In its heyday, it employed 23,000 people. More than one million vehicles rolled off its production lines. Now, after more than half a century, one of the most revered names in the German car industry, Borgward, is reborn.
It‘s an unprecedented event in automotive history, and represents the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of groundwork by the industrial Executive Karlheinz L. Knoess and Christian Borgward, grandson of the legendary company founder Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Borgward.
‘Perhaps through the influence of my grandfather‘s history and my father‘s example, we believe that, given the will to succeed, you can achieve anything. You have to set a target and pursue it with all your heart, and if you have a dream, as we do, you will fight for it. Everything is then possible,’ Christian Borgward says, as he prepares to share his 21st century vision for this most visionary of car companies.
When Borgward ceased trading back in the summer of 1961, it marked the end of an era of distinguished engineering and design creativity. Between 1919 and 1961 Carl F. W. Borgward emerged from his modest background to create a corporate empire to rival some of the biggest names in the business. In fact, during the 1950s, Borgward was the third largest automotive manufacturer in Germany, and pioneer of the affordable “premium” saloon paradigm. But the Group’s line-up also encompassed small and medium-sized cars, as well as light and heavy duty commercial vehicles. Amongst the company’s biggest successes were the Hansa 1500, the P 100, and the prestigious Isabella – a true brand hero whose coupé sibling ranked among the most desirable cars of the period, and remains highly sought-after by the cognoscenti today. It’s an unprecedented event in automotive history, and represents the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of groundwork by the industrial Executive Karlheinz L. Knöss and Christian Borgward, grandson of the legendary company founder Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Borgward. The goal has now been reached. In March 2015, Borgward is attending the Geneva Motor Show, its first appearance at the celebrated automotive salon since 1960. Borgward’s cars were regarded as inventive, vibrant, and luxurious. These are the values the company espouses now as it prepares to engage with a wildly different automotive landscape. Borgward is back!
A GLOBAL BRAND
Aside from German engineering prowess and technical innovation, the name Borgward reflected an international approach from the very beginning. As early as the late 1920s, the company was supplying the Polish post office with the Goliath Standard three-wheeler.
Bolstered in particular by the German economic miracle, the enterprise developed into a global corporation overseeing a broad product offering that was split across three brands – Lloyd small cars), Goliath (lower mid-range cars, light delivery trucks), and Borgward (mid-range and luxury cars, trucks).
The company’s location close to the deep-sea port in Bremerhaven was especially advantageous. By the middle of the decade, one out of every three cars made in the Bremen area was being shipped abroad. A Borgward catalogue of 1959 listed more than 2,200 authorised dealers and workshops worldwide, covering every continent. From 1955 onwards the export ratio of the Isabella was further fuelled by strong demand from the United States. In fact, after Germany the US became the second largest market for this most beautiful of Borgward models.
In the record-breaking year 1959, when the Group built more than 100,000 vehicles the export ratio across all of Borgward’s vehicle series reached 63.5 per cent. Some 35.6 per cent of all the cars exported by the Group were headed for the USA. At the end of the 1950s, measured by the proportion of output exported, more Borgward Isabellas were sold abroad than any other German-built car.
The new Borgward badge symbolises the beginning of a new era for the time-honoured brand – it will be a prominent feature on the front of all new Borgward vehicles. Its contemporary three-dimensional design immediately defines the brand’s mission. The new logo presents Borgward as an aspirational and dynamic brand bristling with highly innovative technology, creative design, and a thoroughly German sense of quality.
Its diamond shape is a clear interpretation of the world-famous historic Borgward trademark. The diamond consists of four triangles, two of which are coloured red – a reference to the flag of the German city of Bremen, where Carl F. W. Borgward established his company in the 1920s. The red segments are set off against triangular voids, which distinctively add depth to the badge while revealing the car’s underlying paint finish at the same time.
