Of all the 2015 Geneva Motor Show slogans perhaps the most intriguing was the one promising the return of this long-dead but certainly not forgotten German make…
Could Borgward really be back with a new version of its most famous model, the Isabella?
We love those at Goodwood! Who doesn’t remember Gavin Watson’s Isabella at Revival a couple of years ago? Or, half a century earlier, Bill Blydenstein’s campaigning of one in the 1957 British Touring Car Championship?
In Geneva all seemed set for a triumphant return. They had the big stand, a car from the glory days (a beautiful 1959 Isabella coupe), and they had the brochures, the video and the press conference all set, complete with special guest, a racing driver from Borgward’s past. Chap by the name of Stirling Moss.
But there was no silk sheet to pull back…and no sign of any new car.
This was a new-car launch without the new car. As teaser campaigns go (and pre-show we had enough of those to last a lifetime) this was either genius or something had gone terribly wrong.
In fact it had all been 10 years in the making. That’s how long the founder’s grandson, Christian Borgward, has been secretly plotting the company’s return. ‘It’s a childhood dream come true for me,’ he tells GRR.
‘We are rolling out Borgward cars that are worthy of the name because they are luxurious, inventive and bold, just like those of my grandfather.’
Well, presumably it will be a dream come true at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September when we are promised the new car will actually be unveiled.
Christian’s grandfather Carl founded Borgward in 1919. Always a family concern, it rapidly established a reputation for innovation. Pontoon bodies, fuel injection, automatic gearboxes, monocoque design and even self-levelling air suspension (in 1959!) meant Borgward was always well up there on the techno front. As well as cars the company made trucks, buses and even boats and helicopters.
And it went racing. The 1950 Borgward Hansa 1500 was no stranger at Le Mans, Montlhery, Nurburgring and in the Carrera Panamericana.
And at Goodwood? By the late 1950s, 1500cc four-cylinder Borgward power was in the back of the F2 Cooper T51 and that certainly raced in Sussex.
‘I think I won four out of four races with that car,’ Sir Stirling Moss told us when we spoke to him and Lady Susie at Geneva this week.
‘It was in Rob Walker colours. A great car. It was one of the first fuel-injected engines and the engineering was exceptionally good.’
The 1950s were Borgward’s heyday and the 1954-introduced Isabella saloon (together with coupe, convertible and estate versions) its design high point. The Isabella was selling 200,000 units a year globally and Borgward, trading on its prescient ‘accessible premium’ slogan, became Germany’s third largest automotive firm. Borgward employed 23,000 people and made a million cars.
Then it all went wrong and in 1961 Borgward was bust.
Fifty four years later it’s back. Well, nearly back. So what will the new car be like? For starters it won’t just be one. The Frankfurt debut model will mark the start of ‘a full range’ of Borgwards with ‘two to three’ new models introduced every year. Christian Borgward must have backers with very deep pockets.
Christian tells us: ‘We are rolling out Borgward cars that are worthy of the name because they are luxurious, inventive and bold, just like those of my grandfather.’
We don’t have much more to go on, but do not expect a retro design (more’s the pity, when you see the lovely Isabella coupe). It might trade on Borgward’s heritage but it will also be very 21st century and, says the Stuttgart-based firm, just as innovative as they were in the past.
There will be ‘special emphasis on powertrain electrification’. A German Tesla at what the firm says will be ‘reasonable prices’? They are adamant it will stick to Borgward’s long-held belief in the ‘democratisation’ of high tech. And it will be sold globally via a ‘digital sales network’ so no pesky dealers or expensive showrooms to worry about.
What does Sir Stirling think about Borgward’s return? ‘I very much welcome it. Borgwards always had style and engineering integrity and were sporty to drive. They have been gone for 54 years and now the grandson is creating a new one. Good luck to him.’
And a name? The only clue from the company so far is: the Borgward Multiple Interaction model.
GRR reckons they should bring back the bloke who came up with the rather prettier Isabella moniker!