There would be sparse information on the Fafnir car were it not for an article in a 1913 issue of Motor Trader that followed a visit to their factory in the German town of Aachen – although the article used the name Aix-la-Chapelle. This French name was traditionally used by the British at the time; it dates to the late 8th century, when Charlemagne had his palatine chapel built there and then made the city his empire’s capital.
At the close of the nineteenth century the owners of a needle factory in Iserlohn, over 150 km to the east, founded a branch business at Aachen because it was a centre of the needle industry and had a world-wide reputation. The company was founded in 1898 as “Carl Schwanemeyer, Aachener Stahlwarenfabrik AG”. Production started with sewing machine needles, but almost immediately a demand arose for cycle spokes, whose thickened ends needed the same production techniques. This led to the manufacture of wire wheels for motor cars.
The Aachen factory became independent of its Iserlohn parent and moved into the manufacture of engines for motorcycles and motor cars. They also made modern high-speed heavy-oil engines for agriculture and industry. The name “Fafnir” (a dragon from Germanic heroic legend) was first used on the company’s products in 1902. In 1904, Fafnir started to produce kits of engines, gearboxes, final drives and steering gear to allow others, particularly bicycle makers, to enter into motor vehicle production. These were sold under the name “Omnimobil”.
As these customers for Omnimobil kits increasingly started to make their own engines and other components, Fafnir were forced to go into manufacture of cars on their own account – and the first model was introduced in 1908. By 1913 the factory had expanded to over 300,000 sq. ft. and a new power station made use of twenty-five of Fafnir’s own oil engines to drive machine-shop line shafts and to generate electric light.
All cars in the 1913 range were 4-cylinder models, and a British advertisement quoted models from the 11-16 h.p. in our Snapshot up to the 20-35 h.p. In 1919 the pre-war cars were reintroduced, and a new model, the 471 with a 1950cc engine, was added in 1920 and could be bought with a supercharger. Fafnir production methods were very labour-intensive, and the difficult trading conditions of the 1920s drove the company to close in 1926.
Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive: www.richardrobertsarchive.org.uk
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