Maybach’s the second-eldest son. The family moved to Stuttgart at the beginning of the 1850s, where Maybach’s mother passed away in 1854, two years before he also lost his father.

Family friends made various efforts to find a home for the orphans, including a newspaper advert placed in “Stuttgarter Anzeiger” on 20 March 1856. Wilhelm Maybach was taken in by Bruderhaus  – or ‘he house of brothers’ in Reutlingen, established by Protestant theologian Gustav Werner and his wife Albertine.


From confectioner to designer

Wilhelm was initially trained at Bruderhaus as a baker and confectioner. However, Pastor Werner saw the boy’s vast technical talent and nurtured it. Consequently, Maybach started an apprenticeship at the drawing office of a machine shop in 1861, with physics and free-hand drawing lessons at the city’s advanced training facility, as well as maths, English and French at secondary school later on.

In 1863, Gustav Werner recruited 29-year old engineer Gottlieb Daimler as an inspector of Bruderhaus’ ‘Vereinigte Werkstätten’ united workshops.That was the beginning of a productive partnership, as the workshop inspector identified and fostered Maybach’s skills.

In September 1869, it was thus a logical consequence for  young designer Maybach to follow Daimler to work at the local design office when Daimler was appointed to the management board of Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft Karlsruhe..

In 1872, both once again took on new jobs and relocated when Daimler was appointed to the management board of Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG established by Nicolaus August Otto as a limited company with  the families of entrepreneurs Langen and Pfeiffer that same year.

Once again Maybach followed Daimler to become head of the Deutz Design department in 1873. He worked on bringing Otto’s four-stroke engine to production maturity. He ran trials with liquid fuel and a converted gas engine in as early as 1875.

In 1876, Deutz sent Maybach on a trip to the United States where he used older Benz brother Karl’s contacts to get in touch with piano builders Steinway & Sons. In 1888, Gottlieb Daimler and Steinway would go on to develop the North American market.

Daimler’s visions and Maybach’s inventions

Daimler already had the vision of a compact, fast-running combustion engine that was also suitable for use in vehicles when he worked at Deutz. However, he was unable to make his ideas a reality at the company. So in mid-1882, Daimler left Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz to pursue his own career in Cannstatt near Stuttgart.

It was at this stage that Maybach and Daimler brought the automotive pioneer’s dream of motorised mobility “on water, on land and in the air” to life. First examples of of fast-running petrol engines were developed at Daimler’s home at Taubenheimstrasse 13 in 1882,.

Along with these ‘grandfather clock’ engines,came the world’s first Reitwagen’ motorcycle in 1885, the world’s first motorboat  in 1886 and, last but not least, the world’s first four-wheel car. Daimler’s 1886 Motorkutsche, 1886. Railway vehicles followed soon after, as did Wölfert’s motorised airship in 1888.

Maybach further advanced recently established automotive technology with designs, such as the four-speed, gear-only transmission featuring movable gear wheels and the two-cylinder V-engine built on licence by Peugeot from 1890. Undeterred by the conflict between Daimler and the company he had established at the beginning of the 1890s,Maybach developed the Phoenix in-line twin-cylinder engine and the spray-nozzle carburettor in his rented Hotel Hermann’s garden hall.

The Phoenix engine enjoyed so much success that Daimler and Maybach were rinstated at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in 1895.

The first modern car

Now technical director at DMG, Wilhelm Maybach continued to provide one pivotal invention after the next – the tube-based radiator in 1897. a four-stroke engine for Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s 1899 airship, DMG’s 1900 honeycomb radiator patent and the first Mercedes 35 hp later that year. Considered to be the first-ever modern car, it was commissioned by Emil Jellinek, Daimler’s most important distributor at the time.

Maybach’s completely new vehicle concept of lightweight design, a high-performance engine with an innovative radiator, la ong wheelbase and low centre of gravity soon established Maybach as the ‘King of Designers”’

In the following years until 1904, Maybach evolved the vehicle concept from the Mercedes Simplex 40 hp to the Simplex 60 hp and Simplex 90 hp. However, following Daimler’s passing on 6 March 1900, Maybach could no longer rely on unconditional support within the company. His situation was further complicated by DMG’s supervisory chair Max von Duttenhofer passing away in 1903.

Maybach was a passionate supporter of motorsport as the driving force for automotive series-production technology. He developed a racing car featuring a six-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft driven by a vertical shaft as well as a high-voltage solenoid ignition with two spark plugs. However, but rather than using Maybach’s cutting-edge creation, a conservative design by Paul Daimler was adopted. Then DMG closed the test centre headed up by Maybach and he left the company in 1907.

New start with airship engines

In 1909 Maybach established Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH with Count von Zeppelin in Bissingen, Germany. The company, managed by Wilhelm’s son Karl Maybach, relocated to Friedrichshafen on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany in 1912. After the end of the First World War, the company, now trading as Maybach-Motorenbau, launched into automotive engineering.

The first series-production Maybach 22/70 hp W 3, was presented in 1921 and remained in production until 1928. Wilhelm Maybach had come full circle over the course of his life.

After leaving DMG, Maybach received numerous awards for his lifetime achievements: the Kingdom of Württemberg appointed him Royal Building Inspector in 1915, in 1916 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Stuttgart Institute of Technology. Last but not least, in 1922, the Association of German Engineers awarded him the golden Grashof medal, it’s highest honours.

Wilhelm Maybach passed away on 29 December 1929. He was laid to rest in Cannstatt’s Uff cemetery alongside Gottlieb Daimler. In his last year, Maybach witnessed the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship’s flight around the world propelled by his V12 engines. Maybach was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1996 and the European Automotive Hall of Fame in 2006.

The Mercedes-Maybach brand

Automotive engineering at Maybach came to an end in 1941. However, in 2002 the Maybach name was reborn as Mercedes’ premium  brand. Model series 240 Maybach 62 and Maybach 57 luxury saloons redefined the pinnacle of automotive engineering.

The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class arrived in In November 2014, since when the brand has been synonymous highly exclusivity cars with unique levels of comfort and elegant design based on the cutting-edge tech. The range also grew to include the 2015Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman and the S 600 Pullman Guard with special protection the following year.

Today, the all-new series 223 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class launched late in 2020 (above) continues with this outstanding tradition alongside the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4matic.