High-​Performance Maybach Locomotive-​Engines – An International Export Hit Made In Friedrichshafen

In 1909, Wilhelm Maybach and Graf von Zeppelin founded the Luftfahrzeug-​Motorenbau GmbH in Bissingen. His son, Karl Maybach took over the management and technical management of the young company, which moved to Friedrichshafen in 1912. In the years that followed, a world-​class company was created thanks to Karl Maybach’s designs : Maybach-​Motorenbau.

At the time, steam locomotives dominated railway traffic. With the development of the first high-​speed, high-​performance diesel engine, Karl Maybach paved the way for modern diesel train promotion. The evolution began in 1924, with the 6‑cylinder (EVA) in-​line engine with 150 hp, advancing through the « GO V » engine with 400 hp in the 1930s, to the post-​war MD series engines with over 2,000 hp. The transformation occurred n Italy, England, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, South Africa and the Orient. It also spread to the USA and Australia, Maybach engines from Friedrichshafen set the standards in rail transport !

Railcar Eisenbahn Verkehrs AG Wismar with Maybach « G4a » diesel engine, around 1925. Photo : Wilhelm and Karl Maybach Foundation, Collection.

In 1924, at the International Railway Exhibition in Berlin-​Sedding, Maybach Motorenbau GmbH presented its first motorized railcar together with Eisenbahn Verkehrs AG Wismar (EVA). It was the « G4a » 6‑cylinder Maybach compressor engine with 150 hp at 1,300 rpm. The « G4a » was the world’s first high-​speed diesel engine with such a high output. The special audience was amazed, and the Deutsche Reichsbahn immediately ordered several of the innovative Maybach EVA trains. In the 1920s, the first generation of Maybach train drives, with up 225 hp, also found international buyers for the built-​in engines. The Deutsche Reichsbahn was extremely satisfied with the endurance of the Maybach drive train and strongly signaled their interest in other Maybach engines.

Flying Hamburger on its maiden voyage at the Lehrter Bahnhof platform in Berlin, December 19, 1932. Photo : Wilhelm and Karl Maybach Foundation, Collection.

In 1932, Karl Maybach designed a railcar drive with the 400 hp 12-​cylinder « GO » engine in V‑shape that put the competition on the rails of Europe in the rear view mirror. Installed in the SVT as the world’s first streamlined diesel train, the Maybach engine accelerated the flying trains to speeds of up to 160 km. The Flying Hamburger went into service on December 19, 1932 at the Lehrter station in Berlin and covered the distance to Hamburg in 2 12 hours — a media sensation ! After a few years, the flying trains were serving the routes between the big cities and defying modern aircraft. Before the Second World War paralyzed the German economy, Karl Maybach modified the « GO » engine by adding an exhaust gas turbocharger, which resulted in an output of 600 hp. It was these engines that were in operation in post-​war Germany for the succeeding decades due to their extremely long service life.

An icon of German railroad and economic history : the V 60 locomotive with Maybach GTO engine, Photo : Wilhelm and Karl Maybach Foundation, Collection, 

Due to the reliability of the engines from Friedrichshafen, the Deutsche Bundesbahn equips its most important centerpiece of equipment, the « V 60 » shunting locomotive, with Maybach « GTO » engines as the new standard. Starting in 1954, the « V 60«locomotive was produced in very large numbers by all German locomotive manufacturers. The International Union of Railways named the « V 60 » locomotive the European standard shunting locomotive. In the following years, engine development for rail vehicles became a very great commercial success for Maybach-​Motorenbau GmbH in Friedrichshafen. Also, for the workforce in Friedrichshafen, the company’s economic success meant securing their jobs for their families. In the post-​war period of the Federal Republic of Germany, the locomotive became a symbol of an economic miracle. No matter which station in Europe, the « V 60 » locomotive entered, it brought goods and prosperity to the people.

In Friedrichshafen, which was still devastated by the war, Karl Maybach also developed the Maybach « MD » (Maybach Diesel) locomotive engine range. The 12 cylinder engine with a disk crankshaft in tunnel design was a type of modular engine with a performance range from 400 to 2,000 hp. All engine variants had the same bore (185mm) and identical stroke (200mm), so that the actual wearing parts, such as the cylinder liners, pistons and connecting rods were basically the same. The Deutsche Bundesbahn and other international railway companies were thus able to equip their entire fleet of mainline locomotives with uniform drive systems. The VT 08 express railcar with a 1,000 hp Maybach MD engine marked the beginning of a long series of economically highly successful rail vehicles from post-​war Germany. The modification of railcars, mainline locomotives and shunting locomotives followed : Deutsche Bundesbahn decided to consistently equip its entire fleet with Maybach « MD » engines. This approach ensured that the Deutsche Bundesbahn had a very large technical lead in the 1950s by international standards and thus a role model function.

