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Car of the Month - December 2011

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Glas 2600 V8 - coupe body by Frua - manufactured in 1967

Hans Glas and his company in Dingolfing in the Bavarian part of Germany is best known for the motor scooters and micro cars which were sold under the Goggomobil banner since the early 1950s. In fact the company was much older, specializing in agricultural machines since 1883, but shortly after the second World War a switch to vehicle production seemed more profitable. At the end of the 1950s the micro car boom ebbed away and Glas started an ambitious move upscale. The middle class cars that appeared were sold under the Glas brand name to distinguish them from the lowly Goggomobil entry level vehicles, which remained in production. Within a decade a frantic evolution was made from a basic compact car to models that directly challenged BMW and Mercedes on their own turf. It all culminated in the remarkable Glas 2600 V8 coupe, the flagship that heralded the end for Glas.
The move towards more expensive automobiles was the result of a rational decision: Glas was a small scale manufacturer that couldn't match the mass production of Volkswagen or Opel for instance so low volume models that could be sold at a higher profit margin looked the way to survive. In order to break into that segment of the market a sensible but risky strategy was adopted. A combination of smart, innovative engineering, elegant Italian styling and attractive prices were to provide an entry. But the need of an image maker was felt, a model that could do away with the air of basic transport that surrounded Glas once and for all. A V8 engine was a rarity on the German market, only found in the top of the line products of Mercedes, BMW and Opel, so already in an early stage it was decided that the new image maker should have such an engine. At first a V8 limousine was contemplated but perhaps that was thought to be a bit too mundane and ultimately a 4-seater coupe model was favored.
Italian stylist Pietro Frua, who already created some well received designs for Glas, was awarded the contract to create the exterior of the car, with the provision of using as much standard available parts as possible to reduce production costs. It was not unusual for companies to hire external Italian designers to style production models in that era; Michelotti worked for Triumph, BMW and DAF, Pininfarina for Peugeot and BMC and so on. Before computer aided design and manufacturing Italian designers were at the top of their field, combining creativity, taste and craftsmanship into appealing modern looking cars. There was however a downside to the proliferation of Italian design and that was that models created around the same time in an Italian studio often resembled each other. Frua's coupe was no exception, it bore a striking similarity to the Maserati Quattroporte, a Frua design that was introduced in 1963. That 4-door sedan model later earned the new Glas flagship the slightly unfair nickname "Glaserati".
Mechanically the car was a self supporting steel body with independent front suspension by triangles, coil springs and telescopic shocks. In the rear there was an advanced De Dion style live axle with Panhard rod and half elliptic springs combined with self levelling hydropneumatic shocks, a first in the industry. All wheels had servo assisted hydraulic disk brakes, placed next to the differential in the rear. The most remarkable piece of engineering was of course the V8 engine, completely developed by the company itself. Smart, efficient engineering was one of the cornerstones of Glas and so the new engine was created by combining two 1300 cc 4-cylinder engines of the Glas 1304 model on a new crankcase. The whole engine was a modern, lightweight aluminum alloy construction with single overhead belt-driven camshafts and 3 double Solex carburettors. It produced 150 hp @ 5600 rpm which propelled the 1350 kg luxury coupe to an ample maximum speed of 195 kph.

In 1965 the new 2600 V8 coupe was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motorshow and attracted a lot of attention. Both public and press were impressed by the stylish car with its compact 8 cylinder engine. Its price tag undersold the competition from Mercedes (250 SE) and Opel (Diplomat) by a considerable margin, resulting in high expectations. Unfortunately these did not come to fruition. Glas was largely under financed and was threatened to be succumbed by debts. Fellow Bavarian manufacturer BMW stepped in and took over Glas in 1966. It seemed like a similar scenario as what had happened to Borgward a few years earlier, rapid upmarket expansion followed by failure and a take over (in that case by Mercedes). But in this case things turned out a bit different.
BMW adopted some of the Glas models to complement gaps in their own model range and one of those models was the 2600 V8 coupe, which replaced the BMW 3200 CS. The 2600 V8 was made from 1966 till 1967 and sold with Glas emblems; only 317 of these cars left the factory. Main complaints were overheating problems and a harsh sounding engine with a limited powerband. An upgraded and improved model, already planned by Glas as a companion model, appeared in 1967 as the BMW 3000 V8 and soon replaced the 2600 V8. Glas emblems disappeared in favor of the familiar BMW badges and the engine capacity was enlarged to 3000 cc, together with some other modifications, but otherwise the car was the same. Power was increased to 160 hp @ 5100 rpm and more importantly the torque curve and output were increased but maximum speed remained unchanged. What did change was its price; as a BMW it became more expensive, closing the gap towards the competition. This obviously didn't help the fortunes of the car and production was halted in 1968 at 389 cars of this model, making it 706 in total.
By May 1968 BMW had phased out all original Glas models and the factory in Dingolfing switched to BMW products. The engineers that were responsible for the 2600 V8, as were the majority of the Glas employees, were retained by BMW and became instrumental in the development and manufacture of the first 5-series BMW. Even today the Dingolfing plant is one of the main pillars of BMW production. So in a way Glas survives, albeit that their heritage is almost forgotten. Some of their models have become classics however, with the Goggomobil at the one end of the spectrum and the 2600/3000 V8 at the other end. The 2600/3000 V8 is the one for the connoisseur, if he or she can find one, who enjoys the surprised looks that appear when is mentioned that this car is indeed German and part of BMW lore.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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