Hans Nibel: An Engineer to Remember
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When he grew up he enrolled as a student at the Technical University in Munich, graduating with a degree in Engineering. Hans started out in employment with various small engineering works, before joining Benz & Cie. in Mannheim as an engineer on the first of March 1904. There, he accompanied the company’s rise to one of the world’s leading carmakers.
Nibel was soon promoted to deputy office chief, and in 1908 was appointed head of the design department, at just 28. Numerous vehicles were created with his participation and under his leadership, including smaller models that placed the company on a broader commercial footing, such as the 6/14 hp Benz introduced in 1910, but also luxury-class vehicles that acted as global ambassadors for the outstanding automobiles from Mannheim.
Another vehicle closely associated with the name Nibel was the Blitzen Benz, the most powerful and fastest car in the world at the time. First unveiled in 1909, it established a new world speed record for a car in 1911 of 228.1 km/h, a mark that would remain unbettered until 1919.
In addition, he was to prove a major influence on the use of diesel engines in road vehicles - in 1922 Benz & Cie. introduced an agricultural tractor equipped with a self-ignition engine, the world’s first diesel-powered road-going vehicle. That same year he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Technical University, Karlsruhe, in recognition for his services as a designer and engineer.
Two destinies unite
When Benz & Cie. and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft formed a community of interests in 1924, Nibel also joined the board of management at DMG. He worked in the same design office and on an equal footing alongside Ferdinand Porsche, although Porsche carried ultimate responsibility.
Nibel was a strong advocate of the merger between the two companies that followed in 1926 - after which he joined the board of management of the new Daimler-Benz AG.
In the very first day of 1929, Nibel succeeded Ferdinand Porsche as Technical Director. He refined his predecessors’ vehicle designs, his improvements for example transforming the successes of the 8/38 hp Mercedes-Benz Stuttgart 200 (W 02 series), a car that rewarded the brand during the years of the Great Depression with remarkable unit numbers. Nibel also improved the sporty S, SS, SSK and SSKL models (W 06) and the elegant Nurburg series (W 08), enabling these vehicles to achieve their full impact - whether on the international sporting scene or in the international luxury car market.
And the first Grand Mercedes 770 model (W 07) anchored Mercedes-Benz in the collective international conscious as the brand that built the ones of the world’s finest cars - another of Nibel’s achievements, for as chief engineer he always answered for and understood the vehicle in its entirety. Among the technical innovations of the Grand Mercedes was a light alloy crankcase with cooling fins and a chromium-nickel steel crankshaft mounted on nine bearings and with integrally forged counterweights.
The W 25 racing car, designed by Nibel for the 750-kilogramme formula, was another vehicle to cause something of a stir. With drivers such as Rudolf Caracciola at the wheel, the car brought the company numerous landmark racing successes between 1934 and 1937 – and also launched the tradition of the Silver Arrows. Nibel also left his mark on numerous Daimler Benz aero engines from the 1930s.
Death and legacy
On 25 November 1934, Hans Nibel was about to board the express for Berlin at the main railway station in Stuttgart, in order to begin preparations for the 1935 motor racing season. His life was suddenly cut short by a heart attack, robbing the world of one of the most talented engineers of the pre-war era. Daimler-Benz AG lost its chief engineer - but in subsequent years the company was nevertheless able to build on the rich technological legacy Nibel left behind.
The vehicles in which Hans Nibel had a hand influenced the positive image of the Mercedes-Benz brand for many years both before and after his death. Many of his designs remained relevant until well after the Second World War. As such, he can be regarded as one of the most influential automotive engineers not just of Mercedes-Benz, but of the industry as a whole.
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