The company’s design chiefs have sympathetically refined both the fundamental shape and the colours of the logo in a visual and tactile celebration of the brand. The elegant curves of the rounded diamond co-exist in harmony with the crisp edges of the triangular internal segments. Subtle reflections and shadows on the surfaces, which retain their effect even when the badge is printed on paper, emphasise the logo’s sculpted, physical quality. The BORGWARD caption is self-confident and prominently positioned on the broad, silver crosspiece of the diamond. Its stylish, timeless letters are stamped deep in the metal.
In summary, the chic silver diamond combines all the elements of the logo in a balanced artwork – an unmistakable brand badge thoughtfully re-interpreted by Borgward in compliance with contemporary visual and design trends.
“Ulrich Walker describes his work philosophy, which he had kept for many years, as ‘double-C’: in an environment full of challenges and changes only intercultural flexibility and cooperation can lead to success. “I’m honored to lead this respected German brand into the future. BORGWARD is a legendary global brand which has set industrial milestones and created brilliant stories in history. Several of its innovations and classic cars have been widely acclaimed in the industry and I am confident that BORGWARD will win back its place in the international automotive industry. We will work hard to satisfy our customers with aesthetic design, highest quality as well as innovative and sustainable technology. The Borgward Group AG with its HQ in Germany will provide a wide range of products engineered and designed in Germany and will offer its customers accessible premium.”
“I have always much admired my grandfather’s tremendous achievements and life’s work. The Borgward company history made a huge impression on me because the firm’s success was built on the dreams of just one man. It was his will, courage, and energy that within 40 years created an enterprise that sold more than a million vehicles worldwide and employed in excess of 20,000 people. I was always astonished by how much one man can accomplish if he has a dream and pursues it to the end.“
Karlheinz L. Knöss
“Unique companies and brands are characterised by passion, a pioneering spirit and enduring values. Borgward personified these attributes instilled by the strong and single-minded personality of Carl F. W. Borgward, his ideas, his products, and his visionary business leadership. However, persistent success and focused performance do not always guarantee an agreeable climate, as Carl F. W. Borgward discovered to his cost. But his lifetime achievement, the creation of a German brand enjoying international popularity and recognition, with the potential to succeed in the future, has always been my strongest motivation.”
We want to inspire people with the products we bring to the market in the same way that old Borgward cars continue to inspire us today.
Einar J. Hareide, Head of Design
Einar J. Hareide
“Borgward cars had a very strong attitude that is still appealing today. It was a combination of elegance and accessibility and not necessarily about a certain shape or design. Borgward set new standards for the middle-class vehicle segment, and this is something we would like to carry forward with what we call accessible premium.”
While it was a brave and self-confident act just a year after the end of the First World War, founding an automotive supplier to produce radiators was only an interim step for Carl F. W. Borgward. The 29-year-old engineer wanted to design and build cars – nothing else.
The famous Blitzkarren (“Lightning Cart”) he produced in 1924 marked the starting point. It fulfilled the need for a cheap means of inner-city transportation and paved the way for a string of vehicles, which by the end of the decade had captured a 25 per cent share of the light commercial vehicle market. Borgward’s partner, the businessman Wilhelm Tecklenborg, sold the licence for the Blitzkarren to the Deutsche Reichspost, which used the engaging little truck to collect mail from Bremen’s post boxes. When a new name was proposed for the truck, the employees were in favour of Lilliput but Borgward, always a big thinker, decided on Goliath instead. Four years later, an entire generation of greengrocers, bakers, farmers, and tradesmen took to the wheel of the new Goliath.
Carl F. W. Borgward could have taken the easy option in the aftermath of the Second World War, by recommencing production of his extremely popular pre-war vehicles. As a general rule, German carmakers adopted a cautious approach to developing new technologies at the time. As a restless and visionary engineer, however, Carl F. W. Borgward was looking far beyond the horizon.
