Josef Ganz’s Maikäfer “Volkswagen” “Beetle” Prototype

This video is not in stereo 3D

I’m in the process of reviewing the English edition of Paul Schilperoord’s book on Josef Ganz, an important automotive engineer and journalist in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Ganz was an outspoken advocate of the need for a German “volkswagen”, an inexpensive and lightweight “people’s car”. Schilperoord lays out a convincing argument that Ganz’s designs for such a car were likely to have influenced what Ferdinand Porsche created as the Volkswagen Beetle. Oldtimer TV, a German classic car site, had this video of the prototype that Ganz developed in 1931 for the Adler company, a car that Ganz nicknamed the Maikäfer, or May Beetle, because it looked like a bug. Ganz, more than anyone in Germany, popularized the notion of a “volkswagen” and that is what he called his cars. This was three years before Porsche started working on the KdF/Volkswagen project at the behest of Adolph Hitler.

Read the rest of this post and a Google translation of the transcript of the video’s narration below the jump.

Ganz also had a role in the development of the Mercedes Benz 130H and Zundapp 12, both of which have been suggested as precursors to the VW Beetle. The Maikäfer prototype is in the hands of a private collector in Germany, having been restored in the 1990s. Considering that it has a 200cc single cylinder engine and is 80 years old it gets around pretty well, though those tires are pretty skinny. If you note, the rear track is much narrower than that of the front wheels. That’s because the Maikäfer has no differential. Other than that’s it’s rather advanced for its day.. The layout is midengined and the car does have four wheel independent suspension, rare in that day, using swing axles in the back. It starts with a pull on a hand lever. Power is transmitted from the clutch via a chain to the rear drive, which includes a single inboard drum brake. Though in the 1960s Ralph Nader’s attack on the Corvair and Beetle gave swing axles a bad name, it should be remembered that for 30 years, most cars with independent rear suspension used them. Ganz was the go to guy when it came to swing axles, working as a consultant to both Mercedes-Benz and BMW.


In the first golden age of the automobile at the beginning of last century, Joseph Ganz was editor-in-chief of the magazine Auto-Kritik. The extremely resourceful journalist had only one goal – he wanted to construct the perfect automobile. It should be small, lightweight, inexpensive, convenient and efficient. In 1931 Josef finally presented the prototype of the whole “beetle”. Many connoisseurs tody see the basic concept of ​​the Maikafer as the origin of the Volkswagen Beetle.

Joseph Ganz was born in Budapest and already full of 12 years to let the technical genius patented a device for protecting electric trams. 1929 was quite taken by the German motorcycle factory Ardie under contract. The aim was to produce a people’s car. With his extensive knowledge of the automotive technology of his time as an engineer and Joseph had been very specific approaches. Ubedingt should be integrated into a system of double pendulum axis in the new vehicle. He had seen this when Tratra 11, with whom he had even made stair tests to test the functionality of the axle.

The year 1930 was its first small car project in 1931, who works at the Adler built prototype, nicknamed the Maikafer (“bug”). It was the first vehicle with an independent front suspension and double swing axle at the rear axle. Some technical innovations influenced this small vehicle. The steering is actuated by a control ring gear, the pedals are called transverse vibration when pressing the pedals and swing sideways. This technique is motivated by the simple central tube frame.

The small single-cylinder two-stroke engine is located centrally in the rear on the rear axle. The cooling system works on a water cooler. The 200 cc engine is started by a starter lever on the driver’s side. The small open car can reach a top speed of 45 km / h, is very agile and it has a very outstanding roadholding.

The body is very simple and placed on the central tube frame. The low profile of the beetle needs no doors. At the front you can see the cooler stylized abstract beetle as its logo.

The little “bug” showed a great potential to be a Volkswagen. Joseph had quite a lot of plans with this technique. There were already plans to further body styles and vehicle types in the drawer. His genius was the origin of some car models, such as also for the Mercedes 170H.

But the second World War II and the Nazi regime have been fatal to his story. He had to flee from Germany and fled to Switzerland. After the war Joseph tried his full rights to the patents, the latter during the second World War II were taken to get back to the initiated legal action. Despite great tenacity was very unsuccessful and never received the right to call herself as the inventor of the VW Volkswagen.

Technical data: Josef Ganz “bug”

Motor: 1-cylinder 2-stroke engine
Displacement: 200 cc
Cooling: Water
Bore x Stroke: k.A.
Compression ratio: k.A.
Mixture formation: k.A.
Lubrication: k.A.
Power: k.A.
Top speed: about 45 km / h
Acceleration 0-100 km / h: k. A.
Transmission: k.A.
Voltage: k.A.
Bodywork: Bodywork on gestezt on tubular frame
Front: Drum Brakes
Rear: drum brakes
Wheelbase: k.A.
Height: k.A.
Width: k.A.
Length: k.A.
Front track: NA
Rear track width: k. A.
Weight: k.A.

Year: 1931

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