Memory Lanes: The Ford Taunus

By Roger Boylan

09.22.2009

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Mannheim, 1957

Post-war Germany’s well-deserved hangover was fading by the mid-fifties, when the three-decade-long Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) got underway. Literally and figuratively, shoots of green were everywhere amid the ruins. As a kid I made my first trip there in 1957, to Mannheim and Heidelberg, with my father. Germany was (and is) an atmospheric place, or maybe I was (and am) unusually susceptible to atmosphere–I think both.

I’ve been back many times since, mostly to promote my books, which are more widely read there than here, God bless the Germans; but my early memories stay with me. Rain, and dimly-lit restaurants thick with cigarette smoke, and the reflections of tungsten streetlamps in the rain-slicked streets, and miniaturized electric trains in shopwindows, and moldy red-brick apartment buildings, and rubble-strewn city blocks. And everywhere the ghosts of the Third Reich, of which I was then only dimly aware. New office buildings, many of them blocky towers aping Manhattan, were going up, especially in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Soon every bürgerlich residence had a telephone and a television–and a car in the driveway, for the car industry was once again coming into its own.

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A 1950s DKW

The car of choice for Herr Burger’s driveway was, of course, the VW Beetle, mostly gray or black. They scuttled about everywhere. Porsches were no longer rarities, and one or two were even bright red: the Italian influence (Ferrari). There were things called Borgwards, and NSUs, and Glas-Isars. Mercedes-Benz ruled the taxi and executive-sedan markets, and was heading skyward with its gull wing 300SL and opulent 300SE limousine. Opels were common, mostly Rekords and Olympias, many in a peculiar khaki hue inherited from the wartime Wehrmacht. DKWs, the quirky but oddly appealing ancestors of today’s Audis, filled the air with the put-put of their two-stroke engines. And there were the German Fords, named Taunus after the mountain range that overlooks Frankfurt/Main. Ford had been in Germany since 1925, and made uniquely German models until 1967, when Ford Germany and Ford UK merged to form Ford Europe and the same Fords were assembled in Dagenham and Cologne under different names.

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VW Beetle, 1956

But when I was young, and a budding car guy, Ford Taunuses were sui generis. The one that first caught my eye–the one I still think was the best-looking of them all–was the so-called “Baroque” Taunus, the 1957-1960 17M, an American-inspired family car available as both a 4-door sedan or as a 2-door coupe (such a choice was rare back then) with diminutive tailfins and abundant chrome that brightened up the still-grayish streets of postwar Germany like a starlet visiting from Hollywood. (Hard to remember how impossibly glamorous America, and especially California, seemed, in postwar Europe.) Baroque the car was, too, boasting an extravagance of design reminiscent of the great churches of Germany’s Baroque era: Ottobeuren, for example, all cherubim and gilt scrollwork, corresponding to the 17m’s tailfins and two-tone color schemes and abundant chrome.  It provided much-needed sparkle in a still-austere time.

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"Baroque" Ford Taunus 17M, 1958

My father, who spent a lot of time in Germany inspecting the interiors of  churches, Baroque and otherwise, for suitable locations to install electronic carillons, was taken with Taunuses too. So much so that, later on, one resided in our Geneva garage for awhile: a 1966 17M. Then an unpleasant fender bender when Dad was at the wheel caused it to be sent away and never referred to again, as if it had been the guilty party. (Circumstances remained murky, but probably involved beer. Its successor was a Peugeot: nice car, but not as comfortable.)

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High Baroque: Ottobeuren, Bavaria

I missed that Taunus. For one who had known nothing but Renault Dauphines, Fiat 600s, and Simca 1000s, the Taunus was a big car, and a handsome one. Ours was pleasantly pistachio in hue, with a 1700-cc engine making (so Wikipedia tells me) 70 hp and capable of propelling this rocket ship to 150 km/h, or 94 mph. We had it long enough to complete one road trip in it, appropriately enough to Germany: Konstanz, on the border of northeastern Switzerland. The car was a sturdy traveler, easily accommodating a small family. Its gearshift lever was on the steering column; thus did I first learn how to drive, shifting the four-on-the-tree configuration of this Taunus, and later Peugeots. It was simplicity itself, much easier than the usual four-on-the-floor configuration of most European cars then; somehow one felt more in command. Even if one was only 15, and driving without a license, along country roads, in the dark. No seatbelt, no airbags. Ah, those were the days. We’re lucky we survived them.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Roger Boylan

