Cologne petrolheads

Dear VW-friends,

I am still trying to do some research about the Samba´s history. Up until now, we don´t know too much. It is confirmed, that the Bus was delivered on August 28th to the big VW-dealership Fleischhauer in Cologne as a demonstration car. There is this specific historic picture taken in the Eifel in November 1951, most likely showing my Samba. We can combine, that the Samba was taken off the road in 1961 (due to no TÜV-sticker yet on the rear license plate and the already mounted indicators replacing the semaphores), but that´s it. The majority of its history between November 1951 and summer 2017 remains a complete mystery.

I searched the Eifel and the town of Mayen (where the Samba was found) upside down  -no result. I published pictures in all of Cologne’s newspapers asking if anyone can remember this Bus  -no result. I asked the Fleischhauer dealership, but they don´t care at all about this piece of their history. But I won´t give up and keep on searching.

A promising lead that I am following is, to collect all documents that I can get a hold of regarding Fleischhauer between 1950 and 1960. I know that the CEO of Fleischhauer back in those days was a man called Walter Franz and based on my research so far, he was a PR-genius. Up until now, I don´t have anything resilient about the Samba´s days at Fleischhauer, but I am sure there MUST BE something. Why I am so sure about it? Well, that´s what this post is all about. You will agree with me in the end:  It´s hard to believe that a man such as Walter Franz missed out on the chance to use his demonstration Samba for a big PR-action.

Let´s have a closer look on Fleischhauer in its very early days. Founded in 1924 by Jakob Fleischhauer, the company initially sold Ford cars made in Cologne and later on also the entire GM range. From 1932 onwards, they offered the whole Auto-Union range, too. After Jakob´s early death in 1936, his manager Walter Franz married Jakob´s widow and took over the power in the company. In 1939 Franz signed Fleischhauer to become one of the first official VW-dealerships, even though there weren´t any Volkswagen to sell yet.

Fleischhauer worked closely with the German Wehrmacht and even had a dependence in occupied France to maintain Kubelwagen and KdF. Fleischhauer made use of slave workers, a quite common behavior in the early 40s. Normally, you would expect such a company and its CEO to face big problems after the war, consequences for being a supporter of the regime, enforced by the occupying parties. But each and every one of the Fleischhauer workers including the slave workers certified, that Walter Franz treated them very well. In fact, every week, Walter Franz sent a lorry packed with food for his workers from Cologne to France to ensure that everybody stayed as well as possible. The workers did not forget that kindness and therefore, the new allied government allowed Walter Franz to continue his business right away. So, Walter Franz was a powerful and wealthy man in the late 40s. When Heinrich Nordhoff was in financial trouble, Walter Franz drove to Wolfsburg carrying a suitcase full off cash and this way, avoided an early bankruptcy of Volkswagen! No wonder Walter Franz and his Fleischhauer dealership had an excellent relationship with the factory. The following ad released in December 1949 proofs that in an interesting way:

Note the upright vent slots! You know what that means, don´t you?

Do you get what I mean? Fleischhauer is presenting the new VW Kombi in December 1949, in fact, that’s months before Wolfsburg started its production, which was in March 1950! And Fleischhauer is showing a real car. Which means, from Heinrich Nordhoff´s point of view, Walter Franz´s dealership was fundamental enough to Nordhoff to send at least one (most likey two, a Kombi and a Bus) of his six existing prototypes from Wolfsburg to Cologne. When the volume production of the Kombi started on March 8th 1950, guess who received the first two vehicles, rolling off the assembly line? Correct, it was Fleischhauer in Cologne!

So it is absolutely no surprise, that in summer 1951, Fleischhauer also got one of the very first Samba-Busses as a demonstration car – or was it even the first one built after the prototype shown at the IAA in Frankfurt? The archive in Wolfsburg could answer this question, but they won´t let me in nor did they answer my questions in a helpful way.

Anyway here´s another Fleischhauer ad showing a 1949 prototype:

Not only is the date of the ads interesting, but also the design! Please note the little logo in the corner “VAN HUSEN KÖLN”. Ernst van Husen was the most famous Cologne graphic artist in the late 40s. He also designed one of the 1949 Beetle brochures:

Van Husen designed also a very similar 1951 Beetle brochure. At some point, latest in summer 1951, Bernd Reuters became chief graphic artist in Wolfsburg. It is unknown to me why they changed to Reuters, since van Husen´s work is undeniebly great and, from my point of view, on the same level of expertise like Reuters, but a little bit more sophisticated. See here some more examples of van Husen´s work:

