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Heinrich Ehrhardt founded the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach (FFE) in Eisenach on 3 December 1896 as a stock company. Initially he produced bicycles and guns, but after two years he started to produce a motor car which he called the “Wartburg,” a licensed model of the French “Decauville.” The company was the third to manufacturer cars in Germany after Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie, which later merged to become Mercedes-Benz. His son Gustav took over the factory that at the end of the 19th century employed 1,300 workers, being one of the largest in Thuringia.
Reorganized as Dixi
In 1903 the Ehrhardt family withdrew from management due to financial losses and also, the license to build Decauville motorcars was revoked. The factory started to build cars under the new name, Dixi (Latin, “I have spoken”) in 1904 with Willi Seck as chief engineer. The top model, the type “U 35” was introduced in 1907 and was soon recognized for its reliability and performance with 65 HP and a top speed of 85 km/h.
During World War I the company produced trucks and guns. Afterwards the factory suffered from reparations with removal of equipment. In 1919, car production resumed; but soon economic hardship forced a merger with Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG. Another result of the economic downturn was a change in output, focusing on small cars. In 1927 Dixi produced the DA-1 3/15, a version of the British Austin 7 built under licence.
BMW takes over
In November 1928 BMW acquired the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach A.G. (Marke "Dixi") from the Gothaer Waggonfabrik bringing the independent existence of Dixi to an end and the Eisenach factory became the birthplace of car manufacturing by BMW. The Dixi continued briefly as the BMW Dixi but the renamed BMW-Factory Eisenach soon started making an updated version of the car called the BMW 3/15 PS dropping the Dixi name. By 1931, 25 000 cars had been produced in a series going from DA 1 to DA 4. The DA-3, a sporting version, saw a re-appearance of the Wartburg name. In 1932 a new small car the 3/20 AM-1 was announced with independent suspension all round and an enlarged 788 cc engine.
In 1933 BMW started to develop bigger cars with 6-cylinder engines. The first car of which was the BMW 303. Later successors were the BMW 315, BMW 319, BMW 327 and the elegant sports coupe BMW 328, of which 62,864 were produced.
In 1942 regular automobile production was stopped because of World War II. The BMW factory in Eisenach started to manufacture motorcycles for the Wehrmacht as well as aircraft engines for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war about 60% of the factory was destroyed.
After the War: EMW/BMW
After the American Army handed Thuringia over to the Soviets, the factory became a Soviet Stock company under the direction of the SMAD, and was renamed Sowjetische AG Maschinenbau Awtowelo, Werk BMW Eisenach (Soviet Awtowelo Co., Eisenach BMW Works). Production restarted by late 1945 with pre war BMW models with some modifications such as the EMW 340/BMW 340 (EMW means Eisenacher Motorenwerk to indicate that it was a "BMW" made in Eisenach). This car was a successor to the BMW 326 with modified front and back. It was further developed as the EMW 340-2 and produced, with variations, until the end of 1955, with a total of about 25 000 units made. The EMW 327/BMW 327 was produced as well, but only about 400 units were manufactured. As long as the Soviets owned the company, BMW could not intercede to protect its tradename. As the Munich factory was not producing cars yet, all "BMWs" made from 1945 to 1951 are Eisenach products.
VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach
In 1952 the Soviet owners handed the company over to the German Democratic Republic, and it became a state-owned company. By that time BMW from Munich was able to secure its tradename, logo, and typical double-nostril grille appearance, and started to produce cars again. The Eisenach company was now called Eisenacher Motorenwerk (EMW), its logo being a variation of the BMW logo. EMW briefly participated in Formula One racing. One year later it received its final name VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach, shortened to AWE.
Initial new production consisted of the assembly of a former DKW model with a three-cylinder/two-stroke engine, the IFA F9, while the construction of modified pre war BMW models finished at the end of 1955. In 1956 the first of the Wartburg series (Type 311 and later the 312) was launched based on a new design with a two-stroke engine. The later Wartburg 353, introduced in 1966, used a bigger engine. Many new ideas proposed by the engineers were not accepted by the state authorities. Finally, in 1988 four-stroke engines made by Volkswagen were introduced.
In addition, AWE built a motorcycle, the EMW R 35 (1955), first as the R35/2, later modified to the R35/3.
The unification of Germany meant the end for AWE, as it could not compete with modern methods of production and the Treuhand agency closed it in 1991. A good number of the employees found work in the newly created Opel factory that was opened in Eisenach in 1992.
While most of the factory has been demolished, one part (Building O2) has been preserved to house the Automobilbaumuseum Eisenach (Eisenach Car Museum).
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