Multifunction locomotive V 100 with Maybach MD 650 engine. Photo : Wilhelm and Karl Maybach Foundation, Collection, 

The experience gained with the Maybach MD engines in the type « V 80 » locomotive formed the starting point for a worldwide triumphal march of powerful diesel-​hydraulic mainline locomotives. As early as 1958, the V 100 locomotive was equipped with a 1,200 hp Maybach « MD » engine that drove the axles of both trains with the aid of a hydraulic transmission and a hydraulic cardan shaft — a form of all-​wheel drive. As an all-​rounder, the « V 100 » was highly flexible in freight and passenger service on both secondary and main lines. The maximum speed was 55 mph. Considering the locomotive’s low weight of 64 tons, the « V 100 » had an exceptionally good power-​to-​weight ratio for the time. Day after day, Maybach engines with diesel train haulage left the company in Friedrichshafen at the end of the 1950s to be sold in Germany and abroad. The first foreign deliveries of Maybach engines for rail transport were to Scandinavia. In Norway, a series of high-​speed railcars received modernized Maybach tunnel engines, Mekydro transmissions and axle drives. The trains were mainly used on the hilly route between the cities of Oslo-​Bergen. In Finland, 1,200 hp locomotives with Maybach engines and Mekydro transmissions ran on the Helsinki-​Pampere line. In the Irish state, railroads were also among the first customers for Maybach engines. In Genoa, the Ansaldo company produced « MD » engines licensed from Maybach Motorenbau for the Italian State Railroads. A first 2,200 hp test locomotive with two 12-​cylinder engines was tested on the Milan-​Turin line. From 1958, 1,600 hp locomotives with two eight-​cylinder engines, Mekydro transmissions and axle drives were produced in series. At that time, the French State Railroads were among the major buyers of Maybach Mekydro transmissions. They were installed as standard in various railcar types in France. In Spain, railcars with Maybach « GTO » engines were already in service at the beginning of the 1930s. At the end of the 1950s, the famous Spanish Talgo-​Express-​Trains also received Maybach engines, following the German example. See also our blog article on the development of the Inter City Express (ICE) Trains in Germany — https://​maybach​.org/​3​0​-​y​e​a​r​s​-​i​n​t​e​r​-​c​i​t​y​-​e​x​p​r​e​s​s​-​n​e​t​w​o​r​k​-​t​h​e​-​i​n​s​p​i​r​i​n​g​-​s​t​o​r​y​-​o​f​-​i​t​s​-​m​a​y​b​a​c​h​-​p​o​w​e​r​e​d​-​a​n​c​e​s​t​o​rs/. Even in England, the cradle of the railroad industry, the various British railroad companies decided to modify some of their rolling stock by installing Maybach engines. From around 1958, the traditional companies Bristol Engines Limited (now Bristol Siddeley Engines Limited) and Estonia Bedford London manufactured Maybach engines under license for the British rail industry. The locomotives had been used primarily in the west of England. This explains why the Bristol Train, the fastest train in England, was powered by Maybach « MD » engines in those days. This legendary train completed the 188-​kilometer London-​Bristol route in 100 minutes.

1959 Karl Maybach at the Depot of Maybach Motorenbau GmbH. Photo : Wilhelm and Karl Maybach Foundation, Collection.

With this historical knowledge, we can nowadays better understand the far-​reaching influence that the technical achievements of Maybach Motorenbau GmbH had on developments in international rail transport. When Karl Maybach stood in 1959 on the premises of Maybach Motorenbau in Friedrichshafen, in awe of the imposing Krauss-​Maffei locomotive (ML 3000 C’C› — V 200 series) with the most modern MD engines of the time, he looked back on an impressive life’s work. The « V 200 » multifunction locomotive was the absolute top product on the international market for railroad locomotives at the end of the 1950s.

Up until the mid-​1950s, all German Federal Railroad locomotives, from the « V 60 » locomotive (Maybach « GTO ») to the « V 80 » locomotive and the legendary « V 200 » general-​purpose locomotive from Krauss Maffei, were powered by Maybach aggregates. From 1961 to 1966, the Maybach diesel engine program continued under the Maybach Mercedes-​Benz brand. The motors are today in use in over 35 countries around the world.

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