In his autobiography A Collector’s Life (an autobiography), Z. Taylor Vinson listed and described a handful of items that he referred to as his “Treasures.” The Treasures are individual collection items that Mr. Vinson was particularly proud of owning and considered to be of special significance. This week, I decided to highlight two items from Vinson’s list of treasures: a pair of portfolios for the Maybach SW38.
The Maybach SW38 was an exclusive luxury car built from 1936 to 1939 by Maybach GmbH, a now defunct German automobile manufacturer based in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Aimed at a wealthy clientele, the SW38 actually represented the low end of Maybach’s model lineup and was offered as a smaller and more modest alternative to the firm’s top-of-the-line Maybach Zeppelin. It was designed and built in response to the difficult economic conditions brought on the by the Great Depression, which reduced the demand for premium luxury cars in Germany.
Although it was not Maybach’s flagship model, the SW38 was an extravagant and luxurious machine in its own right. It was a very large car, measuring more than 16 feet long and riding on an 11-foot wheelbase. In keeping with the specifications of the firm’s wealthy customers, SW38’s were luxuriously appointed, being equipped with sumptuous interiors and fitted with custom bodies built by Herman Spohn, a famed coachbuilder based in Ravensburg, Germany. In terms of engineering, the SW38 was a very advanced a car for its time. It was powered by 3.8 litre inline-six engine, which produced a then-impressive 140 horsepower and gave it a claimed top speed of 87-93 miles per hour. The engine was mated to Maybach’s then-innovative “Doppelschnellsang” semi-automatic transmission, which allowed the driver to change gears without a clutch.
Two examples of Maybach SW38 portfolios are found in the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection: one published in 1938 and one published in 1939. In A Collector’s Life: (an autobiography), Mr. Vinson described these portfolios and revealed how they came into his possession:
1938 Maybach SW 38 portfolio. The piece is one of the handsomest I know, with exquisite watercolor-like renderings of the cars. My copy came from my German friend Heinz (“Harry”) Neisler, who told me that he had written “Old Maybach,” asking about literature. This was Karl Maybach, one of the most noted German auto engineers of his time, and founder of the Maybach auto company. Herr Maybach had replied that he was an old man and had no further use for his copy, and that he was sending it to Harry. I should note that the 1939 version contains the same renderings; my copy of this came from Andrew Currie and his father, strolling around Carlisle one year.
The two portfolios contain identical product information and identical renderings of the custom body styles available for the Maybach SW38. The 1938 version includes a handwritten note by Mr. Vinson regarding its provenance. The 1939 version of the portfolio includes an original business letter from a Maybach representative to a potential customer.
As for the Maybach SW38 itself, around 520 of these cars were built and only a few remain in existence. Surviving examples are highly prized collectibles today.
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: M-Z; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 980-982.
Maybach, 1938, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Maybach, 1939, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Vinson, Z. Taylor, A Collector’s Life (an auto-biography), Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.