Aside from being the only Autosavant writer with a Wikipedia page, Roger Boylan is an American writer who was raised in Ireland, France, and Switzerland and attended the University of Ulster and the University of Edinburgh. His novel “Killoyle” was published in 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press and has been reprinted four times. In 2003, a sequel, “The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad,” was published by Grove Press, New York. Roger’s latest novel, “The Adorations,” in which a Swiss professor named Gustave, Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mistress, the Archangel Michael, and a journalistic sexpot meet at the intersection of history and fantasy, has been published as an e-book and is now available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Boylan's light-hearted memoir, "Run Like Blazes," has also been published as a Kindle e-book and is also now available on Amazon.com.

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8 Comments

  1. What a nice little story, thanks. The Ford Taunus had style that you didn’t see very often in post-war Germany, as you point out.

  2. Roger:

    Great article!

    I remember the Ford Taunus name quite well. (Taunus, unlike “Taurus” comes from the name of a German mountain range.) However, it was a Gen. V model in an austere gunmetal color owned by my uncle in Greece in the early 1970s. Then I was too young to drive so I missed out on the “four on the tree” shifting experience.

    While not at the level of the Mercedes W108 (nothing was back then) the Taunus definitely was in category of “premium sedan”.

    By the late 1970s that same uncle had switched to the Taunus’ successor the Ford Granada. I seem to remember that the Granada was a huge improvement over the Taunus. Far superior to the American model also named the Granada.

    Since we are already down “memory lane” I, too, learned to drive in Europe at 15 (w/o DL) in a German car – a VW Super Beetle 1300 rental in bright orange. Funny how that Beetle somehow developed a loose front bumper!

  3. we had a NSU Prinz when i was a kid. like a german vershun of the corvair

  4. But Harry Lime operated out of post-war Vienna.

  5. If Granada owners in America had ever driven the European Granada, they would have wanted to set their car on fire and push it off a cliff.

  6. killamaus, maybe they won’t push it off a clift they could let them to some movie producer who’ll let them ending in crashes like car pile-up à la Blues Brothers 😉

    The Taunus also got its parts of fans from La Pampa in Argentina. http://www.clubtaunus.com.ar/ with a 2-door fastback version available in this country http://www.clubtaunus.com.ar/English/History_Taunus-Arg.htm

    Also, there was another Taunus version available in the 1960s, a FWD model based on the cancelled Cardinal project unless it was another model.

  7. The smaller, FWD Taunus 12M came QUITE close to being introduced in America. Ford had already installed much of the tooling for it at the Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant before a last-minute decision by management axed the project and the tooling was packed up and shipped to Cologne. It’s quite interesting to think what the evolution of the American small car would have looked like had Ford gone through with producing the “Cardinal”…

    As for the bigger Taunus, it was also assembled by Ford South Africa, and strangely, sold alongside the much more popular English Zephyr and Zodiac. Interestingly the P7B model, introduced in mid-1969, was fitted not with the German V-engines, but with the locally-manufactured “Essex” V4 and V6 units to comply with local content regulations.

  8. I had a Taunus when I was in high school in Pa. I believe it was a 1960 model and of all the cars I have owned since it is the only one I ever pine for. The nearest Taunus dealer at that time was O’Brian-Rouhaul in Arlington, Va. Appearantly Ford had started to set up a dealer network in the States but stopped because they felt the Taunus would compete with a new American Model they were bringing out. The manual shift was on the wheel shaft. It had a very strange shift pattern more of an S than an H. It appeared to be a ball bearing and was very difficult to drive. Many friends who had driven stick shifts all their lives could not get the hang of it. Once you got the feel for it there was no problem. It had the first AM/FM radio I had ever seen. I brought it second hand and I believe it was brought home by a soldier who had served in Germany. It was a wonderful little car which I traded on a 63 Dodge Polaris Convertible. I miss it still.

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