It was during Sechseläuten, a traditional springtime holiday in Zurich, in 1936 when Josef Ganz parked his “Standard Superior” on Bärengasse and climbed onto the roof to watch the parade; amidst the elegant coaches, the compact car seemed practically exotic. A photographer called out to him, Ganz turned and smiled. The photographer took the photo.
Lorenz Schmid saw the iconic photo of his great-granduncle for the first time ever at a family reunion in 2005: The Tages Anzeiger had written a large story about him, coming to the conclusion that it was not Ferdinand Porsche who was the intellectual father behind the “car for the everyman” – an idea that was supported by Hitler and would later become famous around the world as the “Beetle” – but rather it was Josef Ganz, a Jewish engineer who fled Germany for Switzerland to escape the Nazis.
From this moment on, Lorenz Schmid dedicated himself to his great-granduncle’s inventions. Together with the Dutch automotive journalist Paul Schilperoord, he reconstructed Ganz’s life far beyond the construction of the “Maikäfer” (1931) and the “Standard Superior” (1933). Piece by piece, the two assembled the puzzle, which became increasingly remarkable, and refused to give up even when sources would dry up or the money would run out.
“I began increasingly to identify with Josef’s story,” says the 40-year-old Schmid today, parking a “Standard Superior” on Bärengasse just like his granduncle did so many years ago; it is one of just two “Standard Superiors” that have survived to this day. He quickly scrambles onto the roof and poses for the photographer in order to recreate the original photo. Then he pauses for a moment, closes his eyes, and imagines how it must have been back then, when the sounds of a marching band and calls from the audience filled the streets in this incredibly difficult time...
A DIFFICULT TIME
In Germany, the National Socialists had been in power for three years; fear and tension were becoming increasingly widespread. Switzerland was also straining under the pressure. In the city of Zurich alone, more than 14,000 men and 1,400 women were registered as unemployed. In an attempt to limit the damage, the city took over the properties of various companies, the workshops of the floundering Escher Wyss AG, and FC Zürich’s Letzigrund sports field. Beyer Chronometrie was also struggling: they were able to avoid bankruptcy thanks to the support of Rolex and Patek Philippe as well as the leniency of the bank that held their lease.
Standing atop his vehicle, Ganz could not have known that the Spanish civil war would begin in just a few weeks, and in a few months, the Swiss franc would be devalued by 30 per cent. At this moment, the automotive pioneer was still riding high: investors had promised to support his idea of creating an affordable car for the everyman. He had already begun talking to the Department of Economic Affairs of the Canton of Zurich about securing a development loan. But then everything changed.
THE CAR, THE FILM
The “Standard Superior” and the “Swiss Volkswagen”, the last car to be produced in Switzerland, can be viewed today at the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne. A documentary was made about the life and works of automotive pioneer Josef Ganz. You can watch it on YouTube (“Ganz: How I Lost My Beetle”). josefganz.org
Shortly before the “Swiss Volkswagen” went into series production, WWII broke out. The long arm of the Gestapo reached all the way to Witikonerstrasse in Zurich, where Ganz was living: he had to defend himself against hostility and false charges, and became increasingly entangled in disputes with the authorities. Even though, after the war was over, the car company Rapid built 36 prototypes of his “Swiss Volkswagen”, instead of purchasing an affordable local product, the Swiss chose to import the more expensive VW Beetle from Germany. In 1950, Ganz was expelled from Switzerland under mysterious circumstances. He died impoverished in
Australia in 1967.
Lorenz Schmid climbs down off of the “Standard Superior” and says: “That is why I care so much. I want to tell a story. The fate of Josef Ganz represents many similar fates that were simply erased from our history.” Then Beyer employees push the “Standard Superior” into the shop.
The automobile was exhibited on Bahnhofstrasse for two weeks before travelling to Budapest, the birthplace of Josef Ganz and the city where, with a major exhibition, the forgotten automotive pioneer finally received the honour that he was denied during his lifetime.