The genius in Daimler's shadow
A number of key contributors to the automobile worked in the shadows of the great pioneers. Wilhelm Maybach was one of them.
Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler became friends in the late 1860s. The pair worked on Daimler's Reitwagen (1885) and Motorwagen (1886), which along with similar efforts by Carl Benz are considered the world's first self-propelled vehicles.
Maybach contributed his engineering skills to those cars as well as future Daimler milestones. The Maybach-designed V-twin engine built in 1889 was so advanced that Daimler sold its production rights to third parties such as French automakers Peugeot and Panhard-Levassor.
Maybach's focus on components led him to achieve firsts with the gearwheel transmission (1889), the float-chamber spray-jet carburetor (1893) and the honeycomb radiator core (1896). But his strength was combining many such individual solutions to create the complete concepts that turned engine-driven carriages into motorcars.
Maybach's masterpiece was the 1901 Mercedes 35 Horsepower in which he combined his two decades of automotive engineering experience. The rear-wheel drive car had a front-mounted four-cylinder engine -- partly made of light alloy -- and a three-speed transmission.
The Mercedes also featured a revolutionary low-to-the-ground design, setting it apart from the tall, clumsy looking cars of that period, as well as front wheels that were turned by a round steering wheel on an angled steering column.
Wilhelm Maybach left the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft in 1907, seven years after Daimler's death. Just before departing, Maybach created an overhead valve twin-ignition 120hp racing engine.
Maybach produced engines for his son's premium-car brand as well as the Zeppelin airships prior to his death in 1929.
DaimlerChrysler has honored his work and that of his son, Karl, by reviving the Maybach brand for its super-luxury models.