Pontoon bodies were becoming familiar in the US, so why not adopt this concept in Europe? He began post-war production with a completely new vehicle – ambitiously setting high standards for other manufacturers to follow. The Hansa 1500, presented in Geneva back in 1949, was the first European vehicle to have a pontoon body with integral wings – it established another key landmark in the history of automotive design.
Carl F. W. Borgward was a pioneer. Being the first to market with either a technology or a product idea remained a motivating force throughout the brand’s history. While tirelessly examining fresh opportunities, he was consistently creative and always striving to develop new solutions.
Premiered in 1952, the Goliath GP 700E anticipated a technology that was not adopted in mass production until the end of the 20th century. Back then, almost 50 years earlier, Carl F. W. Borgward first became enthusiastic about the potential of direct fuel injection systems. They could dramatically improve consumption, drivability and emissions, especially in conjunction with the two-stroke engines that were commonplace in 1952. The Goliath GP 700E was a sensation and set a milestone in automotive history; it was the first regular production car with direct fuel injection offered motorists an incredible 30 per cent reduction in fuel consumption compared with a carburettor version. Overrun fuel cut-off reduced emissions of the car’s neat 700 cc 29 hp two-stroke engine.
For some, manual gearchanges erode the quality of luxury motoring. Although widely accepted today, an automatic was a radical concept in the early 1950s – at the time, no European car manufacturer offered one.
In 1953, the Borgward Hansa 2400 became the first luxury car to afford this extra option. The innovative three-speed transmission with torque converter was a complete in-house development – pioneering thinking at its best.
Iconic is an over-used adjective, but not when it comes to the Borgward Isabella. It is a car that combines the German passion for precise engineering with a beautiful and functional design.
Sixty years ago, mid-sized family cars were expected to offer space for five people including luggage, and their interiors were usually characterised by a relentlessly sober atmosphere.
Carl F. W. Borgward disputed this orthodoxy. Why should a family car not be a pleasure to drive and look at? The Borgward Isabella opened up a new segment and featured attributes that could thus far only be found in luxury vehicles – sportiness, desirability, spaciousness and reliability. With an output of 60 hp, the Borgward Isabella outperformed its direct mid-sized competitors in 1954 by almost 50 per cent.
As the first genuine family sports car to offer outstanding performance, it set standards in its segment and marked the beginning of a new era in the automotive market. Like its predecessor, the 1955 Isabella TS, which developed 75 hp, pursued the family sports concept and offered improved performance without compromising safety or reliability. The longevity of its 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine was legendary.
The Isabella derivatives were the result of innovative engineering and open-minded thinking. Why not also offer a coupé for even more driving pleasure? Or a convertible? And wouldn’t an estate car benefit from the diverse nature of the Isabella’s character? This expanded line-up reflected the further development of a groundbreaking idea and Borgward’s ambition to challenge existing boundaries and compromises – long before it became the norm, the Isabella range exemplified diversity.
The Isabella also established the excellent reputation of Borgward cars around the world – a reputation that has lived on for half a century. Carl F. W. Borgward’s infallible instinct for latent market niches helped to achieve the biggest success in Borgward’s history – in all, more than 200,000 Isabellas were sold.
Carl F. W. Borgward was a doer. For him, hesitation was an alien concept. This attitude stayed with him throughout his working life, from 1919 until 1961. Pride in his personal performance and that of his entire team was a core trait of the Borgward brand. It also provided the springboard for the company – the third largest market player in Germany in the late 1950s – to investigate new, outstanding solutions.
The sumptuous six-cylinder P 100 managed to combine comfort and safety in equal measure and, even 55 years after its launch, its technical specification remains impressive. It was the first European car to feature revolutionary, self-levelling pneumatic suspension, ensuring that the ride height remained constant, irrespective of the load and driving conditions.
Success on the world’s racing circuits is the ultimate proof of a manufacturer’s engineering capabilities. Encouraged by the positive response to the debut of the Hansa 1500 at the Geneva Motor Show in 1949, Carl F. W. Borgward decided there and then to use the new model as the basis for a racing car. In August 1950, the INKA set twelve international records in Montlhéry in France.
