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Oldtimer Magazine

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Oldtimer Magazine, February 1995, p. 27-29

By Reinhard Bogena

            Bertha Benz must have often watched over her husband’s shoulder and so learned the working of the automobile.  Actually, she was the first person to steer the vehicle he designed and built.  Still, for a long time afterward, it was the job of a trained chauffeur to drive ladies and gentlemen through town and country.  This was not only from a lack of driving knowledge, but, to the layman, the technical aspect was shrouded in mystery.  Repair shops were few and far between may parts needed to be greased at regular intervals, as well as oiled, or perhaps, once again, a horseshoe nail had caused another flat tire.  In these matters, gentlefolk trusted their charioteer to bring their vehicle once again to working order whenever the occasion arose.  Around the turn-of-the-century, these chauffeurs, as well as so-called “drive-it-yourselfers”, wished the manufacturers of the new cars to instruct them in its repairs as well as driving skills.  In 1904 the first German Chauffeur School was founded in Aschaffenburg.  Part of the instruction covered close examinations of the mechanical side of the vehicle.  According to the contemporary view, first looking into the functions of the transmission and steering seemed to alleviate the mysteries of the vehicle, as well as actually being able to repair problems themselves.  And so the early students, in the course of their learning, found themselves under their car, not infrequently.

            Problems with this somewhat uncomfortable and not completely clean method of learning, was recognized about three decades later by Emil Hohm, by trade, an Opel dealer in Letmathe by Iserlohn, as well as Werner Degener, owner of a publishing company for driving-school instruction material.  Together they developed an Instruction Model which could clearly demonstrate the technical functions of the motor vehicle.  For this realization, Hohm could fall back on his experiences with dirigible construction in Friedrichshafen. His first true-to-scale miniature model of an original prototype was for an airplane motor, among others, of the Facke Helicopter.  Hohm had just made himself self-supporting with his car dealership when he met Degener.  And since he was an Opel dealer, when it came to looking for a suitable technical model, it was natural that a product of Russelsheim – the Admiral Model – would be the prototype for the instruction model.  The first prototype was displayed at the 1939 International Automobile Exhibition in Berlin.  Shortly thereafter, production began with six employees.

            The German military also quickly recognized the practicality of this model for the technical development of their drivers.  And so when war broke out, Hohm was tasked with production and delivery of the miniature-instruction models.

            In the post was era of economic up swing and increasing motorization, driving schools sprang up like mushrooms out the ground.  And among the diverse teaching material, the functioning model soon belonged in their basic curriculum.  Money was still tight though, and driving instructors tried to keep the cost of their lessons in bounds by producing their own hands-on teaching materials.  As for example, the Mannheim driving school instructor, who outfitted an original-chassis with remote control, relayed from a regular cockpit on a little model car.

            Nevertheless, the Hohmesian functioning models were, for their time, relatively expensive.  In 1954, one would have to fork out 600.-DM for one.  By 1959, it was already 910.-Marks.  And whoever would like to have one today would have to calculate over 4,000.-DM to purchase one.  By today, according to the firm’s official statistics, around 7,000 of these masterful gems have left the production hall of the “Degener Didactic” – 1,000 of them after the war.  Starting at the beginning with only three to six employees, up to thirty-five were later busied with the production.

            The former owner, Emil Hohm, son of the firm’s founder, was proud of the fact that his models (among which included some that demonstrated a single function, for example, the steering) cornered around 60-70 percent of the market.  Their good name even spread abroad – great numbers of items were exported to Spain and Finland, among other countries.  In 1954 1,000 models were exported to Indonesia alone.

            Up to our day, the basic construction and design has not changed much, and it is still usually mounted on a wooden console.  Naturally small improvements, and above all, technical modifications, have continued to be made.  The front grill has changed, and a glass motor was added, among others.  The early Hohm model, the Opel Admiral, was replaced after the war with the Kapitan Pale.  Outside of the radiator grille and tie rods, it is virtually a copy of the six-cylinder model Hohm built the lighting system under the direction of the Bicycle Lamp Manufacturers Union itself, liked its prototype, it had functioning parking lights, as well as, low and high beams.  The components could either be set into motion manually using a starting crank, or (depending on the price)) by setting an electro-motor into motion.  Through the cut-away gearbox, one’s view fell upon the pedal-driven clutch – the gears of which could actually be shifted.  The view continues down the universal shaft to the, in the truest sense of the word, open differential.  Naturally, the brake cylinders functioned via pedal and cable, including the hand brake, which copies the original down to the button.  The starter catches with a push, the steering, with open steering box, functions like the original – everything was thought of with loving detail, even down to the removable dipstick, as well as an exhaust pipe.  While the radiator grille of the Kapitan model was still cast, the front of the later and larger models was polyester.  With integrated headlights in a chrome ring, it reflects a contemporary design that looks more like a Peugeot 403 than an Opel.  The middle of the grille is decorated with the traditional Hohm flourish, and in the continuation of the front, one can recognize a Ponton Chassis.

            Functioning models of the Fifties can be recognized by the great use of plastic, which made its appearance as a new material.  In the glass motor model, the size only allowed a 4-cylinder, one can recognize rocker arm, vales, pistons and crankshaft.  When all of this was set into motion by the (hidden) electric motor via concealed belts, little red lights glowed in the motor as spark plugs.  During the “trip” the gears could be shifted.  Particularly interesting – and today, very hard to find – are those models which were specifically built for military purposed; exhibiting headlights and switchable four-wheel drive.  Especially for the training of truck drivers, was the model with a trailer chassis.

            Like their original prototypes, the models must also, during their active service for driving schools, pass the TUV exam, where they would be tested for proper function and equipment to receive their seal of approval.  Many active driving schools have these.

            Many active driving schools have these functioning models even to this day in their repositories – unfortunately, all to often as only as another ignored display piece, growing dusty in the background, or as decoration in a show window.  For modern driving school training, these delightful models are rarely ever used, particularly, as drivers-to-be have less interest in the functioning of a car, than the acquisition of the desired paper allowing them to drive themselves.  Besides which, the technical aspects are not so full of mystery any more – those who are interested have already learned the fundamental concepts in school.

            Even though the driving schools have been taken over by overhead projectors and transparencies with technical drawing, the Degener Firm for Teaching Materials in Hannover still has two different functioning models in the program – one, the described miniature, the other the “Original-Chassis”.  This is, as the name implies, from the original Kfz-Tallen – the grille reminds one of the Fiat 500.  The 2.35 meter long model runs on a special stand and the motor is driven through the use of a normal 220-volt wall outlet.

            Their long family history makes these demonstration objects, as well as their ancestors, increasingly interesting for their collectors.  And lucky is he who can find “his” model at a driving school, which wants to upgrade their aging model.  Perhaps you could even ask where you acquired your own license and get exactly the same model you admired so as a student.

Reinhard Boge

Trans.  by Debbie King

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