Fulda Reifen: dedicated to “high-performance” products
- Long years of tradition in special vehicle construction
- First high-speed tests with the streamlined Maybach in 1939
In the 1920s, the sales managers at Fulda Reifen, known at
that time as Gummiwerke Fulda, were quite sure that the
brand’s image should not be communicated in isolation from
the end-product that stands on four tires.
Consequently, they bought a bus, had it converted into a
luxury coach and as of 1925, presented Fulda’s new patented
Parabel tire all over Germany and the neighboring countries.
The first of a long series of special models was born.
Whether advertising vehicles equipped with record players
and loudspeakers, the tail section shaped like huge tires,
standing in front of the Reichstag in Berlin (1931), whether
as a tire test streamlined bus with special license for
speeds over 140 km/h (1961), or as a show truck series (from
1985) to demonstrate the respective latest high-tech truck
tire generation – in all chapters of the Fulda company
history there have been Fulda special vehicles.
The most challenging technical commission to produce a
special model in the first half of the company’s history
with the simultaneous mysterious conclusion was awarded by
Fulda in 1938. The starting point was the rapid development
in automotive design in the 1930s which, due to the
increasingly refined aerodynamic automobiles, permitted
higher and higher speeds. In addition, the construction of
the “Autobahn” provided motorists with the opportunity to
travel further at higher speeds.
That was a challenge to the tire industry. Bernd J.
Hoffmann, Managing Director of Fulda Reifen comments: “My
pragmatic predecessors did not hesitate long: At Dörr &
Schreck, a renowned vehicle-maker in Frankfurt, they
commissioned the construction of a vehicle for tire tests.
Precondition for this order was the assurance of the
manufacturer that the vehicle could regularly make
high-speed tests at more than 200 km/h."
Dörr & Schreck accepted the order and looked for the
absolute leading cooperation partner in automobile
manufacturing at that time: Maybach Motorenbau. Together and
with the help of the well-known aerodynamic specialist,
Freiherr Reinhard Koenig Fachsenfeld, they designed a three-seater
streamlined car on the basis of a Maybach SW 38 chassis. The
Fulda coupé with its two-color paint job and pontoon form
had a long extended tail section sloping to the rear. From a
bird’s eye-view the overall line looked like a rectangle
with rounded edges. The rear wheel arches were completely
panelled, as was the underbody, even the door handles were
To reach the speed of over 200 km/h demanded by Fulda, the
technicians installed a 6-cylinder engine with 140 hp. The
exceptionally low air resistance coefficient of 0.25 (a
figure of 0.6 was usual at that time for series-produced
vehicles), also helped guarantee this speed. The
precondition was, however, that the chassis did not exceed a
weight of 1,600 kg.
On 27 July 1939, Dörr & Schreck finally announced the
completion of the SW 38: “The car is extremely interesting
and beautiful. It lies well on the road and the streamlined
shape already makes itself felt at 60 km/h. Soon afterwards
the car was delivered, but as a result of the outbreak of
war its use was soon to be very limited. During the chaos of
war the test vehicle disappeared and was never found again –
its whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.
Looking back, it seems that the Fulda managers at that time
could not foresee two future developments:
- the imminent outbreak of war, which practically
prevented the use of the coupé and
- the emotional avalanche that the streamlined car
triggered off several management generations later at Fulda
An idea wins space.
The idea - the
tire - the car: The Exelero project
- Fulda Carat Exelero - "State of the art in tire
- Cooperation with the best - Maybach becomes
Ultra-high performance tires, top products for demanding
motorists with high performance cars are not introduced to
the market every year. They are the result of intensive
tests over many millions of kilometers in technical
laboratories and under the most extreme road conditions at
high speed. Years go by before they achieve
performance profile in the critical eyes of the tire
In 2005, the successor to the long successful and tried and
tested Carat Extremo will be introduced to the specialist
trade. A summer wide tire of an extra class - the Fulda
Carat Exelero. High performance – sporty, dynamic and and
How and in what setting such a high-end product should be
In 1996, the manufacturer from Fulda already faced the same
problem with the Exelero predecessor and that was solved
with brute force. The noble design workshop Gemballa created
a show vehicle based on the Porsche 911 convertible with a
3.8-liter Biturbo engine, 600 hp and all-wheel drive which
catapulted the racing vehicle standing on its 18-ich rims
and Extremo tires to a maximum speed of 350 km/h.