Its success served as an incentive and led to the design of a new chassis and a modified 1.5-litre engine for the 1953 motosport season.
The Borgward Hansa 1500 RS emerged from the 1,000-kilometre race at the Nürburgring as class winners, and finished third overall behind a 4.5-litre Ferrari and a Jaguar.
To demonstrate the Hansa 1800 diesel’s performance, the motorsport division installed the 42 hp unit in the sports body. The first-ever diesel coupé reached a maximum speed of 155 km/h (96 mph) and set two new world records for diesel-engined cars.
Legendary was the 1953 Carrera Panamericana, with 2 Hansa 1500 RS competing against the Porsche Spyders. It would have ended with a class victory –if the leading Borgward had not exceeded the three-hour time limit for the stage by a mere seven seconds. In the same year, Borgward entered two cars in the 24 Heures du Mans.
Borgward also recorded notable successes in touring car racing, including a particularly remarkable one in 1954, when a more or less standard-spec Isabella finished the Carrera Panamericana in sixth place in the European touring car class.
In 1956, the testing division in Bremen set about developing a 1.5-litre Isabella-based four-valve engine with fuel injection and dual ignition. The powerplant initially developed 150 hp and powered the Borgward RS to numerous class victories. In 1959 it was ideal for the newly established 1.5-litre Formula 2. Stirling Moss was driving a Cooper-Borgward and recorded four wins in the first four races. The famous race-driver is quoted as saying that Formula 2 meant little to him at the time – until he sat in the Cooper with the Borgward engine.
Return of a legend
Weighing in at just 650 kilogrammes and generating an output of 165 hp, the Borgward Hansa RS 1500 was the most feared opponent of the 135 hp Porsche 550 Spyder in the 1.5-litre class. The Hansa RS also had a 1.5-litre engine, which powered the aluminium racer to more than 155 mph – and this at the end of the 1950s. “The engine was brilliant,” says the owner Ralf Jüttner, “simply an outstanding performer.” This is the view of an expert – as managing director of Joest Racing, he is responsible for Audi’s Le Mans entries. Motor racing is in his blood: In 1949, his father Fritz was a member of Borgward’s racing division and a Borgward driver.
It was Fritz Jüttner who rescued the Borgward RS – without an engine – from the remnants of the racing division. Once a suitable power unit was found, a restoration project spanning several years started. From the 1970s onwards, Fritz Jüttner frequently took to the wheel of the RS again in vintage car races. He was joined by his son Ralf, who also helped out in the pits. When Fritz Jüttner passed away in 1985, Ralf inherited the sports car that was sitting in his father’s garage. When it’s not out on the racetrack, the Borgward Hansa RS 1500 nowadays can be admired in Hamburg’s Prototyp Car Museum.
LOYALTY, ABOVE AND BEYOND
There can be only one reason for remaining loyal to a marque last seen 50 years ago: true devotion. Committed enthusiasts have been responsible for preserving the memory of Borgward cars over a period of several decades. They have kept the brand alive – and the legendary cars on the road.
Henry Preneux still fondly recalls the moment he fell in love with his first Borgward. A businessman in the suburb of Recklinghausen, where he grew up and attended school, owned an ivory-coloured Isabella TS de Luxe. “I walked past it every day on my way to primary school,” explains the 66-year-old. “I knew, of course, that this Isabella was a genuinely fast car, but I was also captivated by its beautiful curves.” His passion remains.
Henry, a parts dealer and respected restorer of Borgwards, had to wait more than 25 years before he could acquire a Borgward of his own. Initially intended as a hobby, the car ultimately changed the businessman’s life. The deciding factor was a visit to a vintage car market. “I was immediately aware of the lack of organisation,” he recalls, “And I wanted to improve the situation.”
At the age of 37, he decided to take the plunge. He resigned from his secure and well-paid job and, with the support of his wife Angelika, placed his faith entirely in Borgward.
