The German marque Borgward has been resurrected from the dead. This is not particularly uncommon amoung British sportscar manufacturers, but when it happens for an old and traditional German brand aiming for the solid middleclass market, that truly is a rarity.
It was in 1919 that the charismatic industrialist Carl F.W. Borgward started his adventure around his passion for the automobile. It didn’t take long before his creations became a synonym for the quietly stylish, just as they were built around advanced technology for their time. The Isabella range is perhaps their best known model, and is by many regarded as one of the most elegant cars of its era. Then there’s the Borgward 2400 which was a very early bid for a fastback saloon, and was even available with an automatic transmission of Borgwards own design and construction. It’s successor, the P100, was one of the fastest cars in its class and was equipped with a pneumatic suspension which included innovative solutions to prevent – or at least minimise – how much the car would roll during cornering and dip during braking.
However, it would appear that this passion for the art of ingenuity contributed to the demise of Borgward as an automobile manufacturer. Each department within the company had their own separate technical and resources departments, for which the common denominator was that they were all big spenders. By 1961 it was sadly all over as Borgward went bankrupt after a highly controversial article accused the management of being incompetent and the bank account of being empty. “Der Speigel” – the magazine responsible for the long and detailed article – had a rather unrefined and clearly biased approach to both the subject, and not least the manner in which they portrayed the car manufacturer’s founder, Carl Borgward, on their cover – big cigar and all… The article cut right to the bone, attacking both his style of management and the company’s finances. It went viral and they managed to influence the mood of the public to such an extent, that it in turn led to the creditors eventually declaring the company insolvent and bankrupt. However, in the aftermaths of it all, there were several indications that Borgward might not have been technically insolvent at all, and despite bank loans and diminishing sales, the closure of the company hadn’t been the only option. In hindsight, many are of the opinion that it was Carl Borgward’s hard and unwavering management style which gave him so many critics and enemies, and that this ultimately cost him his life’s work. The case has never been fully resolved and there are still to this day numerous documents from it which can be found on the internet where the fairness and legitimacy of the bankruptcy are still discussed.
Borgward’s last model was introduced at the 1959 International Motor Show in Frankfurt, with production commencing early in 1960 – just eight months before that fatal article in “Der Spiegel”. The model was called the P100 and was the successor to the flamboyant and range-topping Hansa 2400 Pullman. The P100 was to compete directly against Mercedes-Benz who up through the fifties had cornered the market of large, luxurious saloons. This market segment had experienced significant growth, and no one could possibly wrong any manufacturer for attempting to conquer this lucrative class.
Mercedes-Benz were experiencing massive success with their 6-cylinder 220SE, which quickly set the bar for other manufacturer’s attempts at the market. Clearly it did so for Borgward too, who previously hadn’t seen much success with their biggest luxury saloon. The Mercedes-Benz 220SE was quite square-cut, but was regarded as modern and trend-setting in its blend of European and American design with especially the tailfins being an obvious nod to the more extravagant styling across the Atlantic.
The Borgward P100 clearly had the 220SE in its sights, but it still remained true to its classic Borgward three-box design dating back to 1949 – only on the P100 it had become much more angular. The design largely speaks the same language as Pininfarina’s FIAT 1800/2100 Berlina which was also introduced in 1959. Stringent, simple and square-cut, but still elegant and looking towards the future in its modernity. Just like the Pininfarina design and the Mercedes-Benz 220SE, the P100 was equally equipped with tailfins adorning the rear wings.
You can’t get more car for your money anywhere.
– Carl Borgward
The 2240cc straight-6 was also of own construction and was a further development from their earlier 6-cylinder saloon, the Hansa 2400 Pullman. It was a construction which had gained a reputation for being strong and robust while delivering respectable performance. Borgward quoted the P100 for having 100hp which translated into a 160km/h topspeed.
Borgward also announced a new and revolutionising self-levelling pneumatic suspension on their P100. While their smaller Isabella model was generally regarded as having a comfortable and accomplished suspension, the added weight and performance of the P100 motivated the Borgward engineers to develop the Air Swing suspension which was deemed to offer exceptional comfort and car control, thereby launching Borgward well into the next decade and beyond.
Nonetheless, shortly after the introduction of the P100, there were indications that despite the modern design, strong performance and ground-breaking suspension, the new Borgward might still struggle against the competition from Stuttgart. After all, Mercedes-Benz simply had a better reputation when it came to building strong and reliable saloons of the more luxurious type. Still Borgward soldiered on and managed to produce almost 2,500 examples of their new P100 during its first nine months, more than suggesting that it would indeed surpass their previous attempts at big 6-cylinder saloons.
Sadly though, the bankruptcy of 1961 naturally prevented that from happening. In the days immediately after the bankruptcy, the factory assembled a final 47 P100’s before the gates closed for the last time on the factory in Bremen. The total production figure came to 2,530 Borgward P100’s. The whole production line for the P100 was then sold and sent to Mexico where another 2,000 P100’s were eventually produced between 1967 and 1970.
In September 2015, the Borgward BX7 was introduced at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt. All of 56 years after introducing their vision of the future, the P100, Borgward were suddenly back at the same venue in an attempt to do it all over again and revitalise the brand. This time it was to be with a four-wheel-drive offroader and not least plenty of Chinese financial backing. All of this came to be after Christian Borgward – the grandchild of Carl Borgward – took initiative and re-established the company in Switzerland in 2005.
With a second model – the more compact BX5 – being introduced only a year after the BX7, the resurrected car company seems to be gathering momentum as the two models do the tours of several major International car shows. See for yourself on: www.borgward.com