The Story Of Wendax And The Worst Cars Ever Made.
The Yugo, Chevette, and Trabant were Rolls Royces compared to this.
There are many articles on the internet about the worst cars ever made. These articles all seem to have a couple things in common. First, they're all copying each other's notes, and second, they're all wrong because the cars they frequently list as "the worst ever made" really aren't that bad at all.
The Corvair's supposed deadly handling characteristics were a myth, and by the second generation, these cars handled better than many Porsches of the time.
The Suzuki Samurai was a fine little off-roader that fell victim to a Consumer Reports executive who set up rigged tests to guarantee rollovers, because he wanted to destroy them out of spite after his nephew got in a crash. Suzuki sued them and won, but the damage had already been done, hence why Suzuki doesn't sell cars in America anymore.
The Yugo was certainly no Cadillac, but criticizing it for that is pointless because IT WAS THE CHEAPEST NEW CAR IN THE COUNTRY. You literally couldn't get anything better new for that price! Yes, it wasn't particularly fast or reliable or well-made, but cutting corners is to be expected when you're trying to make a car as cheap as possible. Complaining about that is silly. When you're buying the cheapest new car in the country, you get what you pay for. Deal with it.
These are just a few examples, but most other "worst cars ever made" are a similar story. If these are supposedly the bottom of the barrel, then the bottom really isn't that bad at all. You can learn to live with these cars. So if these aren't the worst cars in the world, then what is?
Well, I'm not a person who likes to make fun of cars for no reason, so I take the title of "worst car ever made" very seriously. But if there's one car that truly deserves that title, it's the Wendax WS 750. If you've never heard of it, that's probably because it was so bad that the company only made a handful before the cost of maintaining the things plus dismal reviews and countless complaints put them out of business. Only a single example still exists, and it looks like this:
Wendax as a company got their start building motor draisines under the name Draisinenbau in Hamburg, Germany. Draisines are probably some of the simplest motorized vehicles you'll find. They were basically a box on wheels with a little one or two-cylinder air-cooled engine, built to transport workers around railways for maintenance or transporting parts. Draisinenbau's draisines were actually pretty successful and were used by many railways in Europe.
But in the years following WWII, business was tough and nobody was buying draisines anymore. Drasinenbau soon wanted to branch out and build other things. As luck would have it, the company's owner, Dr. Alpers, had a connection with a pipe company, so they began building everything they could think of with pipes. Their experience working with both pipes and simple motorized vehicles soon attracted the attention of a man named Professor Mobius. This guy is mainly known for inventing a revolutionary one-man manned torpedo (which is not a euphemism, they're basically tiny submarines that you ride like an underwater speeder bike to deploy detachable limpet mines and attack enemy ships. They're probably worth an article of their own at some point), so he knew a thing or two about engineering, and after the war he became the head of an engineering firm and needed transportation. New cars were hard to come by in postwar Germany, so he commissioned Draisinenbau to build him one based on blueprints he drew.
Sadly, no photos of this car exist, but it is reported to have been an open-top roadster with a 150cc scooter engine powering only one rear wheel, and "oppositely acting steering," whatever that's supposed to mean. It took Draisinenbau six months to build the little car, and when it was complete, the Professor was delighted with it. The success of this one-off car inspired Dr. Alpers to try his hand at building other motorized vehicles as well, and they soon began producing little three-wheeled vehicles that were basically half motorcycle, half reverse pickup truck, and based on a prewar design:
These were the first vehicles branded as a Wendax, and they ended up being a modest success. They soon began developing other vehicles, including a strange FWD 1.5 ton truck powered by old Volkswagen engines that had once been abandoned in Africa. Volkswagen took issue with them advertising the trucks as "Powered by VW," and actually sued them over it, but the trucks entered production anyway. The FWD system was pretty bizarre and honestly I don't know how exactly it worked, but I think it used smaller wheels making contact with the front wheels to drive the thing. Very weird, but it did seem to work.
After spending so much money on their truck and three-wheeler, they didn't have much money left in the budget to develop a car, but they soldiered on regardless. The resulting automobile - inspired by the design of the car they built for Professor Mobius - was called the Wendax Aero WS 700, and the alphanumeric part of that name means absolutely nothing.
The WS 700 was powered by a 400cc, 11.5 hp single-cylinder two-stroke Ilo engine originally designed to power a circular saw. It was chosen simply because Ilo had a surplus of them, which made them cheap. This engine was mid-rear mounted on the right side of the car, and powered only the left rear wheel via a chain, eliminating the need for an expensive differential. Although the body was somewhat crude and built by hammering steel over the car's heavy wooden frame, the pontoon styling made the car look sporty and stylish at the time. The Wendax WS 700 also had a trendy three-on-the-tree shifter, with an absurdly complex shift linkage that meandered through the car to the transmission.
When they took the little Wendax to the May 1949 Hannover Export Fair, it caused a sensation. It appeared both cheap and sporty (despite only having 11.5 horsepower), and the white steering wheel and column shifter were exciting features. On top of that, the company promised delivery in 4 weeks, which was a big deal in a world where anything with wheels and a motor was hard to come by. They received hundreds of orders for the WS 700, and it seemed like the car was going to be a success even before they had delivered one.