As well as making reproduction parts, Henry dedicated his labour to restoring historic Borgward vehicles from scratch.
Henry cherishes the contacts he has established with Borgward fans all over the world. Many of those named in his card file of 3,500 addresses, some as far afield as Israel, are now close friends.
“From my sitting room to the workshop is just a ten-metre walk,” he says. Over a period of 30 years he has fully restored more than 65 Borgwards.
For Henry, Borgward is epitomised by the Isabella. He is particularly fond of two cars: the as-new estate he has been driving for more than 30 years, and an unprepossessing saloon that stands rather forlorn on the fringes of his property. “That’s my first Isabella, which I purchased in 1982 – I sold it two years later.” He was recently able to buy the car back. Preneux’s next big project is to restore to original condition the Isabella that wrote the first chapter of his story.
The make of 20-year-old metalworker Oskar Pfeffer’s first car was never in doubt: It had to be an Isabella. Even as a young man, he was an ardent admirer of the marque and its founder Carl F. W. Borgward. In 1960, the newly-wed Oskar was keen to purchase a car that was roomy but also sporty at heart. Unable to afford a new Isabella, he travelled from his hometown of Frankfurt to Wiesbaden with a friend and purchased a standard 1954 Isabella for 1,500 Deutschmarks. On the drive home, his friend’s Opel could not keep pace with the new acquisition.
From those days onwards, Oskar’s enthusiasm for the marque has never waned. Even the company’s collapse in 1961 did not shake his faith – he established a network of Borgward devotees and in the Sixties gradually became involved in buying and selling a variety of Borgward models and relics that had lost their popular appeal. Even when the family moved to the USA for six years, he continued to expand his collection by purchasing exported Borgwards.
Upon returning from the States, his Borgward collection now shelters as many as 30 cars. Among them are an extremely rare Hansa 2400 Pullman – Oskar is the only owner in the world to possess all three variants in a roadworthy condition – and the last-ever registered P 100, which even now has driven only 60,000 kilometres. In recent years the now 74-year-old has begun to reduce the size of his collection. “Carl F. W. Borgward has shaped my entire life,” concludes Oskar Pfeffer. With his enthusiasm for the company’s history undiminished, one wish in particular remains, namely for Borgward to build cars again.
Ulrich Koböke is owner of one of the largest collections of Borgward model cars. But the 69-year-old does not share the fanaticism of many collectors. He simply sees himself as a Borgward devotee who has been collecting models since childhood – no matter if they are 50- or 60-year-old originals or the recent 1:43-scale models made in China. “I just enjoy the everyday company of all these Borgwards,” he explains.
His collection does contain some very rare specimens, including 1:43-scale plastic Isabella and Isabella Coupé models displayed on their small cardboard boxes bearing the Borgward logo – formerly produced plastic models as promotional gifts for Borgward customers.
Ulrich’s passion for Borgward is steeped in family tradition. His father was a glazing merchant, who owned not only Borgward delivery trucks, but also an Isabella for family use. After school, Ulrich frequently took to the road in the Borgward B 611 Transporter to deliver panes of glass to customers. After Borgward’s bankruptcy, only the model cars remained as a keepsake.
In the mid-Seventies, however, Ulrich began to buy time-worn Borgwards for restoration as a hobby with friends. When visiting parts markets and vintage car fairs, he also continuously added to his collection of model cars.
Over the years Ulrich has extended his collection of full-scale Borgward as well. His favourite is a 1959 Isabella Coupé Cabriolet, acquired in 1982 to fulfil a long-held ambition. He is also the proud owner of a rare B 611 delivery truck built in 1961 – the very same model in which he made his earlier deliveries. The Borgward enthusiast and wine connoisseur would never contemplate selling the Cabriolet. He comments, “Taking in the fresh air of a summer evening while cruising the country lanes of Paderborn in an open-top Isabella is one of life’s unmissable pleasures.”