Why not once again design such an automobile built around a
top Fulda product? The previous concept was successful.
This time the problem was different. The Exelero tire line,
for the first time tested in advance by the TÜV (Technical
Control Board), is not comparable with the predecessor
generation. This applies to the design and the extended
extreme sizes up to 315/25 ZR 23 version! A complete wheel
in this still weighs around 46 kilograms.
How can the claim of this tire technology be interpreted in
During the team meetings the image of the Fulda streamlined
vehicle of 1938 repeatedly went through the minds of the
decision-makers. Then it became clear: the successful
comeback only a couple of years ago of Germany’s most
exclusive automobile make tipped the balance – it had to be
A go-between was quickly found. René Staud, top photographer
for automobiles, a man with 31 years of work for
DaimlerChrysler and 20 years for Fulda Reifen behind him.
Leon Hustinx, Maybach, meets Bernd Joachim Hoffmann, Fulda.
A cooperation is agreed on. Then everything moves very
Maybach agrees to make a platform available on the 57 basis.
The initial ideas revolve around the basic idea of the SW 38
streamlined car, they are rejected.
This vehicle will stand on the best tires that Fulda has to
For the Fulda project team under the direction of Bernd J.
Hoffmann, Managing Director, Helge Jost, Marketing Manager
and responsible for the communicative project interface, and
Rolf-Dieter Stohrer, Senior Manager Car Tires, responsible
for wheel and tire technology, it is therefore quite clear:
the vehicle should be more than just a reproduction. To
quote Oscar Wilde they want only the best of everything.
An idea takes shape.
What ever happens no retro design!
- Second cooperation between Fulda and Pforzheim
Polytechnic’s Department of Transport Design
- DaimlerChrysler Design Department provides
- Each of the four designs could have been realized
Why not revive a good und effective cooperation once again?
In the middle of the 1990s, Fulda Reifen had already had a
show truck designed by the students of Pforzheim
Polytechnic’s Department of Transport Design under the
direction of Professor James Kelly. Since the year 2000, to
mark the 100th anniversary of Fulda, this uniue vehicle with
its futuristic aura, the trailer of which can be divided
lengthwise in the middle and extended, has been on the road
for use at many events.
Not only Fulda, also its cooperation partners Maybach and
the design department of DaimlerChrysler have had very good
experience with Pforzheim Polytechnic and were happy to
agree. On the part of the Polytechnic, Professor Kelly and
Professor Lutz Fügener assumed responsibility for the
project and selected four students from the 6th semester who
should produce designs under identical conditions.
On behalf of DaimlerChrysler, Professor Harald Leschke who
manages the Group’s future projects, assumed responsibility
for the project and the links with the students to the
company’s design department.
Because the students not only worked on the design in the
college. They were also given the unique opportunity during
a practical semester to work directly in DaimlerChrysler’s
design center in Sindelfingen, under the wings of the design
professionals. Included was the use of the latest
technological facilities right up to 3-D animation.
The implementation of the creative ideas was handled quickly
and very professionally. From the initial briefing at the
Polytechnic (only formal specification from Fulda: Whatever
happens no retro design!) through to the selection of the
final design which should be realized, just less than eight
months passed by. In the end, Fredrik Burchhardt 24, from
Bowenden, emerged as the winner. His design was the most
appropriate in terms of the transformation of the design
from the study into reality. Also the relation of the design
between the two vehicle generations was most striking in
However, Professor Leschke lavished his praise on all the
students involved: “Even though Fredrik Burchhardt’s design
won in the end, the ideas of the three other students should
also be integrated. The project will remain a joint effort.