Walter Franz must have seen it the same way, since he sticked with van Husen even when Wolfsburg transferred to Reuters. Which means, Fleischhauer payed van Husen for creating their ads while Wolfsburg provided standardized and free advertisements for all of the dealerships! Fleischhauer´s ads in the 50s and early 60s, all made by Ernst van Husen, are unique for this reason. For example here is one from 1957:

Walter Franz was so convinced by the artwork of his Cologne friend, that he hired him for a very special project. In 1955 Franz was looking for a Christmas giveaway for his customer and friends. It was Franz´s style to go for something special, so he released a beautiful  little book with travel tips all around the Cologne area, it is called “Die kleine Reise” (= the little journey). All graphics are by Ernst van Husen, have a look:

Walter Franz enclosed a personally signed card (heavy handmade paper!) with every book. While nowadays in Germany, students can hardly write a decipherable sentence after they left school, note Walter Franz´s imposing signature. What a man!

You think this exclusive hard cover book was a little expensive for a Christmas giveaway? What about this one…..The following picture shows a whole armada of brand new Beetle convertibles, sponsored by Walter Franz for the Cologne carnival procession in 1951! In fact, Walter Franz didn´t miss any opportunities to launch a PR-coup and he did not care about the cost.

In today´s terms, Walter Franz was a talented “influencer”. Here is another find that proves it. The magazine “Krafthand” (still existing today) was invented for auto repair shops, mainly for independent ones, but Walter Franz managed to get “his” VW-dealership on the cover anyway. And, hey, have a look at who the graphic artist has been once again? Correct, Ernst van Husen was on duty one more time. You better believe that “Krafthand” didn´t pay for the artwork on its cover, it was Walter Franz, no doubt.  

In return, inside the magazine, you find an extreme example of adulation, but, well, Walter Franz must have been a real impressive personality. The few men still alive who knew him and were questioned by me about Franz confirmed that fact. Anyway, once again, I didn´t find anything related to the Samba, but I thought this magazine might be worth to be shared with you.

That´s probably one of the most important managers in the German car business in the ´50s, but definitely the most important one in Cologne: Walter Franz
Please forgive me for not translating this one, but here´s a summary: “Walter Franz is a modest, but damn smart guy. A workaholic too.”

The following page of the magazine shows something really interesting for those of you who are into German car history. You see the impressive row of brand new license plates on the table waiting to be mounted on the batch of new Volkswagen vehicles that Fleischerhauer received within this one day only. You might have asked yourself this question before: on the “occupation license plate” (used from 1945-1956) why were there TWO prefixes for the same area (the region of Cologne, called “Rheinland”):  “BR” = British zone Rheinland and “R” = Rheinland ? Well, the picture can´t answer this question, but it does proof the theory wrong that one prefix was substituted by the other, because, in fact, both prefixes were used at the very same time as you can see license plates starting with “BR” and “R” here.

Some time ago, I had a chat with a former Fleischhauer employee who told me a crazy story. At a certain day, there were two Beetles on Fleischhauer´s  parking lot and both cars had the SAME license plate, but one showed the prefix “BR” and the other one “R”. He told me that this happened several times, because the system of license for cars was just chaotic these days. When the car license office was back in German administration in 1956 and the new black-on-white DIN license plates were established, the chaos ended.

Talking about Cologne area Beetles with “BR” license plate, we must not forget about one Beetle who was the grandfather of a Walt Disney movie plot 25 years later. Have a look. Guess who was the owner of this car?

The guy wearing a helmet is the very young Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, that´s for sure. The older man talking to him might be Ernst van Husen and the 356 might be van Husen´s Porsche. Can somebody confirm or proof this thought wrong? Let me know…

This Beetle, purchased from Fleischhauer of course, was owned and raced by Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, Germany´s most beloved post-war Formula One hero, another Cologne petrol head. In 1960, he founded a gentleman racing club called “Scuderia Colonia”. The Scuderia Colonia (still existing today) has a unique logo. See here a picture of Trips wearing a helmet with this logo. And now guess who the designer of the logo was? Yes, Ernst van Husen is the man again.

Van Husen owned a Porsche 356 in the 50s and was founding member of the Cologne Porsche Club 1953. In 1953 and 1954 van Husen participated with his 356 at two Nürburgring races, but his best result was the 17th rank. He was a far better designer then racing driver.

 Anyway, all this research didn´t bring me any substantial information about my Samba itself so far, but I thought it was interesting enough to share with you, ain´t it? I will keep on digging in the Cologne car history of the 1950s and I am quiet certain that I will find something about the Samba someday. There is something out there, I know it, I will find it and I will post here. Promise!

Have a nice weekend!


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