The truck was also very popular at the show, so the company expanded its workforce to build the things. Unfortunately, since they were building each vehicle by hand, they could only build 2 cars and 3 trucks every month. Needless to say, the 4-week delivery plan did not work out. What's more, the few cars they did build went to dealers instead of the individual customers who had reserved one. Those customers were never going to have a Wendax of their own. But that's probably for the best, since it didn't take long for the complaints to come flooding in.
Either the man in this advertisement is 3 feet tall, or they're lying about the scale.
For starters, the trendy 3-speed column-shifted transmission's complex shift linkage never quite worked right, and had a nasty habit of frequently slipping out of gear. And even if you could get it into gear, the single driven wheel would cause the car to jerk violently to the right while the chassis twists. It was even worse when the road was wet. Dealers also complained that after about 3,000 kilometers, the pedals would break off, and after 2,000 kilometers the hood and trunk lid would fall off. The fuel system was also poorly designed, and always left an unused 10 liters of fuel in the tank. It's no wonder that they could only build two cars every month, because the factory was swamped with customers returning their cars. They couldn't build new cars when they were too busy just trying to repair the ones they had already built. In all, 19 Wendax WS 700s were built, and none survive. They couldn't even survive being driven when they were new.
And yet... Dr. Alpers had already started designing another car. Unconcerned with their disastrous prior automotive endeavor, he began designing a new, larger sedan. The Borgward 1500 had been parked across from the WS 700 at the fair, and Alpers wanted to build his own sedan to compete with it. He started by drawing the real-life equivalent of the basic sedan we all drew in first grade, and he then proceeded to spend several days drawing little script "W's" for the hood ornament before finally settling on one he liked. It may have had nothing in the styling department, but darn if it didn't have an elegant "W" on the hood.
The new car was dubbed the WS 750, and this time the number actually meant something. Ilo had just come out with a new 750 cc, 25 hp two-cylinder, two-stroke engine which Dr. Alpers decided to power the WS 750 with, driving the car through the same front wheel drive mechanism as their truck. The car used the same wood frame with a metal skin construction as the WS 700, but considering that some cars at the time just had a vinyl skin stretched over the wooden frame, this wasn't too bad. It even had hydraulic brakes at all four corners, and came with more amenities than the Volkswagen Beetle for about the same price. Overall, on paper it seemed like a massive improvement over the WS 700. The key word being "on paper"...
They began showing the prototype to dealers in March of 1950, and in 1951 the car debuted at the Brussels Motor Show. Despite attempts to make it better than the car that came before it, it did not give the appearance of a quality car, probably because it wasn't. Still, the company had learned from some of its mistakes. The man who had agreed to be the car's Belgian distributer was instructed to not let anyone get too close to the car at the show, making up a story about losing the key, and the Wendax was offered with a 5,000 mile warranty - about half what most other manufacturers were offering. This suspicious behavior was noted by the press, with one journalist expressing concern that such products as the Wendax would destroy the reputation of the German auto industry, and suggesting that for this reason, they shouldn't be allowed to appear at auto shows or sold to export markets. Ouch...
Despite the bad press, they actually managed to build and sell about 70 Wendax WS 750s, and even designed a coupe variant to be displayed at shows and presumably enter production later.
However, as was to be expected, the car had problems. The new engine had received inadequate testing, just like the car itself, and was as noisy and unreliable as it was shaky. And by shaky, I mean it vibrated so badly that the car shook violently at 40 mph. The top speed was claimed to be 65 mph, but I don't think anyone ever went that fast in one, as low speeds were bad enough already. The problems weren't fixed prior to production due to inadequate funds, so their only hope was that people wouldn't notice the car rattling itself to pieces. Well, they noticed. One magazine described the car as "unfit for transport." As good as it was on paper, it wasn't much more of a success than the WS 700. Dr. Alpers desperately tried to redesign the chassis to fit a 1.2 liter Ford Taunus engine and developed a hydraulic assist mechanism for the shifter, which helped somewhat, but it was too little too late.
With the company deeply in debt and struggling to salvage the disaster of the Wendax WS 750, the final nail in the coffin was a lawsuit from the Blendax toothpaste company, who felt that their names were too similar. Production ceased, and the story of the worst cars ever made came to an end. However, this was not the end of the company that made them. By the time automobile production ceased, the German economy had recovered enough for there to be a market for draisines and trolleys again, so Draisinenbau simply returned to their roots and started building those again. Nobody was laid off, and the company continued building draisines and trolleys until the 1980s.
Miraculously, one WS 750 soldiered on as a taxi and managed to survive for all these years. It now resides in a museum, in as-found, non-running condition, since nobody would really want to drive it anyway. It's honestly a pretty appropriate fate for what is one of the worst, if not the worst production car of all time. But honestly, when you look at that thing and imagine that this is the worst car you could be driving, it's strangely reassuring that this is as bad as it gets. When you look into those dead headlights, you are staring at the worst that automobiles have to offer. It's interesting to think about, anyway. Is it weird that I kind of want to drive it now, just to see what it's like?