Every single one of them displayed so much imagination, each
of the designs could have been realized." In appreciation of
these good performances, all four designs were milled as 1:4
Ultimately, the design results can be described as a
complete success. The Fulda/Maybach project car was created
in a unique interplay between design students, their
professors, the specialists from DaimlerChrysler and the
Fulda team. The result: a new vehicle dimension.
The designers brings together the best of two vehicle genres
- the grandeur of a limousine and the fascination of a coupé.
As a result, the Fulda/Maybach project car combines muscular
strength and apparently infinite elegance.
The designer mission was accomplished: The Exelero project
is the ambassador of a new tire generation, the Fulda Carat
Exelero in sizes up to 23 inches.
An idea on the move.
A legend lives.
Following the many model phases, whether it be the 1:1 study,
the exterior design model as a reference for the form
release, the interior reference model, the innumerable wind
tunnel tests, the bodywork for the chassis in working order
with subframe – eventually these phases of searching and
coordination are concluded. Now it is time for the
technicians and engineers.
- German high technology and design aesthetics in
- From the limousine to the coupé – metamorphosis
in technology and design
Fulda’s arguments were very clear right from the start:
the reference vehicle for the new broad tire generation
Exelero must withstand a constant load in use on the road,
on the freeway, at trade shows, exhibitions and other events.
The technically impressive values of the Fulda Gemballa show
vehicle should serve as a guideline for the Exelero sports
The standard type 12 Maybach engine with Biturbo
turbocharger produces 550 hp. Even this imposing engine
cannot accelerate a vehicle weighing around 2.6 tons to a
speed of around 350 km/h.
A matter of honor for DaimlerChrysler’s engine specialists
The designers dipped into their technical box of tricks and
increased the cubic capacity from 5.6 to 5.9 liters. They
further optimized the turbocharger and, lo and behold, the
700 hp and torque of at least 1,000 newton meters calculated
for the desired speed was achieved. After around 100 hours
of non-stop testing on the engine test bed, corresponding to
a road test of about 15,000 kilometers, the unit was ready
Leon Hustinx, the Director of Sales and Marketing at
Maybach, was so impressed by the Exelero project that he
quickly and unbureaucratically provided Fulda with the
platform of a Maybach 57 limousine.
How to conjuring up a sports coupé from it? For Jürgen
Weissinger, head of development at Maybach, this was not the
first tricky question. He is more familiar with the
engineering of the Maybach than anyone else and, as project
manager in pre-development, he has produced numerous
feasibility studies for the make.
When comparing the dimension concepts of the Fulda
streamlined car of 1938 with the 57 platform, an astonishing
correlation of measurements already emerged. Although
today's Maybach is about 290 mm longer, e.g. in the
wheelbase, the breadth and height of the veteran car
strongly resembled the 57’s dimensions.
That simplified construction considerably. Nevertheless, a
great number of details had to be changed, among others:
All in all, however, the necessary changes were made in the
short time available.
- the driver’s position including A-column and door
had to be shifted back towards the rear axle;
- correspondingly the steering column and the
pedals as well as the gear shift;
- a second front wall had to be integrated;
- the position of the tank remained unchanged, the
refuelling nozzle had to be shifted etc..
The development work connected with the rim and the wheel
proved equally tricky. Rolf Dieter Stohrer, Senior Manager
Car Tires and responsible for wheel and tire technology in
the Fulda project team contacted several rim manufacturers
and realized the rim called for in the design with Ronal.
