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Today in Motorcycle History

Josef Ganz, the May-Bug and Volkswagen

Most would be unaware that the Volkswagen was designed by an Australian.

Very briefly, Josef Ganz was born in Hungary to a Jewish family which then moved to Vienna. He obtained his first patents at the age of 13 for inventions in the fields of photography and railways, as mentioned in articles in the international press.

He then moved to Germany where he took up German citizenship, fought in the German Navy during WWI, resumed his studies in mechanical engineering and completed them in 1927. "From the editorial pages he embarked on fierce critiques of the major companies, their products and lack of innovation. Ganz' acerbic commentary gained him many enemies, which would come back to haunt him later."[1]

During this time he developed the idea of a "people's car" - a volkswagen - which could be sold for the price of a motorcycle. In conjunction with major motorcycle firms (Zündapp, Ardie, Standard, DKW and Adler) he built prototypes and took out many patents. Along came Hitler, who rather liked his ideas but his heritage not so much. In 1933 Ganz was arrested by the Gestapo, his patents were stolen by the Nazis, and Ferdinand Porsche received the laurels for Josef's works.

Ganz fled to Switzerland in 1934, and moved to France in 1949. In 1951 Josef Ganz emigrated to Australia where he worked at General Motors Holden for many years. He died in 1965 at St Kilda, in Melbourne.

N.B. The name comes from the cockchafer of the genus Melolontha known colloquially as the doodlebug, or Maybug, a European beetle.

I am glad to have found your website which contains some of the details of the early history of the Volkswagen as it was in reality. As a colleague and friend of the late Dr. Josef Ganz, the real designer of the VW, my blood boils every time I see yet another invented story. It was one of these lies in the Australian media which made me search the internet where I found your site.

This latest story was contained in a letter to one of the local media which claimed that the VW was designed by somebody in the Tatra works. This correspondent got things half right when he accused Ferdinand Porsche and his Nazi backers of having stolen the design of the VW from the Czechs, or more correctly from the Sudeten Germans. Stolen - yes, but Tatra - no. As you can glean from some of the other contributors to this website, the original designs came from my friend and colleague Josef Ganz who designed it in the 1920s. With brilliant foresight, he called it the "Volkswagen". As your website makes it clear, the first experimental models were produced by Bungartz in Munich.

It had all the then novel features of the later beetle, such as the swing axles, the "boxer" motor and air cooling. Indeed it was superior, siting the engine inboard of the rear axle providing vastly better handling.

Although Porsche, a racing car designer, would not under normal circumstances have wanted to have his name associated with a vehicle at the opposite end of the automotive market he was used to, being put in charge of Hitler's massive Volkswagen project was presumably an offer he couldn't refuse. The only production models of the VW that were built, saw te light of day during WWII as army scout cars, for which their flat underside would have made them eminently suitable, and on that basis some of the more recent "historians" fostered the myth that the design was produced by Porsche during the war.

As a Jew, Ganz was deprived of his patent rights, which were later illegally passed to Tatra whose management had impeccable Gestapo connections. Ganz himself, after an odyssey of escaping through numerous European countries, had landed in Australia.

The name Volkswagen was stolen by Hitler and Goering who saw Ganz's VW prototype at an exhibition and immediately recognised its potential, in both name and engineering concepts. By making millions of middle-class Germans buy the cars on a reverse time-payment plan (pay first, drive later), none of the contributors ever saw a VW except for a little toy diecast replica which was part of the promotion. Before Ganz was forced to flee Germany he was made to abandon the VW name and sell his car in 1933 as a "Standard".(see the websites).

After the war, Tatra had the cheek to demand royalty payments on their stolen "VW patents. This placed the masters of Wolfsburg in a quandary. To avoid paying many millions in undeserved royalties to Tatra, they had to abandon the Porsche myth and to re-discover Joe Ganz's contribution, and paraded him to the courts, which put an end tthe Tatra claims. They paid him a miserable ex-gratia retainer to the end of his life. They made no attempt to publicise his part in the creation of the VW. Joe died in Australia. years ago, as mentioned by other contributors to your site..

How do I know all this? Joe worked for General Motors in the Australian Holden plant for some years, and later was my colleague as machine designer for a rubber company in Sunshine in Victoria, Australia. We were good friends, and I was privy to his attempts to gain recognition. Joe showed me all the original drawings of his brilliant VW designs as well as, if my memory serves me right, copies of his patents.

He was a genius, albeit an excentric one. He must be given the credit that unlike to-day's engineers who design a minute part of a vehicle, his design covered, apart from the basic concept, the engine, gearbox, suspension, the body shape and even the name!

In latter years, up to the present, every attempt to abandon Ganzs basic concept has led to commercial near-failure and re-emergence.elsewhere in the world. We will not see his like again

It is to be hoped that someone, either in Germany or in Australia, or indeed somewhere in the world given the ubiquitous nature of VW distribution, will write the true history of this remarkable feat of foresight at a time when the very notion of a miniature but practicable and serviceable car was considered ridiculous.

Author unknown.

Source: Hartmut Schouwer

Bungartz "Butz"

This was an open two-seater with luggage trailer, 400 cc, 12 HP, two-cylinder two-stroke engine, rear engine, swing axles. The vehicle was apparently manufactured between 1934 and 1937 in Munich by the company Bungartz & Co. The motors built into "Bungartz Butz" are likely to have been made by DKW, as these motors were also built into Bungartz machines from 1937 onwards.

"The Bungartz Butz was designed by Joseph Ganz, who had previously developed the lightweight Standard Superior passenger car. The Bungartz Butz was available with 200 and 396 cc engines. Ganz moved to Switzerland when the political situation in Germany changed at the end of the thirties He later worked for the Australian automobile company Holden and died in Australia in 1967."

Source: Hartmut Schouwer



Master Josef Ganz, of Vienna, Austria, has invented a device that he is confident will prevent accidents on railways. He has only just passed his 12th year, and is said to be the youngest inventor and patent holder in the world. The Austrian Patent Office has granted his claim. The mechanical prodigy has also invented an apparatus for long distance photography. Competent critics hold that it is an improvement on the heavier and more complicated system now in use. It seems almost impossible to conceive of a state of affairs where this boy would follow the natural inclinations of one of his age and sex, play ball in the street, break a window, and get spanked for it. Goodness! such indignity for a full-fledged inventor and patent-holder! Rumor has it, though, that such has often been the case.

World's News, Saturday 6 August 1910, page 8. Trove NLA

1. motor-kritik.blogspot.comz
"... in 1933, Ganz had to go into exile in Liechtenstein in order to escape from the persecution of jews. There he started a small design office and built another prototype, the "Erfiag" with a Motosacoche (M.A.G.) engine. In 1945 he built a new car named "Rapid" for the Swiss company of Rapid Motormäher AG in Zürich." ~
An Austrian page implies that Josef Ganz was associated with the famed Ganz engineering firm of Hungary. There is no evidence of any relationship.

Further reading:
New York Times: In Beetle’s Creation Story, a Plot Twist
See also:

A Rebuttal
This article rebuffs the concept that Ganz was the father of the Volkswagen. Not all find it convincing: