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Robert’s Day at British & European 2022

Words & images by Robert Larkworthy.

I had a wonderful time at the British and European Car Show last month.

The car nearest the Motafrenz pavilion was a Citroën GS – it brought back quite a few childhood memories. They were quite a common car in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as they were assembled locally.

Gordon offered to introduce me to the owner Leigh. It turns out that this was a very rare vehicle indeed – it was powered by a rotary engine (Birotor) developed jointly with NSU. The new rotary engine proved to have reliability problems causing disappointingly low sales volumes. Citroën tried to buy back all the vehicles they had sold to avoid expensive warranty work and reputational damage. Leigh’s car luckily escaped the buyback as it was owned by one of Citroën’s GS test drivers. It was then on-sold it to the dealer principal of a Copenhagen Citroën dealer.

Leigh, an avid Citroën fan, bought the car from the Copenhagen dealer and had it shipped to Australia. His GS is one of only two known GS Birotors in Australia – his car remains in its original left-hand-drive form whereas the other has been converted to right-hand-drive. Leigh said he was fortunate enough to have found a specialist Citroën mechanic that has enabled him to repair and maintain his vehicle.

A few people asked if Leigh would open the bonnet so that they could see the rotary engine however not much can be seen as the spare wheel being located on top of the engine. Unfortunately, my photo of the car didn’t turn out, so I have copied and pasted below a picture from Wikipedia of the rear end of the car, the motor and the interior.ën_GS

1973 Citroën GS Birotor at Mullin Automotive Museum
Citroën GS Birotor engine
1975 GS Birotor interior

Many of the underpinnings of the GS were used in the CX model which helps with sourcing some parts. 

Before I go further, I have to make an admission – I haven’t taken many photos with this phone and couldn’t see my screen in the bright sunlight so I don’t have many good pictures of the show vehicles. I feel like a real klutz because when I thought I was taking photos I was actually taking videos.

To make matters worse my back gave up half way through the show so I only have pictures of the Jaguar section, some Bristols, a vintage motor-cycle and side-car and a couple of Borwards. 

A spied a group of cars that I thought were early examples of BMWs (due to the twin kidney shape grill). I had seen these vehicles in various British movies and TV shows set in the post-WWII period and thought it strange that German cars would have been placed in this early post-war period. Well it turns out the twin-kidney grilled vehicles was also a signature motif of the Bristol cars. The elegant cars on display were beautifully restored and a credit to their owners.  

All-in-all, the event was well attended by club members, especially as there was a similar event held in Daylesford. After so many events being cancelled due to Covid-19, it was a good opportunity for club members to catch up. Like many I am looking forward to next year’s show.  

Now to the Borgwards… I remember friends of my grandparents had a station wagon model of a late 1950’s Borgward-Hansa. Seeing these Borgwards triggered many memories of individual features from this manufacturer. They weren’t a common sight which on the roads which is probably why I remember the car.  

I had an interesting conversation with Rolf (German guy), the owner and restorer of the 1960 Borgward Isabella on display. Rolf’s car is in Concours condition – he must have sunk thousands of hours restoring his car. I joked that perhaps he had seen more of the car than his wife! He laughed telling me that his wife alerted him to this old car that was lying unloved in a paddock. The farmer accepted Rolf’s offer and so the restoration started. Initially Rolf thought the car was in relatively good condition but when he got the car home he found that it was riddled with rust. The restoration has taken him twelve years and in the process he has gained a lot of new skills. He went to night school to learn how to weld, learned how to track down spare parts for such a rare vehicle and find specialist repairers. He found a specialist company in Vietnam that could make a copy of the windscreen for him.  The company have kept the specifications and can readily make him another if needed (this might be useful information for club members undertaking a restoration of a rare vehicle). This Vietnamese company also make facsimiles of plastic parts such as light clusters, indicators etc. The car is truly a credit to Rolf’s tenacity and skills he has developed during its restoration.  

Here is a link to the Borgward Car Club of Australia which includes some interesting pictures of the twelve-year restoration of Rolf’s car. 

As my back failed me on the day and the resultant lack of pictures from the mostly European car display, I thought by way of compensation I have attached some links to articles and youtube videos of the 2022 and earlier shows. 

Hubnuts 2020 video 

 The MG winners: 

I have also done a bit of research on the Borgward company which might interest some club members. 

The company has its roots in the Hansa Automobile GMBH, establish in 1905. Initially they made vehicles under license all-the-while gaining invaluable industry experience. In 1914 Hansa Automobile merged with Norddeutsche Automobil und Motoren AG (NAMAG) to become Hansa-Lloyd Werke AG. The merged entity mostly made commercial vehicles.  

Like many car companies during this early development period of the motor industry, their business was under-capitalised and their financial position was always precarious. In 1929 the company merged with the Goliath which was part of Borgward group (founder Carl F W Borgward (1890 to 1963). The company survived the great depression years of the early 1930’s however it’s Bremen factories were destroyed during the bombing by the British. 

After the war, raw materials were scarce and rationed to individual companies. The canny Carl Borgward spotted the opportunity to split his group of companies into three separate companies, Borgward-Hansa, Lloyd and Goliath thereby gaining access to three times the raw materials. This worked in the short term however it ultimately became a problem as the three companies failed to collaborate and as a consequence wasted valuable capital on triplicating technological developments.  

When the post-war rationing of materials eventually eased Carl Borgward failed to leverage potential economies of scale of the three separate entities of the group.  

Like many innovative companies, the Borgward group suffered from some quality and reliability which hampered sales/revenue  (as happened to other adventurous manufacturers like Citroën, NSU and SAAB). Carl Borgward was by instinct an engineer and not particularly savvy financially (or for that matter interested). This proved to be a disaster for the company when the Cuban missile crisis induced a world-wide recession in the early 1960’s. The recession caused a drop in sales of many car companies – other German manufacturers such as Opel and VW survived this difficult period in part by leveraging their purchasing power with suppliers and lower costs due to their conservative engineering approach.  

In 1961, creditors of Borgward forced the company into liquidation. Carl Borgward claimed the company was not insolvent and had good prospects of surviving if they were allowed to restructure. His claim turned out to be correct as the liquidation netted a DM 4.5 million surplus, quite a substantial amount for the times. Two years after the liquidation of his company, Carl died, a broken and humiliated man. The assets of the company were sold to a company in Mexico. This company commenced manufacturing in 1967 but by 1970 it too had closed. 

As a footnote, Christian Borgward (the grandson of Carl Borgward) and Karlheinz L. Knössresurrected the Borgward brand. With co-investment from Bequi Foton Motor (a subsidiary of the Chinese manufacturing group BAIC) they began production of the compact class Borgward BX7 in Beijing. Sales commenced in Jan 2017 and it appears the BX7 is still in production.

A concept Borgward Isabella was presented at the 2017 IAA (Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung – International Mobility Show) in Munich. Like many concept cars, it looked great but didn’t progress to production. 

Attribute: Alexander Migl

Here is a link to the Borgward Car Club in South Africa – it has quite a comprehensive history for those that might be interested. 

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