Thursday, February 9, 2012

This Day in History: Feb 9, 1846: Auto pioneer Wilhelm Maybach born

Automotive industry pioneer Wilhelm Maybach, who founded the luxury car brand bearing his name, is born on February 9, 1846, in Heilbronn, Germany.

In 1885, Maybach and his mentor, the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900), developed a new high-speed, four-stroke internal combustion engine. (Nikolaus Otto is credited with inventing the first functioning four-stroke engine.) Maybach and Daimler fixed their engine to a bicycle to create what is referred to as the first-ever motorcycle. The two men later attached their engine to a carriage, producing a motorized vehicle. In 1890, Daimler and several partners established Daimler Motoren Gelleschaft (Daimler Motor Company) to build engines and automobiles. Maybach, who served as the company's chief designer, developed the first Mercedes automobile in 1900. The Mercedes was commissioned by auto dealer and racer Emil Jellinek, who wanted a new car to sell to his rich clients in the French Riviera, and named after Jellinek's daughter.

Gottlieb Daimler died in March 1900 and Maybach left the Daimler company in 1907. He later went into business with his engineer son Karl (1879-1960) and in 1921 they debuted their first car, the Maybach Type W3, at a Berlin auto show. During the 1920s and 1930s, Maybach became known for developing powerful, technologically sophisticated custom-built vehicles for the wealthy, including the super-luxurious, top-of-the-line Zeppelin model. Wilhelm Maybach died on December 29, 1929, at the age of 83.

During World War II, the company Maybach founded stopped making cars and built engines for German military vehicles. Auto production never resumed after the war, although the company continued to make engines for a variety of vehicles and eventually became part of Daimler-Benz. In the early 2000s, Daimler-Benz resurrected the Maybach nameplate, launching the Maybach 57 and the Maybach 62 (the numbers represent each vehicle's length: 5.7 meters and 6.2 meters). Today, the Maybach brand is once again synonymous with opulence and exclusivity. Each car is hand-built to its buyer's specifications and carries a starting price tag in the six-figure range. Maybachs are known for their power and long list of optional luxury extras, including voice-activated controls, entertainment centers, lambswool carpeting and perfume-atomizing systems.

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