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Classic Velocity Blog

Filtering by Tag: Wartburg

Down the Lane

Classic Velocity

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Nashville, Tenessee naturally brings to mind Country Music and the Grand Ole Opry, Whiskey, and the smoky mountains. A great automotive museum ? Not so much. Which is why the Lane Motor Museum is such a surprising discovery. Not that it is unknown in museum circles, as it is another of those Family-owned marvels that we the public benefit from immensely, and which are fairly well known among gearheads regionally. The museum is a 501c3 established by Jeff Lane in 2002 around his personal collection. Now there are three aspects of the Lane Museum that make it particularly attractive to Classic Velocity. First, it specializes in European vehicles. Second, every vehicle is a running, driving specimen that gets some usage. This is no small feat, as you will see. There is a real mix of near showroom cars, and many with a healthy patina. Third, the museum is housed in a 132,000 ft2 former Sunbeam Bakery complete with brick walls and maple floors. It compliments the collection and vice versa.

If there is a theme for the museum, it is probably "interesting cars" as our basement tour guide described it. The main floor is 40,000 ft2 of those cars along with a history of the bicycle exhibit, which was interesting in its own right. The vehicles (they include a smattering of motorcycles and scooters) are roughly, but not entirely, grouped by the region of Europe. Scandinavia included Volvos and Saabs. A highlight of this area was a Saab 92 from 1950 which only came in aircraft green because that paint was surplus from the war. Next on my circumnavigation of the floor was an impressive collection of micro cars which crossed all geographic boundaries. Well known Isetta, and Messerschmidt shared space with a Zundapp Janus, a Heinkel and a Hoffman. Hondas and Berkeleys and Subarus were intertwined. The French and the Italians were not to be outdone with entries from Renault (a dauphine Henney electric car from 1959!), Citroen, Fiat, and a delightful Vespa. DAF, Daihatsu, and an American Davis were also included. A well executed Tata Nano from India was also present. A truly "interesting" group.

Back to the regions, Italy blurred into France which was dominated by Citroen, but had an iconic Renault 5 Turbo. At this point I need to jump back over to a small group of race cars to highlight the bright orange Citroen DS Ice Racer, complete with snorkel and studded tires. Enough said. The next section was dedicated to Tatra from the Czech Republic, so technically it was regional. However, there were about a dozen Tatras on display, and more in the basement. They are a theme of this museum, and run from a 1925 car to  a 1994 truck. Interesting design, interesting engineering, interesting history. Eastern Europe continued with a Polish FSO, Skodas, and then into Russia via Zil and ZAZ. 

I left Germany for last, given the focus of this blog. This was a great opportunity to see vehicles in person that have been covered on these pages, from marques which went away decades ago, and are not normally seen even at vintage events. Perhaps my favorite was back in the race car section where there was a 1 of 1 Shirdlu powered by a BMW 700 engine. Minimalist at 1000 lbs and top speed of 127 mph. Designed and built by 3 Californians. The collection included a couple of Hanomags, a Hansa, a few Lloyds, a Steyr, several DKWs (including a lovely Monza), a Wartburg, several NSUs, a Goliath, and more.  Incredible, and knowing that all of them were or soon would be running driving examples made it all the more impressive.

If you are anywhere near Nashville, you owe the Lane Motor Museum a visit, but pay the extra for the basement tour. It is well worth it.

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Wartburg 311

Classic Velocity

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The twisted history of German car manufacturers would lead you to believe that at one point in time or another, they were all intertwined in the various configurations and permutations.  In this case, the Wartburg 311, which was styled to compete with (read emulate) the handsome Mercedes sedans of the time (see the pontoon rear fenders), was a direct descendent of an EMW which in turn was a BMW before the war split the company. It used a design from a DKW which was acquired by Auto Union, which we now know as Audi, and which is of course owned by Volkswagen, which also now owns Porsche.

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The Wartburg 311 was introduced in 1956 and was a body on a frame, at a time when most were transitioning to a monocoque. The frame was an evolution of the EMW 309, while the body was an evolution of an Auto Union design. The primary reason for the body-on-frame was so that a number of different variations and body types could be produced. Those body types eventually included a sedan, a coupe, a roadster, a pickup, a limousine, and a station wagon (estate). Today, this would be hailed as smart platform engineering. 

The drive train featured a 900cc two-stroke 3 cylinder engine which produced aroud 37hp. It was good for a top speed of around 72mph. The gearbox options were a 3 speed manual or a 4 speed manual. With the weight just north of 2100 lbs, this was no sports sedan, but it was solid reliable transportation, and a relatively large car at the time in East Germany. 

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Melkus - Funding Racing

Classic Velocity

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We all think of Ferrari and Colin Chapman as people who were extremely passionate about racing and competition, and produced road cars mainly as a means to fund that passion. This is the story of another such individual. His name was Heinz Melkus, and he was born in Dresden Germany in 1928. By 1950, Melkus was already racing using a Veritas powered Volkswagen. In 1955 he started a driving school. He became German Formula 3 champion in 1958, and went on to become East German Formula Junior champion in 1960. 

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While continuing to race, he founded Melkus in 1959 to build race cars and custom sports cars for other customers based on the design that won on the track. The first road car was the RS 1000 which was powered by a Wartburg 3 cylinder two-stroke engine which actually measured 992cc. It was a mid-engined car with a 5 speed gearbox, and handled well to make up for limited power. The fibreglass body had a sleek design with gullwing doors. 

Meanwhile on the track, Heinz was East German Formula 3 champion again in 1967, 1968, and 1972. 

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Although 1300 and 1600cc versions were produced, the RS 1000 was the best seller at just 101 units. Production of cars ended in 1986, but his sons and grandsons resumed in 2006 with the RS 2000 only to end again in 2012 with bankruptcy. Although not as well known as other competition-centric names, the Melkus family continues to race today in its' third generation despite the production cars being gone. Racing is truly in the blood...

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Wartburg 313

Classic Velocity

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The city of Eisenach in East Germany is probably most well-known for its copies of BMW. It was the home of the EMW (see blue propeller, red propeller)  .  However, the city of  Eisenach also turned out cars under another brand, and from 1957 to 1960 it turned out a sporting coupe. That coupe was the Wartburg 313, or the Wartburg Sport as it was also known. It was based on the more sedentary Wartburg 311 sedan, which was itself an evolution of the EMW 309, which was in turn a copy of the post war BMW, which was really a pre-war BMW. Follow ?

The idea behind the Wartburg 313 was to create a sports car which would be competitive with the Porsche 356, BMW 507 (see the halo and the hail mary), and the Mercedes 300SL. A very lofty goal at the time. Both a Coupe and a Cabriolet version were produced, similar to the other German marques. The car was 172 inches (436 cm) in length and weighed just 2050 lbs (930 kg) It produced 50 hp and a top speed of 86 mph (140 km/h) from a 3 cylinder two-stroke 900 cc engine. This was well down on the intended competition, which was already between 70 and 150 hp. In addition, the timing of the car was not the best, so although the car was exported to West Germany, England, and the USA, few met with willing buyers. In the three years of production, only 469 were made.