Puch Geländewagen Prototype Number 9
Of course the museum has a G-Wagen. It has many, dressed up as military rigs, as ambulances, and as civilian models. Certainly nobody expected the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen to still be around today, let alone as a tony fixture for Rodeo Drive socialites. The original Geländewagen was commissioned by the King of Iran (then a Daimler-Benz shareholder with considerable clout – times were, um, different then). The King was looking for a durable, desert-ready military vehicle, and Mercedes selected Steyr-Daimler-Puch for its off-road expertise to help design and test the truck.
To this day, Magna Steyr still builds G-Wagens largely by hand and has several test facilities in and around Graz dedicated to developing future iterations of the legendary SUV. In certain central and eastern European markets, the truck was once offered under the Puch name, and this ninth prototype was re-acquired by its maker about 15 years ago.
Detroit automakers have turned to Magna Steyr and its predecessors for both vehicle assembly and component development work. General Motors asked the Austrians to develop the all-wheel-drive system used in some of its late-’90s crossovers, including the pristine (if dusty) Pontiac Aztek on display. So too did Ford for the tonneau cover used on the ill-fated Lincoln Blackwood.
Chrysler had the strongest relationship with the company, using them for contract assembly of European-market Jeep Grand Cherokees and Commanders, Chrysler Voyager vans (which left the factory with a large and proud “Made in Austria” sticker festooned to their tailgates), Chrysler PT Cruisers, and Chrysler 300 sedans. The examples on display in Graz are certainly some of the best-preserved extant, and would be instant hits at any Radwood show.
BMW Hydrogen 7
About 15 years ago, BMW was eager to get into the hydrogen car arena. Its choice of a development mule was a curious one. Instead of following Honda with a dedicated platform or Hyundai with a version of an existing crossover SUV with plenty of space for hydrogen tanks, BMW chose to adapt its flagship V12-powered 7-Series to run on either premium unleaded or hydrogen.
It wasn’t a bad idea in concept, but the atrocious fuel economy—contemporary reviews estimated around five mpg equivalent running on hydrogen—was a head-scratcher. BMW gifted Magna-Steyr was one of the approximately 100 prototypes built because it designed the 45-gallon hydrogen tanks, which were visible through the curiously missing trunk lid of this example.
Italy’s answer to the Suzuki Samurai?
Fiat had tasked Puch with building a four-wheel-drive version of its cheeky little Panda city car beginning in the early 1980s. The little car’s powertrain was designed and assembled in Austria before being exported to Italy for installation into the Giugiaro-penned Panda runabout. With an ultra-low first gear that served as a de facto low range, the pint-size runabout gained a deservedly plucky reputation.
Puch thought the Panda had more to offer than just an impressive ability to scamper up a montagna, though, so the wacky Austrians conjured up one of the weirdest off-roader concepts ever by chopping the top off, deleting the doors, and painting the whole thing white. The Puch 4x4 Prototype was a Suzuki Samurai from Italy, by way of Austria, and we should all be glad it didn’t catch on.
Aston Martin Rapide Bodyshell
Early production of the Rapide – Aston Martin’s shapely return to the saloon bodystyle – commenced in Graz in a special Magna Steyr assembly plant as the automaker’s home assembly plant in Great Britain was deemed too small for what was intended to be a volume model. The Rapide’s introduction coincided with the depths of the Great Recession, and sales never met the 2,000-car annual production goal. Assembly was transferred back to Gaydon in the United Kingdom just two years after it began in Graz.
The museum has a single body-in-white on display, parked unceremoniously near the entrance and, during the time of our visit, its unfinished cargo area held a cardboard box with cleaning supplies. This seemed appropriate.
Alfa Romeo 164 Q4
Steyr-Puch was commissioned for a new all-wheel-drive system called Viscomatic used in the Alfa Romeo 164 Q4 sedan. The system started with the front-wheel-drive 164 and swapped in a Torsen rear differential, a central viscous coupling unit, and a trick center differential. When paired with the Busso 24-valve 3.0-liter V6 and a special Getrag six-speed manual transmission, it must have made for quite the Italian sports sedan.
Only a handful were made, including the rapidly-fading Alfa Red example parked in the museum, and they arrived too late to be exported to the U.S. The 164’s basic bones dated back the better part of a decade by the time the Viscomatic system debuted, and by then Alfa Romeo (ironically distributed to American buyers through a curious arrangement with Chrysler) was ready to close shop in the U.S.
Volkswagen T3 Transporter and Golf Country with Syncro
Steyr-Daimler-Puch developed the Syncro all-wheel-drive system (noticing a trend here?) used in the Volkswagen Transporter (sold in the U.S. as the Vanagon) and the forbidden-fruit Golf Country. Syncro was a pricey option for the Vanagon in the U.S., though it included a low-range gear for more serious off-roading. Today, Vanagon Syncros are valued among those for whom the Van Life is a calling and not a hashtag.
The Golf Country, on the other hand, was something like VW’s answer to the AMC Eagle or perhaps certain Subarus (or even VW's own Alltrack). This high-riding Golf was the opposite of the GTI, and its roots can be traced to the recently (and sadly) discontinued Golf Alltrack. If only VW had kept going down this road instead of abandoning the woodsy Golf idea for a couple of decades.
Named after the hardy Tyrolean horses that once plowed the area around Graz, the Haflinger is a stout, compact workhorse of a truck that can trace its roots to the original American-designed military jeeps. The Austrian Army was allowed use of older American jeeps after World War II, and the area around Graz was just a stone’s throw from the other side of the iron curtain.
The Haflinger was a relatively light-duty truck, though it could be loaded up with about 1,100 pounds of cargo. With its standard four-wheel drive, high-riding portal axles, and generous approach, deparature, and breakover angles, the truck was deployed in both military and agricultural duties. The larger Pinzgauer was an evolution of the original Haflinger design.
Bikes And Motorcycles
Puch, like so many car builders, got its start building bicycles and the museum is crammed with the things. The first bikes were marketed as “safety bicycles” under the Styria brand, a name denoting that they were ostensibly safer than the high-wheeled bicycles that first gained popularity.
Puch rapidly moved into motorcycle and, eventually, scooter production, but the company has never left its bicycle roots. In the 1970s bicycle boom, Puch bikes were sold through shops in the U.S., but the brand now operates only with a limited lineup of electric and retro-inspired city bikes in central Europe today.
As-new, just ignore the failed suspension
Mercedes-Benz contracted the Graz assembly plant to build 4Matic all-wheel-drive versions of its E-Class beginning in the late 1990s. To mark the beginning of production of the W111-body E-Class with 4Matic, the factory sliced one in half, had the assembly line workers who initially built it scribbler their names on its side, and then mounted it to a wall.
Three questions remain unanswered: Was anyone upset that the car they painstakingly built was cut in half? What happened to the other side? And why is a complete white example still adorned with delivery plastic protection all over its interior parked in front of the display with a collapsed suspension?
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