Whatever may be the future development of this type of car in Germany, without doubt the Hitler government will be responsible for its popularization.
W.H. Millgate in The Detroit News (April 1933)
In the summer of 1932, director Wilhelm Gutbrod of the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik in Ludwigsburg approached Josef Ganz to discuss the possibility of developing a small ‘Volkswagen’ based on his 1931 Maikäfer prototype and his various patents. An agreement was soon reached and a first prototype was constructed and tested in the fall of 1932.
Like the Maikäfer, the Standard prototype featured a central tubular chassis with a mid-mounted engine and independent wheel suspension with swinging rear half-axles. As described in one of Ganz’s patents, the two-cylinder two-stroke engine was mounted horizontally, in front of the swinging rear half-axles, on one side of the tubular chassis with the gearbox on the other side.
In February 1933, the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik introduced the pre-production model of the new Standard Superior at the Internationale Automobil- und Motorradausstellung (IAMA) in Berlin. The revolutionary chassis was fitted with a simple Beetle-shaped bodywork, constructed from wood and finished in artificial leather. While the chassis construction, based on the many patents of Josef Ganz, was praised for its revolutiory design, the bodywork was critized for being a little unpractical. Standard reacted to the criticism and developed an improved body for the production model.
In September 1933, the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik introduced an updated model with a longer wheelbase, different bodywork with an extra side window on either side, and a larger children’s seat in the rear. It was advertised as ‘the cheapest and fastest German Volkswagen’. After Hitler had committed himself to the Volkswagen project in mid-1934, Standard and all other car builders were forbidden to use the name Volkswagen in their advertising.
In September 1934, together with the new Superior, the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik also introduced the Standard Merkur Schnell-Lastwagen or light truck. The Merkur was built on an extended and reinforced Superior chassis fitted with a differential and forced water-cooling. It was built in different body variations, including a pick-up, delivery van and ambulance.
Courtcase with Tatra
Following the successful introduction of the new Superior and Merkur, the Tatra company in Czechoslovakia started development of a very similar compact car with a rear-mounted engine and swinging rear half-axles. Keen to protect its competitive position, Tatra attempted to block production of cars based on the patents of Josef Ganz.
In December 1933 Tatra accused Ganz of violating its intellectual property rights as defined in patent DRP 549602 with his patent DRP 587409. While both patents described the positioning of a mid-mounted engine, they were quite different in many respects. The Tatra patent described a three-wheeled car with a drive shaft from the engine to the single rear wheel, whereas Ganz’s patent was for an engine block built as one unit together with the gearbox and clutch onto the central tube of the backbone chassis with direct transmission to swinging rear half-axles. Tatra’s claims were rejected by the Patent Office in Berlin in late March 1934, and an appeal a fortnight after the verdict was rejected in May 1934.
Not much later Tatra was preparing to submit a second complaint. This time Tatra would claim that Ganz’s patent DRP 587409 violated its patent DRP 469644, describing an engine mounted at the front of the central tube of a backbone chassis. Even though the claim was extremely weak, the case dragged on for a longer time and led director Wilhelm Gutbrod at Standard to end production of the Superior in May 1935 out of fear of “an unfavorable verdict” – thereby ending Standard’s production of passenger cars – followed by termination of the Merkur’s production in 1936. Ultimately, after legal proceedings lasting over seven years, the accusations by Tatra turned out to be so weak that in 1941 the court in Berlin found in favor of the émigré Jew Josef Ganz. Tatra was ordered to pay him more than RM 4,000.
The Standard Superior was produced from April 1933 until May 1935 in very small numbers. It is estimated that around 150 to 200 cars of the 1st generation and 250 to 300 cars of the 2nd generation were built. Only 381 Standard Superiors were registered in Germany before WWII (source: Neben den Grossen_1 – Standard Gutbrod, Otfried Jaus & Peter Kaiser, 1984).
The following Standard Superior cars and chassis are known to still exist today:
- Standard Superior | Type 1 | 1933 | chassis number 50123 | chassis in unrestored condition | owner Paul Schilperoord, the Netherlands
- Standard Superior | Type 1 | 1933 | chassis number 50174 | chassis in partially restored condition | owner Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany (as part of the art installation ‘The Inner Beauty’ by artist Rémy Markowitsch)
- Standard Superior | Type 1 | 1933 | chassis number 50183 | complete car restored as part of a crowdfunding project | owner Paul Schilperoord, the Netherlands
- Standard Superior | Type 2 | 1933 | chassis number 50331 | complete car in unrestored condition | owner Lorenz Schmid, Switzerland
- Standard Superior | Type 2 | 1933 | chassis number unknown | complete car in restored condition | owner Louwman Museum, the Netherlands
- Standard Superior | Type 2 | 1933 | chassis number unknown | chassis with some body parts, will be restored | private owner, Germany
- Standard Superior | Type 2 | 1935 | chassis number 50298 | complete car in unrestored condition, front-mounted radiator and modified rear (possibly a factory prototype) | private owner, Germany