The corresponding design was milled by Ronal from a complete
piece of metal, i.e. from a solid block weighing 257
kilograms a rim measuring 11.0 x 23 inches was produced with
a weight of just 23 kg. All four rims were individually
produced and because they are turbine wheels, the direction
of movement had to be taken into account. Thus, two were
produced for the left side and two for the right. However,
these Ronal rims are only needed for the "See true" vehicle
model. This is the exact copy of the Exelero sports coupé
which, however, is not used in the road but merely at show
The real rims for the high speed tests come from
ATP-Excentric in Bremen. The reason: the ATP rims have a
cross spoke design which can be simply fully-panelled for
the speed tests. This procedure means an additional 3-4 km/h
for such gigantic 23-inch wheels. The air pressure of the
tires will amount to 3.6 bar for the high speed tests. As a
rim can bear a load of 1,050 kilograms, for example, the
load on the rear axle of 1,400 kilograms is no problem, i.e.
there is a sufficient reserve.
After all technical requirements included in the engineers’
specifications had been checked, the tests began.
An idea conquers the road.
Sunday, 1 May 2005, 5.45 hrs., sunrise in a radiantly blue Southern Italian sky.
The atmosphere is tense on Nardo’s 12.5-kilometer circuit. Klaus Ludwig, a
three-time DTM winner sits in his racing gear and helmet, apparently
completely calm, at the wheel of the
- 351.45 km/h, High speed record for 23-inch Exelero wide tires on Fulda/Maybach
- Greatest challenge to technology and material
- TÜV inspection approves test start
Maybach Exelero and waits for the signal to start in his attempt on the
This highlight of the project had been preceded by a number of intensive
tests, starting with the various wind tunnel phases. In accordance with the
results, the Exelero was optimized correspondingly.
Then in March came the roll-out in Turin where the Maybach Exelero was
officially handed over to the client, Fulda Reifen.
In mid-April, it then went to the so-called "running-in track” at the
Sindelfingen plant. Here, the vehicle was subjected to intensive checks of its
engine functions, brakes, chassis and handling etc., already at speeds of around
Finally, at the end of April, the technical inspection of the Exelero was
carried out on the DaimlerChrysler test track in Papenburg, i.e. the test
measurements conducted provided the basis for preparations for the attempt at
the high speed record in Nardo. For example, Spoilers were tried out in various
positions and further adjustments made to optimize the speed and stability.
Since the Exelero vehicle is intended to prove itself in the long run in
practical use, it was appropriately designed as a road machine and needed a
license. That meant that the TÜV (Technical Control Board) had to give its
technical blessing to the Exelero.
Peter Kühlwein, one of the most experienced experts of TÜV Automotive GmbH,
Gruppe Süd, tested and evaluated the safety-relevant vehicle components like the
seats with the safety belts and the weight distribution within the car.
All points were checked off to the satisfaction of the TÜV engineer or otherwise
When all the reservations from the side of the DaimlerChrysler specialists, the
tire engineers and the TÜV experts, had been satisfied, nothing stood in the way
of the final mission in Southern Italy.
The entire team already arrived on Thursday. On this day and the next, the
Exelero was completely checked yet again. On Saturday the team checked all the
measuring facilities and conducted trial measurements as well as several test
laps with technical project manager Jürgen Weissinger at the wheel.
Early on Sunday morning then everything was ready: The final test could begin.
At 7.09 hrs., Klaus Ludwig already completed his first lap at a speed of 346 km/h
. Just one lap later the targeted record of 350 was broken.
The FIA standardized measuring unit registered a world record top speed of
Klaus Ludwig’s comments after breaking the record: "It was unbelievable how
easily the vehicle could be handled at this record speed. Particularly the tires
conveyed an absolutely safe feeling. Everything was simply just right:
technology, chassis and tires."
Bernd J. Hoffmann, Managing Director of Fulda Reifen, thanked all the teams
involved for their outstanding efforts: "Everybody gave their best and thus made
this success possible. The vehicle and tires supplement each other perfectly."
An idea becomes reality.
|Photos and Text by DaimlerChrysler AG &