Only one Delta was made before the project was canned – but the car would still go into production elsewhere
When World War 2 ended in 1945, Germany's aeroplane manufacturers were banned from producing aircraft. Considering that's all they had been building for several years up to that point, they suddenly found themselves with plenty of manufacturing capacity but nothing to make, so bankruptcy surely beckoned. Several turned to making cars, most notably Messerschmitt and Heinkel. But there was another aircraft manufacturer whose efforts are rarely recognised, and that's Dornier.
With hostilities over, Claude Dornier realised that his company Dornier Flugzeugwerke needed to diversify, so he set his son Claudius the task of coming up with a plan. In 1953 Dornier junior had seen Iso's first stab at car production, the diminutive Isetta, and he was rather taken by the idea of a compact car for the family on a budget. His response was to come up with a car that could accommodate two passengers in the front and two in the back, with each pair sat facing outwards (back to back) in a bid to use the interior space as efficiently as possible.
Dornier liked the Isetta's forward-facing door, so he adopted the same idea for his own car. but instead of hinging the door at the side it was hinged along the top, so that it would create a canopy when it was open, to shelter emerging occupants from the rain. The idea seemed like such a good one that he repeated it at the back for those two rear-seat passengers.
By having two pairs of occupants facing away from each other, the car's meagre length could be used very efficiently apart from one thing – where to put the engine? The solution lay in fitting it under the two bench seats so it sat in the middle of the car.
Dornier was on a roll with the packaging of his car but then came the masterstroke. By keeping the car symmetrical in longitudinally and laterally, tooling costs could be kept to a minimum as the front and rear doors could be identical and so could the end panels as well as the side pressings.
In profile the new creation looked like a Delta and so the Dornier Delta was born. A prototype was completed and tested ready for the compact family car to be presented to the press in June 1955. Powered by a 197cc ILO two-stroke engine, just the one prototype was made (which survives) before Dornier realised that the project didn't add up financially so the plug was pulled.
Initially it looked as though Dornier's work was all in vain but that was far from the case. That's because although Dornier gave up on the Delta, the car would be revived by German motorcycle maker Zundapp, as the Janus, which would go on to make almost 7000 copies of the car in 1957 and 1958.
Mid-mounted 197cc, 1-cylinder
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