Magazine, February 1995,
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.